Karen Ryans
Karen Rhind with her dog, Hugo, in her garden. Photo Jan Hawkins

We explore some of Cromwell’s extraordinary gardens. For Karen Rhind gardens are her art, her work, her product source and her rest.

Karen Rhind established such a beautiful garden at Briar Dell, a two-acre property near Ripponburn Home, that it became a registered Garden of National Significance.

It was from Briar Dell that Karen started her business of growing and selling herbs. 

Her wee shop in the garden was named The Still Room – it had previously done service as the Cromwell Hospital’s mortuary.

The business grew, and a new venue, The Tent Shop, gave Karen a chance to retail her beautiful lavender products in a tiny Cromwell Heritage Precinct’s store.  

Its stone courtyard houses perennials, herbs and lavender all suited to the Central Otago conditions.  

The shop is stocked with her hand-made soaps, body oil, facial serums, essential oils and perfumes.

Ten years ago, after two decades of living in a gracious villa at Briar Dell, Karen took on a brand new challenge, and this time she established a quite different house and garden, along the shores of Lake Dunstan, between Cromwell and Bannockburn.

“I wanted an open site, and I love being close to the lake and the walking tracks, and enjoying the wildness around the lake,” she says.

Here, Karen was keen on having the grassy, perennial look, with a casual, less structured vibe.

The land already featured a grove of olive trees, and now has a large section of lavender plants for her oil, along with a house garden of flowing, gentle plants that fit softly into the landscape, and contrast with the rugged hills beyond.  

A water rill gives a relaxing pop of form in an otherwise informal oasis.

Karen’s working world is multi-faceted.  Besides the shop and nursery, she is a landscape designer.  

Many of her clients are in rural properties, and she enjoys helping them to blend plants into the landscape, making sure that they are suitable to the conditions of their land.  

Every commission is different – some people prioritise drought resistance, some colour – for some it is all about the view, so the plants are low key.

I know from personal experience, that her hand-drawn plans are worth framing, and they can make even reluctant gardeners feel proud of their property.