Colin and Vicki Davis used global inspiration for their eclectic garden of themed ‘rooms’. Discover how they successfully reimagined the quarter acre dream
This couple’s traditional Tauranga garden has a global twist
There’s no need for a garden to feature a uniform theme throughout. Just ask Colin and Vicki Davis, whose Tauranga garden has been divided into different ‘rooms’. One area is English-themed, in another a Balinese statue is comfortably at home, and there’s a French-inspired quarter, too. In yet another zone, subtropical planting is accompanied by a cordyline-like sculpture that Colin made from a water cylinder.
This diversity was not, however, part of the original plan. Colin and Vicki started out with a vision of an English formal garden, with boxed hedging and lots of flowers. But they soon discovered their quarter-acre site was too big to sustain that focus, so the idea of different themes was developed. The challenge was transitioning from one zone to the next. “To make it seamless, we decided to use ficus and different mondo grasses as a common denominator,” says Vicki.
The couple’s 1920s home had been renovated in the 1940s, 1960s and 1980s. It’s not a stock-standard home, says Vicki, and their garden has followed suit with its own eclectic style.
When Colin and Vicki bought their home in 1992, the site was overgrown in areas, with trees and shrubs including unkempt camellias and remnants of citrus down the back. There was also a garage on the prime northern corner of the property.
Colin and Vicki retained very little, except for two camellias, one camellia shoot (now a substantial specimen) and a rhododendron. The latter, which is in the kitchen courtyard at the front, has Vicki’s determination and powers of persuasion to thank for its existence. “Colin thought it should go. I had to buy him a leaf blower in order to win that debate,” she laughs.
The site is 1012 square metres (a traditional quarter acre) so it was always going to be a big beautification project. It is one that has been tackled in stages. Colin and Vicki explain that they basically started at the front of the section and worked their way back.
“The first thing we did,” Colin says, “was establish a courtyard off the kitchen area, surrounding the rhododendron.” Also tackled promptly was the demolition of the garage, which was then replaced by a lawn. In came a bulldozer and Bobcat, and a wall was created along the road frontage, along with cedar gates flanked by pillars.
“We were pretty much left with a blank canvas for planting. So we started with the box hedging,” says Colin. Ficus was also quickly planted; Vicki was keen for it to cover everything, but Colin wanted to be able to see his plastered pillars. He jokes how he has to constantly remind his wife, a marketing associate, that he is the architectural designer in the family.
The Bobcat was also used to deal with the site’s slight slope. “There was about a metre’s fall, so we created flat areas,” says Colin.
Work carried out at the front of the property led to the creation of the first of their garden ‘rooms’. As the garden evolved it came to comprise a series of rooms with varying themes. It’s a garden appreciated more for its structure than its floral beauty, Colin says.
The garden rooms
The first ‘room’ was the concreted and paved courtyard surrounding the reprieved rhododendron, next to the kitchen. Alongside is the area Vicki and Colin simply call “the lawn”. This is the only expanse of grass on the entire property and is kept to perfection. It is here that the garden’s structural beauty is most apparent, with buxus-bordered gardens framing the lawn.
Paving stones lead from here to the “outdoor dining room”, an appealing place for al fresco meals, thanks to the outdoor fire, barbecue and concrete furniture. It’s a space defined by two behemoths of the camellia world, each about three metres square, that have joined forces over the years to create a dramatic hedge. These are the garden’s original camellias, which have been squared off to resemble columns.
The “palm lounge” is the next space on the journey around the property. This deck and pergola area feeds off the home’s living room and is so named because of the Washingtonia robusta palms, which are already towering and could potentially grow to 25 metres, Colin confides with a gulp.
The focus of the next segment is a fire pit, Balinese statue and a hanging Indonesian hand-carved screen. It’s a favourite hangout when the couple’s children are home, especially with the spa pool alongside. At the back of the house a path meanders through an area Colin and Vicki call “the dry riverbed”. It’s on the south side of the house, so river stones and pavers were selected over grass, which would be unlikely to thrive.
Pleached olive trees line the fence leading to the French-flavoured portion of the property, which is dedicated to produce. Raised vege beds, a quaint shed, pebbles underfoot, seating, topiary lemon and lime trees and bunting hung between laurels, combine to create a charming ambience. There’s also a section of garden in this vicinity dedicated to subtropical lushness, with philodendrons, cordyline and nikau palms.
About 94 metres of buxus hedging (Vicki paced it out) can be found on the property. The other key plant is mondo grass, in different variations. Dwarf mondo, Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Nana’, is used between the pavers.
Contained by box hedging edged with mondo grass, “the lawn” garden is home to Irish yew trees (slow-growing but they’ve had 23 years on this site) interspersed with bay trees, camellia pillars and camellia topiary and buxus balls. The garden’s front wall features mass-planted agapanthus on the road frontage.
Ponytail palms and grasses join the Washingtonia variety in the “palm lounge” garden room, while the fire pit area is surrounded by bromeliads, hibiscus, cane and sago palms. English channel air plants thrive in the protective boughs of a pohutukawa in this corner of the property. Vicki and Colin also have border gardens of gardenia and hydrangea fronted by buxus and mondo.
The couple can take special pride in their garden, given their input over the years – the now-prevalent mondo was grown from a handful of plants, the bay trees have sprouted from cuttings, the multitude of buxus had its genesis in two good rootstocks, while ficus roots have been separated and replanted. Patience has been a requisite virtue, Vicki says, and it has paid off.
Words by: Monique Balvert-O’Connor. Photography by: Rachel Dobbs.