Taranaki is a magic bubble with gold soil, says leading New Zealand gardener

As well as being a top-rated landscape designer, Tony Murrell is nosey, a great eavesdropper, and honest.

"If you've asked for my opinion I'm going to give you my opinion," he said. 

"I'll tell people 'I like that bit, or I think that bit's crap'."

The long-time host of Radio Live's The Home and Garden Show was in New Plymouth on Wednesday as guest speaker at the launch of the Powerco Taranaki Garden Festival, which runs from October 26 to November 4. 

Murrell has been gardening for more than 20 years and has travelled all over the world doing so. He recently came back from a trip around Europe but said Europe doesn't compare to Taranaki.

"This is a magic bubble. It's totally in its own stratosphere, it's new and evolving and that's really cool.

"The soil here is gold."

Actress Lucy Lawless thinks so too, having had soil trucked up from Taranaki to her Auckland property for her roses. A fact Murrell obtained from his nosiness and eavesdropping. 

"It was a real trade secret but I got it out of one of the gardeners because I overheard a conversation."

Murrell tried to come to the Garden Festival every two to three years because he loves the location. 

"The location is extraordinary, it's unique to the country. 

"What I do like is when I come here I relax and talk to people. I just breath, it's very very relaxing. 

"I get very excited and I start texting people back home 'guess where I am' with a couple of piccies and there's a little bit of envy but they can get over it."

He used to stress about the number of gardens there were to see in the region and how little time he had, but not any more. 

"When I come to the festival now I go to a garden and I'm like a slug, you've never seen me move so slow."

Even though the gardens are mostly the same each year Murrell comes, he found every visit to be different. 

"What does change is the gardeners, their confidence, their knowledge. They act a little differently, they want to show you something new."

He loves talking to gardeners and even after decades in the industry feels he still has things to learn, hence why he is so nosey. 

"Even going to Europe, I'm with the public going to all these gardens and I'm the guy diving behind the tractor in and amongst all the clippings trying to find the gardener to ask why they're cutting the hedge at this time of year."

More information on the Powerco Taranaki Garden Festival can be found at www.gardenfestnz.co.nz.

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