Although small in size this courtyard garden in St Heliers is beautifully designed and a constant source of joy for owners Robin and Jack
This picture-perfect courtyard garden is small in size but perfectly formed
Who lives here? Robin and Jack Dawson (both retired) and Mabel the black schnauzer.
Robin, what was top of your wish-list with this garden? I wanted to be able to walk straight into the house and walk out to the garden as though it was one big space.
What advice would you give people when choosing a garden designer? Make sure you have an excellent relationship with the designer. We have worked with Tony Murrell before and now have a good friendship. We have a connection through the garden, and often see him at the garden centre where he’ll look in our trolley and critique what we are buying.
One of the most common difficulties facing landscape designers today is how to create interest in the small gardens that are increasingly the norm in our cities. That difficulty is compounded when your clients are keen gardeners like Robin and Jack Dawson. Luckily landscape designer Tony Murrell knows these clients well, having worked with them on their previous property. He was more than capable of coming up with a garden that would make them happy after they moved to a newly constructed town house on a small site in the Auckland suburb of Saint Heliers.
The Dawsons house is down the end of a driveway, surrounded by other houses. One of the first issues to contend with on the bare site was lack of privacy for outdoor living. Their designer’s solution was to plant a row of ornamental pears (Pyrus calleryana ‘Aristocrat’) along the northern boundary of the garden. These deciduous trees not only screen the neighbouring buildings but they also add an important vertical dimension to the new garden as well as adding shade in summer.
Tony added another row of the ornamental pears in the driveway, visually connecting the two areas. “I love the fact that these trees have superb autumn colour with very orange leaves, they love the wind and are hugely drought tolerant,” he says.
Along the eastern boundary a row of clipped Eugenia columns disguise the high fence, breaking up the fenceline and adding more interest than a solid hedge would. They also allow more space for other plants, an essential factor for the plant-loving homeowners. “The clipping is constant, but a joy,” says Jack.
Before planting the Eugenia columns the fence was repainted a stone colour to reflect light back into the narrow site. “It’s important to make sure the garden doesn’t close you in,” says Tony. To add further structure two conifer spirals (Thuja pyramidalis) were planted on either side of the glass doors linking the inside living spaces to the outdoors. This, plus the lines of mondo grass planted in between the pavers, help bring the planting as close as possible to the house so the courtyard and internal living spaces can merge into one large entertaining area. “We use the garden a lot, all day every day,” says Jack.
A winding path of irregular-shaped Paradise stone slabs set into white limestone chip links the front courtyard to the back of the property where the vegetable garden and service areas are located. The informality of this side path contrasts nicely with the straight lines of the main paved outdoor entertaining area and is a big attraction for the couple’s grandchildren. “They love to run around the garden,” says Robin.
Another feature that the children enjoy is the border of rain lilies (Zephyranthes) between the side path and the house. These strappy-leaved plants produce pretty crocus-like white flowers from late spring to late summer and are so named because rainfall will encourage them to bloom. “Tony chose them because we wanted something different than mondo grass for that partly shaded area,” says Robin. “The children love them because they look like little fairies in the garden. ”
One of Robin’s favourite plants is the pale pink David Austin rose Sharifa Asma growing by the outdoor dining room. “Its perfume is absolutely beautiful,” she says. “We also have the fragrance of low-growing gardenias (Gardenia radicans) in this area and the climber stephanotis (Stephanotis floribunda) growing up the fence. When they are all out and we sit here in the evening it’s so lovely.”
“Tony made sure that wherever you are sitting inside you can see something interesting in the garden,” says Robin. “In summer I stand in my kitchen and smile as I look at the Dublin Bay rose growing on the wall and the bright red rose LD Braithwaite by the window. On the fence is Mademoiselle, another red rose; it makes a lovely contrast with the stone-coloured fence. I started off wanting a white garden but changed my mind somewhere along the line. I started yearning for colour.”
Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by:Sally Tagg.