Life is sweet in this Waiheke garden that features a touch of Italian flair

This sprawling Waiheke Island garden is an entertainers dream with its outdoor kitchen complete with Italian-style pizza oven


Life is sweet in this Waiheke garden that features a touch of Italian flair

When Vicki and Marco Canestri decided to build an outdoor kitchen in their Waiheke Island garden, the biggest priority was a pizza oven. After months of research they found the perfect one, which was then transported from suppliers Authentic Oven in Tauranga.

Once the oven was installed, the couple decorated the front of it with the beautiful tiles Marco had ordered from Deruta, a small town in the province of Perugia, Italy. On the tiles are the words “Mangio Gioco Amo” (Eat Play Love), and this aptly sums up the Canestris’ attitude to their garden.


The site

The couple bought their 1800-square-metre property overlooking an inlet at Ostend, on the island’s south side, seven years ago. Vicki loved the size of the garden, its mature trees and the fact it was flat (not common on Waiheke), so her children Gabriella and Antony (then aged 6 and 3 respectively) would have plenty of space to play.


“It was a bit of an impulse buy,” she confesses. “I loved the feel of the garden. The house needed work, but we decided we’d wait until the kids were a bit older before doing anything.

“Once we’d moved in, the reality of what we’d taken on with the garden started to sink in. The amount of work was somewhat overwhelming. For a while we were trying to work on the whole thing, but all we ended up doing was trying to keep it tidy and not making any progress, so we decided to focus on one area at a time.


Vicki’s main passion is the vegetable garden, although she does grow shrubs and flowers in other parts of the garden. “In the border near the petanque area, I went for shrubs that either flowered or had interesting leaves. I wanted different shapes and colours so it would have all-year-round appeal.


I actually prefer my vege bed to the flower bed, though. You can be really creative with the layout to get a contrast of different shapes. I’ve been learning through trial and error, but the vege beds have evolved to cater for the type of things I want to grow.”


The first section Vicki and Marco tackled was the outdoor entertaining area, already partly established by the previous owners. “As a surprise for our wedding anniversary in January 2011, Marco got a landscaper in to help him tidy it up, and make it more formal by putting some seating in,” says Vicki.

But the entertaining area’s location in the middle of the garden meant having to constantly carry meals between the house and garden. “So we decided that what we needed was an outdoor kitchen, plus Marco really wanted a pizza oven. Well, he is half-Italian!


“This led to a lot of time looking at Googled images and drawing lots of pictures. The criteria included a built-in barbecue, pizza oven, sink, benchtop with a slab to roll out pizza dough, and cupboards to keep outdoor dinnerware and glasses in. The sink also needed to be big enough so we could fill it with ice to keep wine, beer and food cool while entertaining.”

Marco built the outdoor kitchen himself, with a neighbour providing advice on the engineering steel needed to support the 650kg pizza oven. “Personally, I think it’s the most over- engineered kitchen on the planet,” laughs Vicki, “but it has everything we need.”

Next on the agenda was the petanque area, which the couple built a few steps up from the entertaining area. The vegetable garden was the final project, an area Vicki was keen to develop. “My grandfather had a vege garden when we were kids and I love the idea of home-grown veges, so thought I’d give it a go.”


A decision to enter their property in the local garden festival in 2012 gave them even more incentive to get the garden finished. Vicki and Marco have personal reasons for supporting the festival, which is run by the Jassy Dean Trust to raise funds to help families on the island with children going through times of crisis, illness or recovery from accidents.

“Gabriella was diagnosed with a form of spina bifida when she was 18 months old,” Vicki explains. “We ended up having to take her to England for surgery, which thankfully was successful. On our return, we received a card in the post from the Jassy Dean Trust with a cheque for $500 to help with costs for physiotherapy following the surgery.”


Rather than having any strong ideas about how the garden should look, the Canestris were happy to let it evolve as it developed. Part of the vege garden has been reconstructed three times, admits Vicki. “The main challenge was getting Marco to do the borders for me. For some reason he doesn’t like me using some of his tools.

“I spent a lot of time looking at images online and at gardening books. I don’t think I have any natural design flair. It’s not been easy to do – it’s taken seven years – but I love it now.”

Standout features

Vicki particularly loves the outdoor kitchen and the greenhouse built by Marco, which he made by using old windows and leftover building materials from the house renovation.


“I also love the fish pond,” she says. “It was an old water tank on the site that we pulled out and cleaned up. And of course we all love the entertaining area, and the kids spend a lot of time playing on the lawn and on the trampoline.”

Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Helen Bankers.

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