A showcase of nature
Meredith Lee’s garden is a perfect corner of Europe in the centre of Auckland.
A bit of Europe in central Auckland
When your home is also your business premises, things have to look spot on pretty much all the time. When the garden is also part of that business, there’s even more pressure. Not that you would notice any signs of anxiety if you dropped in to visit Meredith Lee at her big white Grey Lynn villa in central Auckland.
Meredith decided 13 years ago to find a live work site for her business European Antiques, somewhere she could display the beautiful furniture and decorative pieces she regularly sources from France, Belgium, Sweden and other European countries. The villa’s well-proportioned rooms turned out to be perfect for the job but the garden… not so much. Its subtropical style just didn’t work as a background for the classic French zinc planters, stone finials and graceful wrought iron furniture she imports. “I decided it needed to be more European to complement the rest of the house,” she explains. “It had to be a working garden to display my outdoor pieces. Both the house and the garden are retail spaces. I knew when I started this business that I didn’t want a classic retail shop because you can’t get the same relationship with the furniture and other pieces as you do in a home environment.”
Meredith commissioned Sayburn Miller of Verde Garden Design to come up with the initial design for the garden and has continued to develop it over the years. Her design concept is simple: green, white and scented with European styling. The luxuriant subtropical planting has been replaced by a more restrained palette of clipped bay trees, gardenia, star jasmine, Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’, eugenia and port wine magnolia ( Michelia figo).
“I am definitely a green kind of girl; I love gardens that are mainly green. I also like a neutral palette; it’s very French,” says Meredith. “I find it so restful and the colour complements the stone, zinc and terracotta so beautifully.”
To add seasonal colour, she grows different flowering plants in pots and troughs. In the winter months, white cyclamen are in bloom while in summer it’s her favourite flowering plants, blue and white hydrangeas. A range of different sized evergreen topiary adds further interest.
Everywhere you look in the garden, beautiful objects are artfully placed. Most are antiques from France and England, and each has its own story.
“I like to think of gardens as outdoor rooms which I furnish with key pieces working with different textures, layering, colouring and seasonal drama,” she says.
You enter the garden via French doors from the living area, stepping down to a serene courtyard terrace – Meredith’s favourite spot for relaxing and entertaining. It’s the epitome of French elegance with its pale gravel floor, green foliage and the straight grey trunks of pleached bay trees. “Although they are definitely slow growing, I wanted to use bay trees because they introduce a strongly structural element into the garden with their straight grey trunks,” she explains.
“I planted English ivy under the bay trees to introduce another layer of green. It had become so shaded there as the hedge has grown that this seemed like a good solution. Nothing much will grow there and the soil is very compacted. Luckily, they are thriving… and it cleverly hides leaf drop and restricts weed growth.”
Different tables and chair settings from her collection are used to form the centrepiece of the courtyard. Until recently it was an elegant cream circa 1940s wrought iron outdoor table setting but now it’s a more modern wooden table and chairs from ECC. “I wanted to introduce a bit of a contemporary element into the garden with this setting. I’ve also added some wonderful antique French lantern posts to this area and I’m looking to introduce a lighting scheme soon to highlight the trunks of the bay trees for night time drama.”
A second set of stairs takes you down to another paved courtyard, this one displaying a plethora of finials, plinths, terracotta pots, zinc weather vanes and metal watering cans as well as steel tables, stone benches and a fabulous wrought iron bench seat.
Everywhere you look in the garden, beautiful objects are
artfully placed. Most of the pieces are antiques from France and England, and each has its own story. She points out a lovely French limestone angel that has just arrived in her most recent shipment. It had somehow ended up in Denmark where Meredith found it.
She knows which pieces will appeal to different clients and will contact them if she finds the perfect urn or statue. “I am working on a country garden for a client at the moment with a strong English style so that is good fun. I have bought some of the new shipment with this garden in mind. Sadly, I do find that a garden seems to be at the end of a client’s makeover and so the budget is more restricted. That is why fewer, stronger monumental pieces are proving more popular. Also, pieces like benches that are functional as well as being striking.”
Meredith maintains the garden herself “with the help of a wonderful gardener, Geoff. He has been visiting me twice a year for about the past 10 years to clip the hedges and do overall maintenance such as feeding and so forth. How he trims the long hedges by eye I do not know but I am grateful that he can.”
She comes from a family of gardeners and regularly visits her parents’ large English style garden. “I was very proud of my mother being featured in the NZ Herald one day as they covered her success in growing paeonies in Auckland, almost an impossible thing to do. Suffice to say we had many bulb fridges in the garage.”
And although she has seen many beautiful gardens here and in Europe, when you ask Meredith which garden designer she admires most, her response is immediate. “My mother’s, pure and simple. She is my absolute inspiration with her incredible plant knowledge, design skills and her daring colour combinations. She lives to garden and is in it each and every day.”
Meredith takes her Swedish day bed out into the side garden on a sunny day.
Dried flowers. An early 20th century zinc peacock.
Reconstituted stone lions.
Meredith adores the delicate foliage of pratia.
Meredith on her front veranda with white clematis planted in pots either side of the door.
The French favoured zinc, here used for a hip bath, because it was easy to work.
Pleached bay and ficus trees bring the structured formality of European gardens to this Grey Lynn courtyard.
White cyclamen fill an antique stone trough in another small courtyard behind the house.
The green foliage of buxus, hydrangea and hosta beautifully complements their zinc planters.