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.

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