Sue Miller Garden 7

“On a dull winters day when I really want to stay inside, I often find that if I venture out to the garden I want to stay there to pull a few weeds and have a chat with the plants. It makes me feel good.”

Sue Miller


In this article series we’re chatting with Kiwi gardeners, to discover what it is about gardening that brings them the most happiness and satisfaction.

We’ve all heard about the emotional and practical benefits a garden can bring, so we’d like to share some of that good stuff with you. We’ll look at some amazing gardens, listen to great advice, and ask happy gardeners to talk about their pride and joy.

Today we’re visiting Sue Miller’s garden.

Sue describes herself as a wife, mother, Nanny, keen home cook and local radio broadcaster…and of course, a gardener. She has had her own garden for around 40 years and been surrounded by passionate home gardeners all her life.

“I was lucky enough to grow up knowing that much of the food on my plate was harvested just a few yards (or metres!) away.”

Her parents are credited as the source of Sue’s passion for gardening. The love of order and meticulous trimmed edges found in Sue’s garden was passed down from her Dad, who was a Major in the NZ Army; the rows in his vegetable garden were as precise as soldiers on a parade ground. Sue’s Mum adored flowers – the more colour and form the better; this is joyously reflected in Sue’s garden.

Sue’s garden is in Whanganui, which is blessed with a temperate climate and four distinct seasons. It doesn’t get too hot or too cold; occasionally summer becomes dry enough for hose restrictions, while there are just enough frosts in winter to encourage tulip bulbs to bloom prolifically, plus freeze a few bugs off her roses.

When Sue and her husband were looking to move, the house wasn’t the first consideration. The main ‘must-have’ was a North facing aspect with space for a vegie patch. The house and driveway occupy a lot of the 1200m2 suburban section, but all the available space has been filled with productive edible garden, lush lawn and exuberant borders bursting with stunning blooms.

There's a modest floral border along the back boundary, with shrubs, roses, annuals, dahlias and Sue’s particular favourite hostas, along with a ferny area. Linking everything together are the perfectly manicured lawns cared for by Sue’s husband.

The edible garden is where the main action is - the backyard is filled with all sorts of vegetables, herbs and fruit trees. To make the most of the available space, ‘Belle de Boskoop’, ‘Peasgood Nonsuch’, ‘Sturmer’ and ‘Monty's Surprise’ apples, ‘Red Bartlett’, ‘Packhams Triumph’ and nashi pears have been beautifully espaliered along the North-facing fence. Sue has somehow managed to squeeze in feijoa, lime, orange, lemon, lemonade and mandarin trees as well.

Sue loves to cook, so she has a herb garden filled with lemon verbena, lemongrass, thyme, sage, winter savory, chives, rosemary, bay, Vietnamese mint, sorrel, marjoram, basil and anything else that takes her fancy at planting time!

The lion’s share of the garden is given over to Sue’s real passion: vegetables. Sue grows as much food as she can, all year round. In the vegie patch you’ll find a seasonal smorgasbord of potatoes, kūmara, lettuce, onions, broccoli and cauliflower, carrots, strawberries, beetroot, peas, beans, broad beans, capsicum, corn, spinach, silverbeet, rhubarb, chilli, cucumber…the list (and the harvest) just keeps on going. 

Q&A with Sue

What’s your ‘secret’ gardening tip to get the best out of your garden?

“To get a good show, whether it be trees, shrubs, flowers, herbs, fruit or vegetables, you have to nurture and protect. You feed and you weed.”

What do you struggle with?

“Our biggest disappointment is that we can't grow garlic here, it gets rust every year. We’ve started growing our garlic at our son's lifestyle property an hour away and we’ve have had some good success.”

What do you do with the things you grow in the garden?

“When the cucumbers, zucchini, capsicum and other crops produce too fast for us to keep up, friends and family also benefit…along with a couple of local streetside free food stalls.”

What advice would you give someone starting out?

“If you’ve never gardened before I’d really encourage you to give it a go. Start in a pot with a couple of lettuce seedlings, dig a little square and put in some radishes, involve your kids, get out the watering can and watch those babies grow.”

What’s your favourite Yates product?

“I sow Yates seeds and have never had any failures. I'm sure this sounds like a sales pitch – but it's not – Yates is just a kiwi icon and I trust the brand.”

Sue’s Top Tips for July

  • Have a really good clean up, to get back to the bare bones of the garden.

In the flower garden:

  • Remove all the dead growth and trim back shrubs.

In the herb garden:

  • Trim back herbs, take cuttings and divide perennials to plant out in new spots.

In the vegie garden:

  • Sow broad beans.
  • Plant onions, sugarsnap peas, silverbeet and lettuce seedlings.
  • Let the bulk of the garden rest, after a good rotary hoe and a lime feed.


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