Toggle navigation


Surrounded by dramatic snow-covered mountains and nestled into a sheltered Wakatipu Basin in Central Otago, near Queenstown in southern New Zealand, you’ll find Mike Henry’s garden, Chantecler.

Mike Henry’s Chantecler has been carefully planned and planted. The surrounding snow-covered mountains of the Southern Alps make a glorious backdrop; a borrowed landscape that gives this garden its sense of place. Rich alluvial soil and a cool climate come together to give perfect conditions for plant growth. Superb plant collections define this garden: maples, magnolias, rhododendrons, hydrangeas, dogwoods, peonies and roses. Themed spaces create a framework and a road map to make the plant selection more meaningful, giving Mike the freedom to indulge his love of plants.

Why did you choose this spot for the garden?

By chance, we saw this land in 2003. There were mature trees, both natives and exotics, and I thought I could make a wonderful garden here! It just had that feel and the borrowed landscape of the surrounding mountains added to my anticipation. The existing small garden covered 20 metres around the house. What is now the main lawn was full of grazing sheep.

What was your design philosophy?

There was no design philosophy but more of a ‘common sense’ approach. I decided to plant species we liked and that would thrive in acid soil. We planted so that colours and plants coordinated well. I was also keen on plants that weren’t fussy. The garden evolved from a formal theme around the house. The ‘English’ garden flows into Mediterranean, Asian/Japanese, New Zealand native, meadow/perennial, lavender field, daffodil field (30,000 of them!), orchard and vegetable garden. Mass plantings give impact.

Where did your love of gardens come from?

I grew up in South Africa where I attended boarding school. I was the only kid who could grow Brussel sprouts and I was told I had green fingers. My best friend’s mother was the mayor and I spent weekends on their farm. She had the most magnificent garden. At 10 years old I said to myself, “I want a garden like that one day.” I married a Kiwi and moved to NZ in 1980. We had six children and a very active business so, there was never time for gardening until I retired at 60 and made the move to Queenstown in 2006. My love of gardens had never waned so I got busy creating my dream at Chantecle.


Tell me about your lovely home?

We built the current house about 10 years ago in a French/country design. My mother was French and there is a long family history in France. One of our best decisions was to build a conservatory which really brings the garden into the house.

What’s your favourite part of the garden?

The English Garden is probably the favourite, a real joy in spring. One thousand rhododendrons and azaleas interplanted with hydrangeas. We also grow fragrant, deciduous azaleas, including Pavlova, Caroline de Rothschild, and Softlights.


  1. Rhododendrons Majestic, with beautiful foliage and flowers, come in all sizes and colours and you can plant to have flowers from July to January. They blend with woodland plants and large trees.

  2. Azaleas - Complement rhododendrons (in the same family) so they enjoy the same growing conditions. We love the deciduous azaleas, like Pavlova, Caroline de Rothschild, and Softlights for their fragrant flowers and stunning autumn foliage colour.

  3. Peonies - Like cold winters and acid soil, both of which we have here. Easy to grow and maintain.

  4. Hydrangeas - Add such beauty to the garden, in a huge variety colours and shapes. Such easy care with flower all summer that age to an antique look in autumn.

  5. Hostas -  Another easy-going plant, easily propagated by division. Magnificent foliage and variety of leaf {feature} colour. Best of all, is the fact that we have no snails or slugs to destroy them.

  6. Japanese Maples - Wonderful shapes with delicate foliage in many colours. They enhance the garden wherever they are planted; the fiery autumn tones are phenomenal.

For more information on this spectacular garden, visit You can also keep up with Mike’s garden on Instagram @chanteclergardens

About this article