A little digger and some clever ideas have produced a magical tropical garden with year-round colour and the cutest morning coffee spot
When the scale of a landscaping project is too big to handle, it makes sense to call in the professionals. That’s what Helen Dewsnap and Geoff Watson did when they decided to revamp the garden of their transitional villa in Auckland’s Grey Lynn.
After living there for seven years and renovating the interior, the couple had plenty of ideas for the garden but knew they needed a good designer to help them interpret those ideas. Cue landscape designer Kirsten Sach and contractor Adam Evans (of Urbis Landscapes) who gave the garden a crisp, contemporary feel with plenty of spaces to relax in.
The 480-square-metre site had a front garden that was “old and tired with an indirect path to the front door, so it was important to update the garden and repave the area,” recalls Kirsten.
“The rear garden faces southwest and consisted of just an old sloping lawn. Drainage was poor, and the outlook from the house lacked any interest.”
The one redeeming feature in the back garden was the deck and outdoor fireplace built and installed by Geoff. “He likes a bit of a project,” says Helen. “He spent hours on his knees and could even probably tell you how many screws were used. Geoff found the wood-fired Jetmaster fireplace on Trade Me and he built around that using concrete blocks and plaster with the help of a friend.”
The couple gave their designer a clear outline of how they wanted to use the garden. “We asked Kirsten to redesign the existing garden to make it more usable, contemporary, and be really attractive all year round,” says Helen.
“We explained the sorts of plants (natives and tropicals) and colours that we liked and she came up with suggestions that would suit our garden and climate, and that wouldn’t require too much attention. I also wanted to have a herb and vege garden with citrus trees close to the kitchen for easy access. We saved the lime and lemon tree from the old garden and just had the gardeners transport them to a different area.”
At the front of the house Helen and Geoff wanted a structured look, more in keeping with the architecture of the house, and a more relaxed, subtropical feel out the back. Minimal maintenance was also essential.
“We both enjoy being out in the garden, pottering away, but we don’t have the time to spend hours and hours maintaining it as we are often away for work,” Helen explains. “We don’t mind general maintenance and I enjoy looking after my pots and vege patch, with varying degrees of success – this year’s cauliflowers are a complete failure; the slugs loved them!”
A retaining wall had to be built across the back garden to create a level lawn (fortunately a narrow model of digger was able to fit down the side of the house). “This gave instant structure,” says Kirsten. “We clad the timber retaining in horizontal slats and stained them a dark colour, which is a great way of improving a boring old retaining wall.”
The other two construction jobs were repaving the front garden and building a pergola in the corner of the back garden where Helen and Geoff could enjoy the morning sun. “The pergola gives a sense of enclosure and screening, with the slats designed to have a waterfall effect,” says Kirsten. “We painted it off-white for a cleaner, more contemporary feel. The shadows cast over the area at different times of the day make it an attractive spot to
sit and view the house.”
To define the front garden while also adding colour and seasonal variety, Kirsten selected clipped Pittosporum ‘Little Kiwi’, rain lilies (Zephyranthes) and Loropetalum ‘Burgundy’. Standardised Ficus ‘Tuffy’ frames the path and the steps to the front door.
At the back, she layered subtropical species such as canna lilies, Dypsis palms, bird of paradise (Strelitzia) and philodendrons. “It is also very seasonal here, with bright colour all year round,” Kirsten says.
The couple were keen on having plants that looked good in winter, too, and loved Kirsten’s suggestion of orange trumpet vine (Pyrostegia venusta) to grow over the rear pergola. “It will take a few years to fully grow over the top but will have wonderful bright orange flowers which will brighten up the garden in winter,” enthuses Helen.
Helen and Geoff use their deck all year round for entertaining and everyday relaxing. “In summer, we love having our meals out there,” says Helen. “It’s such a versatile space; we can move from the dining area to the large outdoor sofa in front of the fire. We even sit outside in winter, cuddling up in front of the fire with a glass of wine and some music on.”
The Jetmaster firebox is very easy to clean and leaves few embers so only requires emptying only once in a while, says Helen. Although it can be used for cooking, the couple mainly use it to keep warm when the sun goes down. “We did think about having a pizza oven but the Cadac BraaiMaxx barbecue we have is pretty amazing. You can cook anything on it, even pizza.”
But their favourite spot? It’s the pergola, which has proven ideal for morning coffee, while their two rescue kittens, Jude and Benedict, frolic in the raised beds alongside.
Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Helen Bankers.