Planning and planting a verdant home garden in Tauranga has been both healing and enriching for this hands-on couple
This couple found healing in creating a bountiful urban garden
For Isaac Weston and Lara Bui, 2008 and 2009 were extremely challenging years. With two unsuccessful rounds of IVF and the passing of their beloved cat, Max, the couple were left feeling lost, heartbroken and bereaved.
They decided they needed a fresh start and purchased a house in Matua, Bay of Plenty.
Although the property needed updating, its beautiful estuary views, abundant bird life and potential for landscaping really captured their imaginations.
The couple soon found the challenge of starting a new garden was a good way to heal and move on from the grief and disappointment of recent years.
Fast-forward to 2016 when the couple’s backyard was accepted as a Trail Garden for the Bay of Plenty Garden & Art Festival, having been transformed into something truly unique.
That same year, Lara had decided to set up Cool Plants, a business supplying customers with plant packages for work or home. “In the simplest terms, I wanted to bring a bit of beauty to the world through potted greenery,” she says. “In my eyes, plants are so beautiful and life-affirming.”
Launching a new horticulture enterprise just before the start of autumn is unusual as plants need protection from wind, rain and frost, something Lara and Isaac’s property had none of. They set about covering the decked area at the side of the house with a large gazebo and white polycarbonate sheeting, an idea Lara had seen in a YH&G feature years before. She found it created a brilliant “lightbox” effect.
This area is now one of Lara’s favourite spaces and it’s where she propagates, pots up and stores the plants she buys to grow. It conveniently connects to the Cool Plants showroom, allowing her to easily pop outside and get additional plants as required. Laid out gallery-style amid the foliage is Isaac’s garden art and wall-panel workspace for his business, Re.Work.It, which look stunning with Lara’s plants as a backdrop.
I wanted to bring a bit of beauty to the world through potted greenery... plants are beautiful and life-affirming
A lightbulb moment
The design of Isaac and Lara’s urban garden has multiple areas, such as the pizza oven area, al fresco dining space, outdoor showroom, food forest and vege gardens, all cleverly defined by Isaac’s artworks, mature trees and beautiful urban planting.
Three years ago, Lara attended a workshop held by Kay Baxter from the Koanga Institute on food forests. “It was a lightbulb moment as I learned we could be growing a lot more of our own food, even though we are in an urban environment,” recalls Lara. With the course workbook as their guide, the couple plotted out what foods they would like to grow.
The plan took into consideration soil health, drainage, sun direction and existing protective hedging. It was an evolving process, but they now have berries, almonds, pears, apples, nectarines, peaches, oranges, plums, lemons, guavas and lime trees. They also created several raised vege gardens from which they largely harvest broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes, capsicums, chillies, spinach, courgettes, beetroot, peas, broad beans and lettuces.
Isaac built a wooden slat wall in the pizza oven area to provide screening from the neighbours, and sweet-smelling jasmine grows on the wall’s sunnier side. On the dining side – which enjoys dappled sunlight thanks to the overhanging Valencia orange tree – the couple have installed one of Cool Plants’ own products, the Prai Vertical Garden System. The bromeliads the couple planted in its pockets are perfect as they’re low maintenance, vibrant, and require very little soil.
This garden, grown lovingly from seeds, is full of life-affirming beauty and is testament to the power of plants. “I know a plant isn’t just a plant – often it’s a new beginning, a healthier lifestyle or someone just being nicer to themselves,” Lara says. She and Isaac know better than most that a well-tended garden offers new beginnings every day.
Words by: Annick Larkin. Photography by: Jay Drew.