Gardens

A landscape architect and chef create the ultimate edible garden

This picture-perfect farm north-west of Auckland provides a cornucopia of fruit, veges and produce for its owners

A landscape architect and chef create the ultimate edible garden

When a landscape architect and a chef join forces to create a garden, the edible component is bound to be something special. And so it is at Violet Hill Farm, the delightful Kaukapakapa home of Clinton and Renèe Davies.

The couple have lived at the property, along with their menagerie of animals, for 15 years. During that time they’ve created a variety of garden spaces including a picturesque potager and herb garden, native forest, thriving orchard, Japanese garden, wildflower meadow and even a small pond.

The site

Their 2.4-hectare piece of land is located in a valley about 50km north-west of Auckland. Formerly a dairy farm, the property was mainly bare paddocks and a few areas of native bush when the couple found it. In other words, it was perfect, says Renèe. “I wanted a site that was north-facing and sunny, on a private gravel road with little traffic, included some native forest and had oodles of space and potential for planting.”

The hard-working duo set about building a house, sheds and fencing before tackling the garden. Renèe’s an avid gardener but even for her the task was enormous. “It has taken a lot more time than I ever would have anticipated,” she confesses.

“Out of necessity and ambition it has become an all-consuming, lifelong project. The main challenge has been turning paddock into garden and dealing with ongoing weeds such as creeping buttercup and dock. It’s also clay soil, so improving the drainage with lots of horse manure and compost has been an important part of the process.”

Design concept

Although she describes her garden as an eclectic mix, Renèe says the overall theme of the garden is simple. “Mostly it is about beautiful but functional and productive spaces. We have developed an extensive orchard with more than 150 fruit trees, a large potager garden with glasshouse (where I grow my own turmeric, ginger and galangal – there is nothing better than fresh ginger for a wonderful homegrown vegetable stir-fry), citrus grove, pond and walkway, flower gardens and avenue plantings. All the steep and gully areas we have planted with natives to attract birds and ensure low maintenance.”

A large veranda on the north side of the house provides much-needed shade in the heat of summer. “We spend most of our time out here – it’s a lovely space with views out to the potager, then in the evening we stoke up the pizza oven and cook meals so we can spend as much time outside as possible.”

Edible gardens

Renèe and Clinton are very fortunate to be fully self-sufficient for herbs and most vegetables. “We love being able to just walk out the door to gather the herbs and veges we need for a meal. The Auckland climate means most herbs grow all year, so we have fresh chives on our eggs every weekend. Clinton is a chef and we both love cooking with our own produce, so we use the pizza oven a lot, not just for pizzas. We will cook roasts and vegetables in there and even the odd dessert – it does a mean tarte tatin. The benefit is that it also creates a lovely warm outdoor space with a beautiful fire.”

The couple’s large orchard means there’s never a shortage of fruit, either. As well as apples, peaches, oranges and lemons, they grow quince, nectarines, figs, almonds, medlar, crab apples, chestnuts and apricots. Sixteen beautiful Barnevelder chickens range freely in the orchard, helping to reduce pests among the fruit trees. “They love the shade of the trees and scratching around in the grass. Feeding on grass and grubs means we have the most orange eggs I’ve ever seen – they’re gorgeous,” Renèe enthuses.

Reused & recycled

To keep costs down, the couple use recycled materials as often as they can. Renèe and Clinton found a secondhand tin shed and reclad it with old barn timbers to blend it into the landscape.

“We used an old axe for the door handle and it now holds the garden implements,” Renèe says. A number of old baths have also been converted into raised beds. Although very practical, the designer in Renèe doesn’t find the baths very pleasing so they’re kept out of sight. “They are fantastically functional as I have some that retain more water for my water chestnuts and some more moist beds for coriander, then others that are drier. You can manipulate their moisture content by using the drainage system of the plug.”

When it comes to creating gardens, it seems like the combination of a chef with a landscape designer is the ideal recipe. When food meets design, amazing things can grow.

Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Sally Tagg.

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