Your Home and Garden’s outdoor editor Carol Bucknell has some clever ideas to turn this unloved backyard into a usable, family-friendly space the kids will enjoy as much as the parents
I love YH&G and have been meaning to email you about our garden for a long time. We live in Glenfield on Auckland’s North Shore, down the bottom of a valley, so it is quite damp underfoot in winter and very dry in summer. We are surrounded by native trees and lots of beautiful birdsong.
Our problem area is the main backyard. It is such a vast, open area and we are struggling to see how we can turn it into a usable, family-friendly space. The backyard is north-facing and the soil, particularly along the northwest side, is clumpy and clay-like. This garden has an old apple tree, a feijoa, a lime and some lemon trees, along with a lot of jasmine and ivy growing up the trellis. It is a very sheltered area with little wind. We have a great vege garden and a shed/service area up the top northeast side of the garden. So there are some great features – we just need help tying it all together. Our style is pretty eclectic and we would love a colourful, rustic, family-friendly space. We so hope you can help.
Suggested planting plan
1 Plant trees along rear boundary to screen neighbours and unattractive boundary walls. Plant shade-loving species below.
2 Repair retaining wall on western side of garden and plant above it to disguise fence.
3 To make lawn a more even shape and give garden a better layout, rebuild raised vege bed in two rectangles along western and southern boundaries. Stain timber to add colour and grow bee-attracting plants nearby.
4 Create flatter lawn for play equipment and ball games by building new fence/retaining wall on eastern side of garden. Move clothesline and pavers and install drainage in lawn.
5 Train climbing plants up the sides of the shed on wires or trellis so that it merges with the garden.
6 Build new path along outside edges of lawn, connecting vege gardens and shed and providing a hard surface for kid’s bike/scooter riding when lawn is soggy.
Screen trees Keep trimmed to 2-3m so they don’t block light into garden; try Ficus hillii, port wine magnolia (Michelia figo), Michelia gracipes, Pittosporum ‘Stephens Island’, olives.
Shade plants under trees Try hydrangea, evergreen hydrangea (Dichroa versicolor), hellebores, clivia, hen and chicken ferns, Liriope muscari, Libertia grandiflora, vireya rhododendrons.
Medium-height planting above retaining wall Try dwarf bottlebrush (Callistemon ‘Little John’); Corokia ‘Geenty’s Green’, ‘Bronze King’ or ‘Frosted Chocolate’; coloured flax, eg ‘Dark Delight’ or ‘Chocolate Fingers’; Pseudopanax ‘Cyril Watson’; dwarf Australian frangipani (Hymenosporum flavum).
Plants for bees Alyssum, rengarenga lily, calendula, hebe, lavender, cosmos, echinacea, aster, salvia, marigold, rosemary, sage, sunflower.
Carol’s top tip
A clothesline in the middle of the lawn takes up valuable space and is never great to look at. Replacing old-style clotheslines with new retractable or pull-down models means you can move them to a less obtrusive position in the garden.
Note: Most of the plants listed here are suitable for the conditions of this particular site, which is mainly sunny with shade close to the northwest boundary fence. These plant suggestions are a guide only. Check them out at your local nursery and ask about their growth rate, height and spread, and whether they’re suitable for your garden’s conditions.
Words and plan by: Carol Bucknell. Illustrations by: Shani Luckman.