A growing passion

Wildly successful home design blogger Julia Atkinson-Dunn recently developed a green-finger. We caught up with Julia about her growing passion.



You started NZ’s very first – and wildly successful – design blog in 2008 before going through a bit of an evolution. How did you first catch the gardening bug?

I had always been a flower lover (and roadside thief!) but not at all tempted to grow my own garden beyond a house plant or two.

The exact moment gardening entered my life was three years ago when I saw the impressive, stacked vegetable beds in the backyard of our Linwood home-to-be.

I realised then and there that I would have to ‘grow things in it so it looked good’.

I think the turning point was the fact this garden wasn’t going to be rented, but instead a place I could transform to enjoy for the future!

As I got going, pestering my poor mum to answer all my questions, I slowly realised that gardening was a natural and welcome extension of my passions for design and decorating, in perhaps the most satisfying form of it all!

I think that my experience is pretty common of a lot of first-home buyers now, that’s why I wanted to get involved with the Grow Ō Tautahi Garden Festival and share what I’m learning.

How excited are you about being the Beginner Gardener Ambassador for the new Grow Ō Tautahi – Christchurch Garden Festival launching in March 2020 and what will your role involve?

Incredibly excited on so many levels!!! It’s such a thrill to be involved in an innovative, vibrant Canterbury event and even more so to have a public opportunity to source wisdom for all those local people out there who have shared a similar gardening adventure to me.

During the Grow Ō Tautahi festival, I will be running a series of panels on stage (free to attend) aimed specifically at helping beginner gardeners.

Here I will invite local gardeners and experts to impart specific advice to answer our questions around getting started, troubleshooting and those tricks and tips that you can’t google!

Where do you start when it comes to making heads and tails – or roots and leaves – of everything gardening?

The BEST source is a friendly gardener. I’ve discovered that gardeners are eager sharers and helpers and they can really help you on your way.

Honestly, it’s highly likely if you knocked on a neighbour’s door with a garden you love that they will come to wander yours armed with advice and maybe even plants!

Second to this, the Yates Garden Guide, which has been in print for nearly 80 years, is packed with so much valuable information relevant to our differing growing conditions in NZ.

It’s like the beginner’s bible and can support you as you get going and give you a resource to fill in the gaps after a googling session!

Or come along to Grow Ō Tautahi in March to hear ideas and talk with expert gardeners as part of my beginner gardener panels!

You are also welcome to follow me on Instagram/Facebook or read my blog posts sharing the snippets that I learn along the way too! @studiohomegardening


  1. Read the labels and do your research. If a plant requires full sun they aren’t kidding! The result is either plants growing horizontal to the ground searching for the sun OR simply not growing much at all.
  2. Dedicate yourself to watering or invest some time and money into an irrigation system – staying on top of this has been key for me!
  3. Muster up some patience. There is no beating Mother Nature on how quickly things will grow and if the weather suits. With that said, don’t simply revert to an “easy care” garden, it is astonishing how time flies and in no time you will have flowers blooming!
  4. Get a grasp on the plant types – perrenials, annuals, biennials etc. Having a basic understanding of plant life cycles will save you a lot of time and money in the long run! This will also help you build a plan for a garden that has interest all year round.
  5. Give yourself a break! Often as adults we don’t start learning new things from scratch, so allow yourself time to come to grips with it all. The actual process of learning, getting your hands dirty, researching bug problems and harvesting is as important as the atmosphere you are trying to create.

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