Garden style

Landscaping inspiration from a structured New Plymouth garden

This beautiful New Plymouth garden has a contemporary, formal style and a variety of interesting spaces


A beautiful New Plymouth garden with a contemporary, formal style

If walls could talk, her Taranaki house could tell a story or two, reckons Chris McCallum. Built over 90 years ago, the Arts and Crafts house was once part of a farm that supplied produce to New Plymouth Boys’ High School and later became a hostel for boarding pupils. “Over the years, we have had the occasional knock on the door from past boarders wishing to reacquaint themselves with their memories and also teachers (whose parties were said to be legendary),” she laughs.

When Chris and husband Bill bought the property in the late 1980s, the house had been extensively renovated and the large cottage-style garden with its swimming pool was already well established. However, many of the trees had grown too big and the couple were keen to create a better connection between house and garden. Despite the fact they both had full-on careers and an active young family, they gradually began to transform the garden, adding structure and creating outdoor spaces for the whole family to enjoy, including a fabulous outdoor chessboard. “In those days, I only dabbled with landscaping and gardening,” says Chris modestly, but her verdant, cleverly laid out garden says the opposite, revealing the hand of a skilled designer and plantswoman.


The site

Sheltered from the southerly winds by a hill, the 1000-square-metre site had a north-facing lawn at the rear of the house, a swimming pool on the east side, and a sloping lawn and more trees on the west. Crammed into the southern street frontage was a garage, potting shed and a small, irregular lawn. An enormous yew tree towered almost to the height of the house. (The tree, now close to 50 years old, is “keeping the evil at bay”, says Chris with a smile.)


To make it easier to move around the property and improve light into the house and garden, the removal of overgrown trees and conifer hedges was a priority. The potting shed at the front and a disused spa pool and conservatory on the east side of the garden also had to go. Verandas were added to both sides of the house and a deck to the rear. To give more structure to the garden some of the existing patchy lawns were replaced with paved courtyards and a stepping-stone path was laid down the side of the house.

Chris grew buxus from cuttings for topiary and buxus was also planted as hedging around the rear lawn to create a horseshoe shape. A spherical water feature was installed at the far end as a focal point to be viewed from the living room. The birds love the water feature, says Chris. “Blackbirds flap in the trough, sparrows dunk themselves and wax-eyes sit atop the small fountain. It’s hilarious and delightful.”



In place of the massive gums, large magnolia and a banksia that previously dominated the garden are more amenable trees, including a deciduous beech at the end of the rear lawn, a kowhai, Japanese maples and a silk tree. On the lower levels, Chris grows a rich selection of plants with eye-catching foliage and flowers, such as aeonium, ligularia, nandina and liriope, as well as those Taranaki stalwarts, rhododendrons and azaleas. A fragrant rhododendron and a circular lawn of hot-pink Spanish shawl greet you at the front, and a formal garden of white standard roses and flowering cherries on the eastern side adds its lovely blooms in spring.

Chris loves foliage, contrasts of green, seasonal colour, form and effect. “Sculptural plants – such as aeonium with their yellow, cone-like flowers protruding from thick, arching stems – are favourites,” she says. “I also love the loose leaves of the nandina, the glossy foliage of camellias and the large leaves of ligularia. Mass planting rengarenga, nandina, clivia and roses has a great effect and repeat planting also adds continuity to the garden.”

Stand out feature

In a garden full of lovely features, you cannot fail to notice the outdoor chessboard, surrounded by concrete columns to give the area a Roman theme. “The columns are made of concrete drainpipes, installed by Bill and the boys,” says Chris. “The giant chess set was turned by a friend, the talented and understated Bruce Bryant, who quietly agreed to the task as a secret Christmas present for Bill from me.”


The garden has a contemporary, formal style, its strong structure softened by generous planting and a variety of interesting spaces and features. “What I have attempted to do is develop natural privacy, soften the original fencing and make each area special, with focal points to draw you into and around the garden,” Chris explains. “I’ve collected garden art over the years and, funnily enough, each piece reveals its identity when needed. It adds some fun amongst the formality.”

Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Jane Dove Juneau.