LUSH LIV­ING

The clever play of lay­ers, tex­tures and colours al­lows one de­signer to add depth and di­men­sion to her sub­ur­ban gar­den.

NZ Gardener - - North Island - STORY: CAROL BUCKNELL PHO­TOS: SALLY TAGG

As an ex­pe­ri­enced land­scape de­signer, San­dra Bat­ley knows the im­por­tance of a clear brief, even for her own gar­den. “A gar­den plan is only as good as the per­son im­ple­ment­ing it,” she says.

For­tu­nately for San­dra, the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Flour­ish, she lives with a land­scape con­trac­tor John Ea­gle­ton and it is his com­pany Out­side Edge Ltd that in­stalls most of the gar­dens she de­signs. “It’s a great part­ner­ship,” she says. “He is my num­ber one con­trac­tor. We of­ten work to­gether dur­ing the con­cep­tual phase as well as out on site dur­ing the con­struc­tion process.”

This close and suc­cess­ful work­ing re­la­tion­ship was a key fac­tor in the cou­ple’s de­ci­sion to buy a clinker brick 1970s unit in Bayview on Auck­land’s North Shore back in 2012. Both the unit and gar­den had been vir­tu­ally un­touched since it was first con­structed with lit­tle to speak of in the way of a gar­den there at all. “The site was at the base of a hill and was also badly drained,” re­mem­bers San­dra. “Noth­ing had been done to the out­side at all. But it was a sunny north-fac­ing cor­ner site that we knew had mas­sive po­ten­tial for us to add value and max­imise the out­door space. It was a com­pletely blank slate and we had all the skills and tools to ren­o­vate it in­side and out. We started on the gar­den be­fore we did any­thing to the house.”

She and John agreed that de­sign of the gar­den should fo­cus on max­imis­ing ev­ery square cen­time­tre of space, creat­ing pri­vacy and good in­door-out­door flow.

San­dra set to work on the plan while John tack­led the drainage is­sues. Next came the lev­el­ling of the ex­ist­ing slop­ing front lawn which they had both de­cided was im­por­tant for fu­ture re­sale and also to give their dogs a green space to play. Lev­el­ling the ground meant build­ing re­tain­ing walls around the front and west­ern bound­aries as well as the im­por­ta­tion of 80 cu­bic me­tres of clay and top­soil for the fill.

Rather than con­struct the re­tain­ing walls in a rec­ti­lin­ear lay­out, John de­cided to gen­tly curve them at the west­ern cor­ner of the site to soften the street edge. To make the prop­erty more se­cure and pri­vate, he then built a fence on top of the re­tain­ing walls. To­day, the fence can barely be seen thanks to the dense green hedge of Fi­cus tuffi planted on the in­side and rows of na­tive oioi ( Apo­das­mia

sim­ilis) on the street side. Tall evergreen Mag­no­lia ‘Blan­chard’ are also planted along the fence line to en­sure the spa area is com­pletely screened from neigh­bour­ing prop­er­ties on the slopes op­po­site.

San­dra is a big fan of Fi­cus tuffi, us­ing it in nearly all her gar­dens. But ini­tially she re­gret­ted plant­ing it in her own. “I didn’t re­alise how frosty this area can get be­cause it is in a val­ley,” she ad­mits. “Many of the sub­trop­i­cals in­clud­ing the Fi­cus tuffi strug­gled for the first few years. We used frost cloth and pruned it right back when it got frost bit­ten, and now it is do­ing re­ally well.”

Work be­gan on the out­door liv­ing spa­ces once the

It’s ob­vi­ous walk­ing around this gar­den that con­trast­ing fo­liage tex­tures is one of San­dra’s favourite land­scape de­sign de­vices.

prop­erty was en­closed. As is typ­i­cal of so many 1970s build­ings, there was lit­tle con­nec­tion to the out­doors, so the cou­ple re­moved a win­dow in the liv­ing room and re­placed it with a new ranch slider. A cen­tral part of San­dra’s de­sign was a large deck to link the gar­den to the in­te­rior and also give her and John ex­tra space for en­ter­tain­ing. “It’s such a small house we knew the deck would work as an out­door room and at the same time make the in­side feel much big­ger.

“We used pine for the deck which we stained a dark colour, and board and bat­ten for the fence as we didn’t want to use ex­pen­sive ma­te­ri­als here, it wasn’t worth it,” she ex­plains. “We knew we could create value in the spa­ces them­selves and the plant­ing, rather than the ma­te­ri­als. This means we have to restain the deck reg­u­larly to keep it look­ing good but we don’t mind do­ing that.”

To give the space pri­vacy from the street, John de­signed and built an L-shaped screen of cream-painted tim­ber pal­ings, stag­ger­ing each board so that light and ven­ti­la­tion can still pen­e­trate. With the lus­cious green leaves of

Ligu­laria reni­formis planted in the front of the cream fence, the tex­tu­ral con­trast and colour har­mony add a feel­ing of calm seren­ity to the out­door room.

