All it took to get this garden from sloping and sad to modern and fab was careful planning, a digger… and 25 years
A steep garden is an entertainer’s dream thanks to clever landscaping
A quarter-century ago, when Paresh and Naina Patel bought their 370-square-metre property in the up-and-coming suburb of Grey Lynn, they were blissfully unaware of what a savvy investment it would be. “We chose the area because we couldn’t afford Ponsonby,” laughs Paresh. “It was an old square-front villa with three bedrooms in serious need of restoration.”
The home had plenty of positives, though, including the fact it was close to Auckland’s CBD and had a north-facing aspect with a veranda looking out over Cox’s Bay. However, with a young family and busy careers – Paresh is the finance manager for Sky TV and Naina is a pharmacist – the couple had to wait until 2002 before tackling their home renovation. Budget constraints meant they had to put the similarly rundown garden on the back burner for a further 12 years after that.
Now, thanks to a major garden revamp by landscape designer Kirsten Sach, the Patels and their two children Zahra, 15, and Shay, 12, finally have the garden of their dreams. Their crisply contemporary outdoor living space means they can easily entertain friends and family with room to spare. “We hosted the family Christmas last year with more than 50 people,” Paresh enthuses. “We’ve had hockey teams, friends and neighbours here for barbecues. And we enjoy breakfasts in the weekends and evening dinners in the outdoor space when we can.”
“When we first bought the house, the front yard was overgrown with trees, and the backyard had a large plum tree and a brick pond with waterlilies,” recalls Paresh. “The backyard was sloping, the soil was mainly clay and the neighbouring houses were very close.”
During the house renovation, a lean-to at the back was demolished and the kitchen/living/dining area built out into the garden with bifold doors for access to the garden. Connecting the new extension to the outdoors was the biggest challenge for Kirsten. “The house had terrible access to the rear garden, with no indoor-outdoor flow, as well as broken-down walls at the front,” says the designer.
The Patels were not focused on a particular garden style. Their key requirement was an increase in liveable space in the rear garden, says Kirsten. “They wanted to be able to throw open the bifolds and connect to an entertainment space that included a gas fire and built-in seating to create a cosy feel. It was also important that there was some lawn area for the kids,” she explains.
Other important factors for Paresh and Naina included a deck that flowed out on the same level as the internal floor, low-maintenance planting and a high level of finish.
Kirsten created a two-tiered design with a lawn area on the top level accessed via steps from the lower level. A small herb and vege garden was planted alongside the lawn to take advantage of the full sun. The washing line is disguised behind attractive slatted screens and new paths connect the front and back gardens. Out the front, the old concrete-block retaining wall was replaced, the front yard levelled and new front steps built.
Creating access to the rear of the site for excavation involved a lot of discussion between Kirsten and contractors Urbis Landscapes.
“The steeply sloping backyard needed significant retaining and it was only possible to get a small digger in. Soil was taken away via an automated conveyor belt to a truck on the street,” she says.
“The planting design needed to feel green and clipped with fragrance where possible,” adds Kirsten. She selected mainly white-flowering, scented, low-maintenance plants such as iceberg roses, gardenia, star jasmine, Michelia gracipes, Chilean guava (Ugni molinae) and citrus trees.
Naina looks after the 3.5-square-metre vege garden and her crops include eggplant, chillies, lettuce, broccoli, cucumbers, parsley, sage, thyme, basil and coriander. “Naina is the gardener in the family,” says Paresh. “I am the lawnmower.”
When asked about their favourite part of the garden, it’s clear the Patels adore their outdoor living room. “With the fireplace and the big sun umbrella, it’s fantastic for entertaining and relaxing all year round. The Escea gas fireplace is mainly for ambience as we cook on a barbecue. We love the look and the convenience of being able to flick it on and off,” says Paresh.
Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Helen Bankers.