A purpose-built oasis, complete with an outdoor kitchen, is a dream come true for this Wellington family
A Wellington backyard with a difference
When Anastasia and Tom Hickey discovered a 620-square-metre property with a big backyard in the east Wellington suburb of Miramar, they were over the moon. “The large backyard was definitely a big drawcard when we were looking at the property,” says Anastasia. “All we could see was the potential and how lucky we would be to have such a big blank canvas. A lot of Wellington has been subdivided now, so, having three kids, the backyard was a dream come true.”
The downside was it had previously been used as a home garage/workshop and there were two vehicle-inspection pits in the garden that had to be filled in and concreted as well as numerous potholes, bags of rubbish, washing machine and car parts and an old lawn roller. None of this deterred the enterprising couple, who were thrilled to buy the place and have spent the last seven years turning the neglected backyard into a flourishing garden complete with an outdoor kitchen.
Running east to west, the garden has reasonably good topsoil and is relatively sheltered. However, wind can be an issue, as Anastasia explains: “Because we live in Wellington we’ve put a lot of thought into where the wind comes from and have planted or planned around it. We do have great sun, especially in the afternoon, and we have even stained the concrete black to attract the heat of the sun.”
Screening for wind was a key task, with new hedges planted along some of the boundaries to reinforce those already there. The property had no garden beds at all, only a number of established fruit trees, some of which were diseased and had to be removed, along with the rubbish. Potholes had to be filled in, the lawn evened out and garden beds, a pergola, outdoor living areas, steps and paths built. Luckily, Tom’s experience running his own property maintenance business meant the couple were able to do virtually all the landscaping work themselves.
Eco-conscious garden style
Tom and Anastasia were determined to use as many recycled or re-purposed materials as they could in the garden, along with plants donated by family and friends. Although cost was a consideration in this choice, using materials with a bit of a story behind them was a far bigger factor. “Knowing that some of the things we were using either had come from someone else in our family or already had a history with the property was important, and felt right,” says Anastasia. “One of the nicest elements about our outdoor area is being able to walk in the garden and tell a story about so many things.”
The result is a unique and charming garden that is a delightful testimony to the couple’s eco-conscious creativity. Built structures made out of recycled or locally milled timber and old bricks are surrounded by fruit trees, vegetables, herbs and cottage flowers. Anastasia made many of the decorative elements inside the outdoor kitchen herself, including macramé plant holders, wall hangings, window screens and the beautiful vertical succulent gardens that hang on the wall. She also made the kokedama (Japanese moss balls, a form of bonsai) which dangle from beams and posts.
The vegetable garden is a family affair in the Hickey household with the three children helping to plant and water throughout the year. Tom and Anastasia grow lots of tomatoes (cherry and Roma) and peas that the kids can easily pick straight from the garden to eat.
“Cucumber is another favourite,” says Anastasia. “We also harvest and marinate our own olives using my grandmother’s recipe from her birthplace of Lesvos in Greece.”
Many of the plants in the garden were either gifts or grown from cuttings given to the family by grandparents and parents. “My mum gave us the ‘Iceberg’ roses when we purchased the house and she gives me so much inspiration in the garden,” says Anastasia. “Our garden is a non-stop story and over the years we will create so many more memories, and it will see so many more ages and stages of our lives, to add to it.”
The outdoor kitchen stands on the concrete pad of the former workshop/garage and this large, covered space dominates the garden – but in a good way. It’s elevated height means users can sit and survey the garden, and enjoy more sun than if they were lower down in the backyard. Wisteria and grapevines drape the 20x20cm macrocarpa pergola posts and the back wall is a wonderful mix of freshly milled native timber (rimu, matai, and tawa) and recycled rimu sarking salvaged from Tom’s late father’s workshop.
“We use the outdoor space for everything,” says Anastasia. “It can happily accommodate five or six families with kids for big parties and it’s also a great place to sit for family meals. In the first two months of summer after we completed it, we ate outside more times than we had in the entire five years we’d been living here. The kids also use it during the day as a place to hang out, listen to music, dance, bounce a ball or sit and read a book in the swing or on the steps.”
The catalyst for the whole outdoor kitchen project was the pizza oven, built by Tom after more than two years of research. The pizza-oven build was a long and involved process to get it just how they wanted, partly because they used recycled materials wherever possible, and sourcing everything took time. “The bench had to be poured first and set solid, and creating the layers for the dome was complex and time-consuming,” Anastasia says.
Now they’ve got it, they’re making the most of it, firing it up at least once a week through summer, and now, in the cooler weather, every couple of weeks. “We use it for pizzas and have cooked lots of slow roasts, which are just amazing – the meat falls off the bone. We have also cooked an occasional dessert in the oven and bake bread, too,” says Anastasia. Pizza, though, is by far the most popular request from the kids. “We roast tomatoes from the vege garden to make our own pizza sauce and put them into preserving jars ready to go. We are definitely still learning and trying out different things each time we light the oven and we really have fun with it.”
Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Nicola Edmonds.