John’s years of ex­pe­ri­ence in­stalling gar­dens came in handy with the spa area too, sav­ing the cou­ple more money. With the top deck 700mm above the lawn, he was able to sink the spa be­low it, with its top just above the deck. He and San­dra can walk out of the house and step straight down into the spa. Along­side it, tim­ber plat­form steps float down to a smaller deck and then down to the flat lawn.

It’s ob­vi­ous walk­ing around this gar­den that con­trast­ing fo­liage tex­tures is one of San­dra’s favourite land­scape de­sign de­vices. “I’m not afraid to use colour but I am more of a tex­ture, fo­liage kind of per­son. I love the tex­tu­ral changes you see for in­stance in that group of Ligu­laria

reni­formis planted with sweet flag ( Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’) and mondo grass ( Ophio­pogon japon­i­cus).”

The gar­den is filled with sim­i­lar mo­ments. In the shady court­yard be­hind the house, a red-leaved Cer­cis canaden­sis ‘For­est Pansy’ is planted near a Ja­panese maple ( Acer

pal­ma­tum ‘Ta­mukeyama’) with sim­i­lar-hued fo­liage. San­dra points out the new shoots of the bur­gundy-leaved

Ligu­laria ‘Britt Marie Craw­ford’ just peep­ing through the mulch be­low the trees. “In spring the colours and tex­tures here are amaz­ing,” she says.

The rear court­yard is her favourite spot in sum­mer when it is bathed in morn­ing light. She’ll of­ten take a break from the draw­ing board to sit there with a cup of English Break­fast tea, her beloved Af­fen­pin­scher Al­fie at her feet. The for­est pansy is planted out­side the win­dow of her of­fice so she can en­joy its dark red fo­liage while work­ing.

Both the court­yard and the front gar­den are more for­mal in de­sign than the main gar­den area which has a strong sub­trop­i­cal theme. A va­ri­ety of palms in­clud­ing a grace­ful ken­tia ( Howea forsteriana), ban­ga­low ( Ar­chon­tophoenix cun­ning­hami­ana), dwarf dates ( Phoenix

roe­be­linii) and two clump­ing species, Chamae­dorea

costar­i­cana and Dyp­sis ba­ronii, are planted in front of the black-painted fence around the sides of the deck while two enor­mous cy­cads ( Cy­cas rev­o­luta) mark the change of level as the deck steps down to the lawn. “John did a job for a guy who didn’t want these two cy­cads,” re­marks San­dra. “They were very small when we planted them and now look at them.”

Of course, no sub­trop­i­cal gar­den wor­thy of that de­scrip­tion can be with­out scent. Here, the teacup-sized blooms of the Mag­no­lia ‘Blan­chard’ along the bound­ary fill the air with fra­grance in sum­mer as does the star jas­mine ( Trach­e­losper­mum jas­mi­noides) and Mada­gas­car jas­mine ( Stephan­otis flori­bunda) flow­er­ing climbers grow­ing be­low the deck screen and the back fence.

In spring and sum­mer too, the colour tem­per­a­ture of the gar­den heats up a lit­tle as gold-flow­er­ing Canna ‘Ben­gal Tiger’, yel­low Ligu­laria reni­formis and lemon Peru­vian lilies ( Al­stroe­me­ria ‘Sun­dance’) come into bloom. “I do like yel­low in a gar­den,” muses San­dra (no sur­prise to this writer who was cap­ti­vated by the sight of her bright yel­low front door upon ar­rival).

Her lat­est ad­di­tion to the gar­den, a lovely stan­dard ‘Meyer’ lemon tree in a large pot, adds splashes of yel­low to the gar­den in win­ter when there’s lit­tle colour to be seen. The tree acts as a fo­cal point for those on the deck while the pot is set into a rec­tan­gu­lar area of peb­bles, form­ing a kind of thresh­old be­fore you step onto the lawn. The plant­ing here cre­ates an­other lovely play of leaf tex­tures with two dif­fer­ent forms of dark green mondo grass ( Ophio­pogon ‘Nana’ and Ophio­pogon japon­i­cus) as well as a soft fringe of ap­ple-coloured Lo­man­dra ‘Lit­tle Con’.

“I do love lo­man­dra,” the de­signer en­thuses. “My nick­name is San­dra Lo­man­dra be­cause I use it on so many jobs.” ✤

The tree acts as a fo­cal point while the pot is set into a rec­tan­gu­lar area of peb­bles, form­ing a kind of thresh­old be­fore you step onto the lawn.

The black-painted fence ac­cen­tu­ates the vi­brant gold flow­ers of Canna ‘Ben­gal Tiger’ while the lush lay­ered plant­ing of palms, Pit­tospo­rum ‘Golf Ball’, Acorus gramineus and ligu­laria add tex­ture.

One can step into the slightly sunken spa pool from the deck.

The top deck con­nects to the in­te­rior liv­ing spa­ces.

Liri­ope mus­cari ‘Royal Pur­ple’ and clipped buxus.

Canna lilies.

Lo­man­dra ‘Lit­tle Con’.

Ophio­pogon ‘Nana’.

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