The owners of this inner-city garden came to me a couple of years ago with just one request: could they please have a lawn, no matter how small. Just a pocket of green grass for their young children to play on.
What had been a lushly planted courtyard now felt cramped and overgrown. In a small garden every inch counts, and we needed to open the space up.
Michelia trees, which have a fragrant white flower in spring, now form a screening planting at the back. Bricks were taken up and reused for a new layout. By pushing the beds back to the boundary I found space for a new lawn:
The new plantings require little maintenance, withstand the hits from children playing, and will add increasing levels of privacy as they mature.
The new design has found the space that was lacking earlier, and has given the owners just what they wanted: an smart new area for family and friends to spread out.
When I first visited this 100 year-old cottage, the back garden was dominated by a massive pohutukawa tree which grew right against the corner of the house:
Apart from posing a risk to the house, the tree also took up the sunniest corner of the pocket-handkerchief garden. The owners had already decided it had to go.
The new design puts a sunny, sheltered, terrace where the tree once stood. Three Corten panels with a pohutukawa design are now framed in the side fence, with a herb garden tucked in beneath:
The new terrace, path, and lawn are edged with beautiful old bricks salvaged from the cottage’s earthquake-prone chimney:
The owners were keen to grow edibles, so a new raised bed against the sunny side of the garage is now a flourishing vegetable garden, with a passionfruit vine already bearing fruit:
On the shadier side, a lush border planting of Chatham Island forget-me-nots, clivias, ligularia, and bromeliads is doing well. Along the back fence, we planted for the long term with the slow-growing Nikau palm.
The owners now say that they enjoy spending more time in the garden, both working and relaxing.
I took a pair of bright red Adirondack chairs and a red front door as my cues when I was given the brief to re-imagine the garden of this newly renovated house. Pastels were out, and a strong, lush planting went in.
Where two new downstairs bedrooms opened to the side of the house, we widened and levelled the path to create a sunny terrace. This now leads to wide steps down to the lawn. The planting through here was completely replaced. The striking white bark of silver birch trees now rises from a layer of white-flowering grasses and shrubs. I selected a mixture of natives and exotics, each species able to withstand the wind and deliver something special.
The tired clay pavers on this terrace (below) were replaced with concrete to match the new work elsewhere. The brush fence came out, new raised beds were added, and the planting refreshed. New trees will eventually create a light screen for more privacy.
The lawn was levelled and replaced, and new raised beds wrap around to meet the wide steps.
At the front, the clients wanted a colourful planting right to the footpath on one side of the driveway, so I suggested we take out the unused sloping lawn on the other side as well, and plant it out to match.
Where there are existing mature trees, it can be a hard call to remove them and deal with the short-term loss of greenery, so it was great that the clients were willing to do this. As a result we achieved a bold, cohesive look that will keep getting better as the new trees and shrubs fill out.
The photos show the garden just 10 months after planting. The owners were delighted to see tui feeding on the flax flowers in the front garden within a year of planting, and often receive compliments from passersby.
The owners of this garden wanted a classically edited look to set off their beautiful new lawn and terrace. Black and white were to be the accents in a largely green palette.
Combinations of straight lines, spheres, contrasting foliage, and layered hedges, all add subtle complexity to the design. In spring, white tulips, cherry blossom, and Mexican orange blossom will flower profusely, before the garden returns to its crisp simplicity. The rogue element is provided by a trio of small kowhai trees and potted lemon trees – there’ll be a seasonal splash of gold as well!
This garden in the Wellington suburb of Mornington was one of my most interesting challenges in 2014. High on a ridge with great views of the harbour and south coast:
the house sits well below the road and is approached by a series of concrete paths and steps in true Wellington style.
The hillside faces south, so lacks winter sun. Drainage in some of the beds seemed to be poor, with the soil presenting as claggy clay.
Our starting point for the planting was the native NZ grass, Carex testacea, not only for its suitability for the site, but because it reminded the owners of a favourite place, the high country of Mt Arthur in the Kahurangi National Park. A deceptively simple plant palette followed, with a combination of plants that work well together in colour, size and habit, that suit the conditions of the site, and meet the important requirement that the garden be very low-maintenance.
