On any sunny weekend you can bet Debbie Hardy will be working in her garden
The landscape designer has created a subtropical oasis around her four-bedroom double-bay villa in Western Springs, Auckland. The house sits on almost a third of an acre (1,225 square metres) and is wrapped around a majestic oak tree – just one of the reasons she and husband Chris bought the property 14 years ago.
“We fell in love with the 90-year-old oak tree plus the unlimited potential of the four-bedroom villa with its extra-wide hallway and tall ceiling stud,” says Hardy. “The position of the property in relation to the sun is the first thing I check when on any site.”
After living in the house for six years the couple spent a year renovating. Then it was time to design the exterior living spaces, including pool and garden – Hardy’s territory. “We get all-day sun,” she says. “The morning sun covers the backyard and living area, and then the afternoon sun shines on the pool area, main living space, entrance and master bedroom.”
With its bare leaves in winter and an almost-deafening sound of its acorns dropping onto the roof in autumn, the oak is the one tree in the garden that lets the family know when the seasons are changing. The tree also provides shelter: “It’s green canopy provides natural protection from the hot sun for our children Lily, Louise and Rush when they’re playing in the garden,” Hardy says. “And it is home to incredible bird life: tuis, doves, pigeons and rosellas.”
Hardy is a big believer in working with the climate you live in to create the perfect garden space. “The position of the property in relation to the sun is the first thing I check when on any site,” she says. “A sunny site makes for a successful, productive and enjoyable garden.”
It’s hardly surprising that Hardy’s career has resulted in garden design as she has had a passion for plants from a very early age. “My great-grandmother called me her ‘little flower girl’,” she says. “I would visit and spend time in her very small garden, which was filled with flowers. No matter what season, it was alive with potted colour and I came to love caring for the plants and marvelled at the colours and form.”
Fast-forward to 1993 when Hardy was an advertising agency account executive, busy juggling long hours with the added pressure of baby son, Rush, in full-time care.
“I couldn’t sustain that pace for much longer, especially as my family grew,” she says. “I needed a career that allowed me to be the boss and manage my own hours and client workload,” she says. A fan of the Ellerslie International Flower Show, it was during the lead-up to the event that year  that Hardy was inspired after reading an article on landscape design. She soon looked into courses on offer at Unitec. “Once a fortnight after work I would take myself off to night school. And after another year in advertising, I resigned to study full-time.”
Within her first year of qualifying at the top of the class, Hardy was working on TV series My House My Castle alongside John ‘Cocksy’ Cocks, presenting a garden makeover feature. This soon led to her setting up her own company, Deb Hardy Landscapes and Design.
Hardy’s vintage, feminine flair is evident in every corner of her home, from vibrant hues in a rainbow of shades to an eclectic art collection. The resort-style garden she calls her haven is, however, surprisingly lacking in flowers. “Let’s not forget that green is a colour too,” she says. “I have a multitude of greens in my garden. A characteristic of the subtropical style is that the majority of plants are evergreens. This means they are the same 365 days a year. Leaf shape also alters the appearance of the colour with the way light bounces off the leaves,” says Hardy. “Let’s not forget that green is a colour too.”
In summer the evergreens produce splashes of vivid colour as they flower. “The bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae) is one of my favourites, the sculptural leaves are a dark green-grey and the flower is a striking orange with a touch of purple, which resembles the head of an exotic bird,” says Hardy. “The giant bird of paradise (Strelitzia nicolai) has a similar shape, but a much larger flower head, and it’s a very deep purple, black and white.”
Edging the borders is a hit of crimson from the leaves of the beefsteak plant (Iresine herbstii). “I’ve used it alongside a path which runs down the side of the house, between the pool and the backyard.” Flowering citrus and gardenia provide heady fragrance and spectacular creamy, white blossom.
Today, Hardy runs her business from home and chairs the Garden Design Society of New Zealand. “We have more than 100 members, mostly practising garden designers who are passionate about good garden design,” she says. In 2011 the society partnered with The Rotary Club of Newmarket to jointly host the Auckland Garden DesignFest. The bi-annual event is open to the public next year, showing around 25 private residential gardens that have been professionally designed. “Most of the gardens have never been open to the public before,” says Hardy, “and possibly never will again.”
Words by: Karlya Smith.
Photography by: Jon Day.