Peter Ng’s Remuera back yard is sustainable glory, but gardening is not all he packs into a day. By Staton Whaley
Peter Ng is a master gardener, conqueror of the Big Six marathons and an aspiring 100-mile bike racer, all while daylighting as a dentist. Since his start with strawberries nine years ago, Ng has transformed his Ridings Rd suburban garden into, in his words, an “organic farming, self-sustaining food farm”.
If it’s plant-based and he didn’t grow it, then he and wife Lancy don’t eat it. Although their ultimate goal has always been eating as well, and as sustainably, as possible, the garden is nonetheless a visual spectacle not only with its produce, but right from the street frontage with its ornamental plantings.
No space is wasted — a garage exterior wall is hung with five rows of flower pots. The self-built vertical system allows water to drip down from the first row of plants onto the bottom ones, thus reusing the excess water from the first row four more times. A large bed of red and white roses on the other side of the driveway is impressive, but it’s the tulips he plants there each year and along the path to the back yard that are his real joy, even if they are the hardest work of his ornamentals and edibles. “Everyone loves tulips,” says Ng, who’s ordered, and will plant, 1000 bulbs for this season’s mass display. The front yard floral abundance has been catching neighbours’ attention for years. “Passers-by are always stopping in and asking questions about the garden.” Spurred on by local fans, the Ngs recently opened up the garden for the Heroic Garden Festival, to benefit Mercy Hospice Auckland and Hospice North Shore.
Shielded from the street, the back garden is a 620m2 “salad bar” organised into terraced rows and sections. Now, at the tail end of summer, Ng is harvesting tomatoes, cucumbers, sweetcorn, and melons. Old clotheshorses have been placed in the tomato and cucumber beds so the plants wrap around them vertically, which he believes is a more effective planting system. Peter and Lancy share the cooking responsibilities, utilising their produce in mainly Chinese and curry dishes. Another favourite is pizza, cooked in their wood-fired pizza oven, using fresh, homemade, sauce. When the fruit trees and grapevines — now covered in protective netting to fend off birds — are harvested, Ng will use much of the plum and apricot crops to make jams and preserves. Excess fruit and veges are given to neighbours and friends, or traded for things he doesn’t grow, like pears and avocados.
There’s beehives down the back too, and in another corner, the composting station, much of it created from recycled tubs and drums. This is the real business end as far as Ng is concerned, and any waste greenery or produce is recycled into compost. “Composting is the key to a healthy garden,” he advises.
But gardening is only one of his passions. After his brother, Charles, ran the London marathon in his 20s, Ng cogitated on the idea for some time before he laced up his running shoes and got serious, only five years ago. His first attempt was the Great Wall of China event.
“It’s the craziest marathon on Earth, more rock-hopping really, than actually running.” It’s also the only one he hasn’t finished, but it spurred him on to compete in 16 events since then, including the “Big Six” — London, Berlin, Tokyo, Boston, Chicago, New York — in an 18-month period, a feat achieved by a very limited number of elite athletes and recognised with a special Big Six medal (shown in the picture).
Between his full-time dental practice in Sandringham and the needs of the garden, the only time for a training run is after dinner. The sacrifice is sleeping hours, but it’s just part of Ng’s professed “healthy eating and exercising philosophy”.
Ng isn’t done with marathons, but he’s looking ahead for new opportunities. He is developing a fishing technique with his drone to drop a line out in the ocean, to eliminate casting.
And he’s just taken his 30-year-old bike off the shed wall, and once it’s tuned up, he’s taking part in the Prudential RideLondon, a 100-mile bike race from London to Surrey in July. Ng doubts he’ll win, and is certain he’ll be under-trained at the starting line, but why not have a go? “It’s about participating and finishing. I’m really just out there to enjoy it.”