Garden style

Ideas to steal from a lush palm-filled garden

Stuart Jobling and his partner Barry Danby have completed a delightful, densely planted subtropical garden makeover at their Waiheke Island property

Warm conditions and plenty of water mean the subtropical plants have flourished, surrounding the house completely in colour and foliage in just five years.

Warm conditions and plenty of water mean the subtropical plants have flourished, surrounding the house completely in colour and foliage in just five years.

 

The site background

With its canopy of palms, flowering trees and lush-leaved subtropicals below, the exotic garden is a far cry from the rather ordinary property the couple bought back in 2011.“There was virtually no garden, just lawn,” Stuart explains. “There was one or two large willows and a kanuka – that was about it.”

“But we liked the house,” continues Barry.  “And the flat site which is rare on Waiheke.  It’s also a very sheltered location; plus it has a stream.” Other factors in the site’s favour are its good depth of topsoil, which makes planting easy, and its high water table that is a boon to gardeners on an island where water is very precious.

A small bridge crosses the tiny creek, while a variety of secluded seating areas wait to be discovered within the lush vegetation.

A small bridge crosses the tiny creek, while a variety of secluded seating areas wait to be discovered within the lush vegetation.

 

Mixing native plants with subtropical plants

When it came to deciding on a theme for the garden there was no question in Stuart and Barry’s minds. “The property just seemed to lend itself to a mix of natives and subtropicals,” says Stuart. “We knew we wanted to create room settings within the garden – different sitting areas that we could use depending on the sun, wind and time of day – because we move around the garden constantly. We also like the idea of discovering different things as you walk around the garden,” adds Barry.

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The landscaping plan

The first major landscaping project was the construction of the boardwalks that meander through the garden, connecting the street front car parking area and the pedestrian entrance to the existing bridge over the stream. Next the couple added a pergola over the bridge and built the oriental-inspired summerhouse, with Stuart doing most of the construction himself. He also built his art studio and laid the gravel paths using local Waiheke stone.

“We built it all ourselves with only one argument,” laughs Barry. “We also had to replace all the decks, as they were originally built by a 70-year-old and weren’t level.”

Garden structure ideas

It’s hard to pinpoint the standout features in this garden, as there are interesting structures, plants and decorative touches everywhere you look. For instance, the oriental summerhouse with its pagoda-like detailing, Buddha statue and rich red timbers. Or the deck area on the south west side of the house, shaded in summer by wisteria draped over the pergola above. The couple tend to inhabit this space during the hottest months of the year. However it’s the eels in the stream that were the talking point with hundreds of people who visited the garden during the last three Waiheke Garden Festivals (held annually in November). “The people before us had children and they used to hand-feed eels in the stream, so we carried on the tradition,” says Barry. As well as these slimy creatures, families of ducks, rosellas, tuis, wood pigeons and many other birds also visit regularly, unable to resist the charms of this very lovely garden.

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Subtropical garden plants to choose

Next came the planting.  Having decided to get rid of the lawn completely Barry and Stuart began planting palms and trees to form a canopy beneath which they could add a mixture of flowering shrubs and lush leaved plants such as ligularia, shell, ginger, ctenathe, bromeliads, cannas and spider plants. “Somebody once described this garden as organised chaos,” says Barry. They’re big fans of bamboo and have planted several species including an unusual Mexican variety. As well as bromeliads (he has about 200) Stuart also loves Chinese lantern (Abutilon) and has planted several different types. “They flower for about eight months of the year,” he enthuses. “We have white, red, orange and a dwarf variety with tiny red and white flowers.”

Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photos by: Helen Bankers.

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