Landscape designer Chris Paul knew there was no better place to display his talents than in his own steep New Plymouth garden
A landscape designer expertly tackles his own steep New Plymouth garden
After living in old villas and character homes for many years, Taranaki-based landscape designer Chris Paul and his partner, Kevin Wensor, decided it was time for a change.
Five years ago they moved into a newly completed spec home in New Plymouth with their adored pets, Evie the chocolate Labrador and Miss Charlie the tabby cat. Their reasons were twofold: a desire to live in a low-maintenance home and a dream of creating a garden that would showcase Chris’ talent for landscape design.
Chris couldn’t have picked a more challenging project. The site was large, very steep and, although sunny, was covered in weeds of every description. “There was one Meyer lemon tree which was a great producer, but not much else apart from onion weed, woolly nightshade, tradescantia and a huge, out-of-control kiwifruit vine taking over the bottom of the section,” he recalls.
“The positive things were that it backed onto a council reserve (lots of borrowed scenery), had fabulous Taranaki loam soil and was sheltered from the south by a neighbour’s 80-year-old tulip (liriodendron) tree.”
Despite the weeds, Chris could see the potential to create an interesting garden on the sloping site. “I wanted the garden to be ‘designed’ but not ‘designer’ as in clipped and immaculate. A garden that was relaxing, with a bit of soul.”
His wish included a small studio, a sunny Mediterranean area, a level English perennial garden and a lush, tropical garden bordering the reserve at the bottom of the slope.
After revising his plan several times, Chris had a framework for the garden worked out, allowing him to start on the hard landscaping (steps, terraces, paths, etc). To keep costs manageable, he did most of the work himself, using a builder only for the studio and deck extensions.
He started from the top of the site, moving gradually away from the house. To accommodate the three main areas of the garden he created three terraces linked on two sides of the slope by sets of timber and gravel steps (69 altogether). With no access for vehicles, all the materials had to be moved by hand, which was a considerable task given the slope of the site. Many of the materials were recycled, including the pavers for the new paths, the handrails and the studio windows.
As the studio was intended as a working office for his business, Chris wanted it to be a special place. “Its form was determined after purchasing a set of beautiful old leadlight windows from a local recycling yard,” he explains. “The main door and French doors for the studio are all recycled.”
Using plywood for the exterior and interior and corrugated iron for the roof also kept costs down. Boston ivy now softens the building, its leaves turning a spectacular gold in autumn. Inside, the studio is filled with garden books “for inspiration and contemplation”, says Chris. “It’s a lovely spot to listen to the tuis and watch the wood pigeons and fantails go about their business.”
To create an initial framework for the planting, Chris bought several large specimen trees including white-stemmed birch (Betula jacquemontii), Magnolia ‘Vulcan’ and Prunus ‘Mt Fuji’. Privacy was an issue to the north so he planted fairy bamboo (Bambusa gracilis) as a fast-growing screen.
The outdoor living area was also overlooked from the south but a pergola planted with flowering climbers (rose ‘Souvenir de Madame Leonie Viennot’ and Clematis montana ‘Snowflake’) soon gave the couple total privacy while providing the neighbours with a beautiful view.
To create a little formality in the English-style garden he used Christmas box (Sarcococca ruscifolia) hedges instead of the traditional buxus. “Three standard David Austin roses (‘Sharifa Asma’) have a fabulous scent and I’ve planted lots of other bits and pieces including self-seeding aquilegia and foxgloves to soften the look.”
In the hot, sunny Mediterranean area are olive trees, crab apples, palms and Lavandula dentata, “my favourite lavender for Taranaki”. At the bottom of the garden is the tropical zone planted with lush-leaved banana palms, Mexican (or Brazilian) fern tree (Schizolobium parahyba), heliconia and many other plants.
“Our climate is neither too hot nor too cold, providing great growing conditions for a huge range of plants,” enthuses Chris. “Our garden looks great in every season as there is always something of interest to enjoy.”
Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Jane Dove Juneau.