A steep slope, weeds and thickets of bamboo couldn’t stop this inspired homeowner transforming her Auckland section into a Balinese-style paradise
An unruly Meadowbank section became this tropical oasis
Fiona Milde vividly recollects her first impressions of the property she bought four years ago in Kohimarama in Auckland’s Eastern Bays. “Ghastly. My father, who was a building inspector, had a slight nervous breakdown. It was clinker brick downstairs, weatherboard on the middle level and plaster with a Mediterranean bell tower on the upper level. Beautiful shades of apricot and green. And the outside patio areas were terracotta tiles. Bamboo had invaded the garden so much that I couldn’t believe how much land there was when we started cutting it back.”
Now it’s hard to believe she is talking about the same property. A gently trickling rill flows around spacious decks surrounded by lush subtropical plants. A Japanese-style pavilion at the end of a lower deck forms the centrepiece of the garden, providing a unique, elegant space for outdoor entertaining.
The 1100-square-metre site is located in a quiet gully with dense foliage in neighbouring properties adding to the sloping section’s seclusion. “There is no traffic noise,” says Fiona. “You’d think you were living in an isolated spot in Bali. You don’t even know the neighbours are there when you come through the front gates. I wanted a house and a garden that felt like I was on an exotic holiday in the tropics each time I entered it. I knew straight away that I could work with this platform.”
Although the slope, weeds, bamboo and a two-metre drop between house and garden meant that major excavations would be needed to achieve her vision, Fiona was unfazed.
She commissioned Auckland company Landscape Designer to help turn her dream into reality, giving them a simple brief: “I wanted exotic and I wanted to feel like I was on holiday in Bali. I knew what I wanted and had an original concept in mind. Matt McIsaac and his colleague Jules Moore fine-tuned it. Together we came up with the overall picture.”
I wanted to feellike I was on holiday in Bali
The trio drew up a plan based on an ‘Asian fusion’ concept which would create space for Fiona’s love of outdoor entertaining not just for the summer months but in winter, too. Matt designed three deck areas: an upper deck which captures the afternoon sun; a middle deck with an outdoor fireplace, connecting to the open-plan lounge, kitchen and dining area; and a lower deck which has the beautiful Japanese pavilion at one end.
An L-shaped raised lily pond wraps around the lower deck, flowing under a bridge and steps leading to the middle deck. Palms, banana palms and ferns underplanted with ligularia, heliconia and other subtropicals create a lush layer around the decks, softening the timber structures. “I get sun all day on the decks, from morning through to late afternoon,” enthuses Fiona.
Despite a great team, the construction process was a nightmare, recalls Fiona. “Not everyone had the same vision as me at the time so some of the neighbours were a bit put out, to say the least. However, we soldiered on. There was lots of excavation work; days and days of diggers at work. Once it was cleared it was a great deal easier, but just getting rid of the bamboo was a major task in itself. Using the excavated soil as fill at the back of the garden to create a flat area (rather than paying for it to be removed off site) saved loads of money.
“Access was also a major problem so getting things in and out was very difficult. Getting the outdoor fireplace down the drive was a challenge, not to mention the four-metre-long solid timber outdoor dining table, which took six big, burly builders to lift it.”
There’s no doubt the Japanese pavilion is a key feature in this garden. Fiona did extensive research on pavilions, eventually finding a company in Brisbane (Tropical Lifestyle Living) selling exactly what she wanted. “I searched high and low for something different which married a traditional Asian concept with a modern structure; I didn’t want to do the whole ‘thatched roof’ thing. When I found the Koda Pavilion, I knew it would work. I sent them the dimensions and they made it in a kitset and sent it over. The builders had to make a couple of changes but not many.”
The water rill is another feature she wouldn’t be without. “It brings tranquillity to the garden and the lights reflecting off it – I went all out with lighting! – is absolutely beautiful.”
Fiona loves the plants in her garden, finding that the lush green foliage creates a delightful sense of calm. Although the construction included extensive drainage she is pleased there is still plenty of moisture in the ground for the water-loving subtropical plants.
“The naturally sloping section going down to the creek creates the perfect soil bed for plants of this nature; they just thrive. In fact, Matt said in all the years he has been doing this, he has never seen a garden grow like this one does.”
And her favourite plant? “I’m not sure if I have a favourite. They all work and add to the overall beauty of the garden, but when the waterlilies in the pond are in bloom it’s pretty spectacular.”
Fiona offers some advice for anyone contemplating having a garden designed: “Research, research, research! Think about a theme you want and get Googling – the ideas that are out there are quite incredible. Get a file or a scrapbook and keep all the designs and plants that you like on file. For me, I prefer to go with a single theme and have learnt not to chop and change the look or try to add to it; I like a garden that flows beautifully and works as a single entity.”
Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Helen Bankers.