I wanted to de-emphasise the concrete and to allow the warm red brick walls to feature, so the concrete walls were painted in a soft colour complementary to the new scheme on the house.
Around the back a flight of steps was transformed using the same elements.
Give these plants a couple of years and the journey down to the house will feel completely different. The hard surfaces will have all but disappeared behind a sea of rippling grasses that will take you, just briefly, out onto those sub-alpine grasslands of the South Island.
In this instance it was amazing what could be achieved with plants, pots, and paint. This is a total transformation, achieved on a modest budget.
I was asked a while back to do something about this client’s front entrance. Here is how it looked then:
And here is how it looks now:
The generous steps and landing make the area feel much larger and lighter.
The new wrought iron side gate offers a nice glimpse of the garden beyond, and also allows the owner’s dog to see who is arriving.
The wheelie bins now have their own purpose-built ‘cubby house’ and don’t need to live at the front door.
The new porch roof gives plenty of shelter, and its large skylight means there is no compromise on light levels.
Finally, due to deep shade thrown by neighbouring trees, our plant options were limited, but the ferns and clivias have thrived. The touch of orange from the clivias works well with the new cedar slat fence and front door.
Back in February I was so pleased when my clients showed me a photo of a classic English herbaceous border, filled with colour, and said that they would like a garden like that. It is a style that suits their heritage-listed home, and the site is warm, sunny, and sheltered. I knew we could make something special.
The existing raised beds had been taken over by shasta daisies, so the first step was to clear them all out to make way for a more varied planting. We kept the standard Iceberg roses, lavender, and a couple of nice fuchsias.
The raised beds form an L-shape, with one end more shaded and against a wall suitable for climbers. We pulled out the struggling climbing rose and replaced it with jasmine, potato vine, and Chinese star jasmine. Underneath I put hostas, hellebores, white foxgloves, and white Japanese windflowers.
Down the long sunny side I planted repeating groups of perennials, including penstemons, snow-in-summer, limonium, verbena bonariensis, thrift, and gaura. Balls of evergreen pittosorum ‘Golfball’ provide accents and are repeated in pots.
After only about 6 months the garden is coming on beautifully. As it matures this summer, my clients will have their English flower garden.
Two years ago I was approached by Annemarie, who had just moved into her newly-built house. The builder had done all the fences and paving, and created a flat lawn. The site gets all day sun and has great views. A keen gardener, Annemarie wanted to maximise every inch of her site and grow flowers, fruit, and vegetables. She also wanted a bold and colourful mixed planting along her street frontage.
There were several issues. Firstly, the wind. The house is on a ridge with views from Kapiti Island to Mt Kau Kau and is totally exposed to the wind from both north and south. On a compact site we wanted to create shelter from the wind, but keep the views and not to block the sun from either Annemarie or her neighbours.
Secondly, as usual with new subdivisions, any decent topsoil had been scraped off by the bulldozers, and we were standing on compacted clay. Improving the soil was crucial if a garden was to thrive.
Careful plant selection was critical on this site. I used shrubs as windbreaks and created sheltered pockets where more tender plants could flourish.
We also used extra topsoil and some large rocks to make a ‘mound’ at the front entrance, which is now a fully-planted garden that makes the entrance feel both more sheltered, and inviting.
Initially Annemarie used mulch on this garden, but after the wind blew it off, she changed to additional groundcover plantings. The native Leptinella now does a great job as a weed suppressant.
Inside the property, Annemarie is now growing not only ornamentals but also plentiful vegetables, herbs, and fruit. She has used even the smallest spaces to create productive areas.
Having now fully utilised their area of flat land, Annemarie and Martijn have turned their attention to the south-facing, gorse-covered bank that forms the back of their property. No surprise that paths now wind down amongst daisies, flaxes, and even apple trees.
This garden is a great example of what can be achieved in a challenging location, through good preparation, plant selection, and, admittedly, some sheer hard work!
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