What was once a disaster zone is now a subtropical garden with a succession of show-stopping sculptures
For a landscape project to work, both client and designer must be on the same page. When Nigel Cameron was selected by Shelley Attwood to redesign her Auckland garden, it was a shared love of sculpture that sealed the deal. Shelley first saw Nigel’s work in a book on contemporary New Zealand gardens. “So I followed it up and discovered that he designed a lot of sculptural elements in his gardens. I called him to see if our ideas would gel, and they did.”
Shelley and partner Bruce Roorda had bought their property overlooking the sea in 2006. However, it took them several years to do anything with the house or garden, partly because both were in such a bad state it was hard to know where to start. The garden had major drainage and sewerage problems and unusable outdoor areas. “Layers of concrete had been put down over the years; in places the paths were higher than the inside floor levels,” says Shelley. “When it rained the garage would fill with water.”
Two years ago, after finishing renovations in the kitchen and bathrooms, Shelley and Bruce felt brave enough to tackle the garden. Shelley had worked out exactly what she wanted: a subtropical garden viewable from the upstairs living areas, parking for the boat and cars, privacy from neighbours, low maintenance, and a sculptural centrepiece out the back.
But before Nigel and his team could start work on the artworks or planting they had to lower the garden to resolve those drainage and sewerage issues as well as rebuild fences and demolish old decks. “The more work they did, the more problems they found,” recalls Shelley. “Nigel’s builders ended up doing a lot of repairs and exterior work on the house as well as installing the garden.”
Nigel designed a progression of sculptures, including a rotating wind sculpture on the property’s seaward edge and a vertical concrete piece inspired by an aeroplane propeller at the front door.
In a rear courtyard, water bubbles in a statuesque urn by the entrance and a massive white concrete ship’s propeller sits amid a ‘lawn’ of native groundcover Selliera radicans. The bright green backdrop emphasises the brilliant white of concrete made from a special cement.
Just over a year after completion, both designer and client are justifiably proud of their creation. Hedges, palms and scented Australian frangipani trees screen neighbours and coastal winds. Beneath the taller trees are an array of plants with different leaf shapes and flowers including dwarf taro, vireya rhododendron, dwarf palms, rain lilies, bamboo, and ctenanthe.
A vegetable garden behind the house and mini citrus orchard in the front provide Shelley and Bruce with year-round fresh produce. And the giant propeller is a hit, particularly with their young nieces who indeed climb all over it when they visit.
Words by: Carol Bucknell
Photography by: Sally Tagg