In Australia Colin Campbell is to gardening as what Shane Warne is to cricket. But unlike the blond-haired cricketer, Colin is a Kiwi. Matt Rilkoff found out what the gardening superstar had to say for himself at the Taranaki Rhododendron and Garden Festival on Wednesday.
Who are you and why are you here?
I am Colin Campbell and I am part of a national gardening television programme in Brisbane Australia. I do a gardening talkback radio programme that I have been doing for almost 28 years. I write Queensland's gardening column in the Queensland paper Courier Mail. I have written a book and I write a number of magazine articles. We take garden tours around the world and around Australia and when I have time I sleep a bit.
Will you be taking garden tours through Taranaki?
One of the reasons we came here is A, I have never been to the Rhododendron Festival and the other is to suss it out because you can guarantee this time next year I will have a whole lot of people behind me saying, "Where are we going next, Colin?"
What are the characteristics of Taranaki gardens that make them so appealing to garden lovers?
Well they are all different. Every garden is different and that is the appeal. For me having studied horticulture in New Zealand and then I went to Australia for 35 years and then came back, a lot of the plants I used to be familiar with I have lost touch with and I can't even remember their names now, which is embarrassing. But obviously the rhododendrons are just marvellous to see and this certainly is a highlight. But the great diversity of plants in all the gardens we have been to is really special. The skill of the gardener in designing the gardens and laying them out is another feature. Some of the gardners may or may not have qualifications, and lot of them haven't, yet they have displayed incredible plant knowledge and skill in designing the gardens so they get the very best out of them.
Are there common elements to successful gardens?
Having judged gardening competitions for a number of years you look for certain things and you become a bit critical unfortunately, but you look for inappropriate planting for a start. You know combinations of plants that aren't happy together. That is the first thing I look at. Then the placement of plants and the curves and the general layout of the garden. But at the end of the day, now this is one of my criticisms of garden judges generally and people who judge, they become too technical. I've been to the Chelsea Flower Show and the Ellerslie Flower Show and people say to me "Why did that one win a prize?" And I say it won because it is very technically excellent. And they say, "but it looks awful". I think the thing is that at the end of the day it's the wow factor that sells to gardeners and when gardners walk into a garden and they see colour and beauty they stop and look at it. That is the essence of a good garden I think.