Fam­ily fan­tasy

This ex­pan­sive Taranaki gar­den was de­signed to cre­ate an out­door play­ground for a fam­ily with five chil­dren


A park-like Taranaki gar­den cre­ated with play­time in mind

Taranaki’s te kuku­mara is a park-like par­adise, with pool, pond, ten­nis court and an av­enue of ma­jes­tic palms, but the hopes and dreams that shaped it were con­sid­er­ably more down-to-earth. Twenty years ago, Del­wyn and Bryce Bar­nett sim­ply wanted to cre­ate a gar­den with plenty of play space for their five chil­dren.

“Te Kuku­mara has come about be­cause I just wanted a nice place for my fam­ily to live,” says Del­wyn, who comes from a green-fin­gered fam­ily but mod­estly in­sists that she’s not much of a gar­dener. “I feel I’m a bit of a fraud.”

When Del­wyn and Bryce, a prom­i­nent Taranaki busi­ness­man, moved to the Taranaki property, their five chil­dren – sons Shanon, Reeve and Cal­lum and daugh­ters Adelle and Lacey – ranged in age from two to 11.

The ex­ist­ing gar­den was nowhere near large enough to cater for the Bar­netts’ brood – a small area around the house was sep­a­rated from sur­round­ing pad­docks by a picket fence. They bowled the fence, ex­tended the gar­den and shifted the drive­way so that it looped around the boundary, plant­ing an arc of Ca­nary Is­land date palms ( Phoenix ca­narien­sis) along its edge. Just thigh-high when they went in, the palms now tower over vis­i­tors, cre­at­ing struc­ture and drama the minute you ar­rive. >

(clock­wise from top left) Del­wyn and Bryce Bar­nett, with York­shire ter­rier Rima. The pots are about 50 years old and were im­ported from China – Mike Mansvelt sells them at his New Ply­mouth store, Plan­ta­tion De­sign House. Mike used Ja­panese box ( Buxus mi­cro­phylla var. japon­ica) for the knot gar­den: “It’s great be­cause it has no prob­lem with blight and doesn’t have that hor­ri­ble cat pee smell.”

The path leading to the house is lined with mondo grass, a hedge of Gar­de­nia ‘Veitchii’ and ken­tia palms; many of the plants came from a gar­den Mike de­signed for the 2007 Eller­slie Flower Show.

The new drive also cre­ated space for a large flat lawn di­rectly in front of the house – Del­wyn drove the trac­tor her­self to en­sure the ground was per­fectly level. The lawn was sown twice: the first time the seed was com­pletely washed away by a 1995 au­tumn rain­storm that be­came known as “the big wet”. But the cou­ple per­se­vered and the lawn is still a fea­ture to­day.

“We knew we wanted a nice lawn,” says Del­wyn. “The house we’d been liv­ing in in Re­muera [Auck­land] was on half an acre, but it only had a pocket hand­ker­chief lawn. I feel a lawn sets off a gar­den, plus we wanted a flat space for the kids to play on while they were young. And not so young! My son Cal­lum was do­ing dough­nuts in the go-kart the other day and he’s 24.”

The lawn has also been the site of both Shanon and Adelle’s wed­dings. In fact the ‘Ice­berg’ stan­dard roses planted in a grid be­side the house are ac­tu­ally a me­mento of Shanon’s mar­riage. His bride, Ca­rina, wanted an aisle to walk down, so a cou­ple of hun­dred stan­dard white roses were used to line the red car­pet. Af­ter the wed­ding, Del­wyn planted them in a grid pat­tern. “I wouldn’t nor­mally put them all in one gar­den like that but I had so many,” she says. “And I ac­tu­ally re­ally like the ef­fect.”

A gen­er­ous ex­panse of lawn is not all that makes this gar­den a par­adise for the young (and young at heart). There’s a vol­ley­ball court, a ten­nis court, a pool and out­door en­ter­tain­ing area, plus a wooden play­house with built-in jun­gle gym. >

“With five kids you need a few things for them to do,” says Del­wyn. “And we wanted to cre­ate a space where the kids would want to stay home and want to bring their friends over.”

Al­though the Bar­netts’ off­spring might all (of­fi­cially at least) have left child­hood be­hind (the youngest, Lacey, is now 22), Del­wyn and Bryce love to en­ter­tain, so plenty of friends’ kids get a chance to en­joy the gar­den’s many de­lights.

At a re­cent pot-luck din­ner, the dozen or so ju­nior vis­i­tors were en­joy­ing the play­house so much they in­sisted Del­wyn serve their meal out there. The play­house was built only re­cently for the cou­ple’s first grand­child, Shanon and Ca­rina’s son Brodie, who was born in April last year.

“He’s not quite one at the mo­ment so per­haps a lit­tle young to play in it yet,” says Del­wyn. “But we had it built be­fore he was even born. Ever hope­ful.”

There is plenty in this gar­den to de­light adult vis­i­tors too, with play­ful flights of fan­tasy around ev­ery cor­ner – lit­eral flights in the case of 250 or so doves that live in the property’s dozen dove­cotes (“We started with seven doves,” says Del­wyn, “and na­ture took her course”). In­dian ring­necks, cock­atiels and bud­gies re­side in the back­yard aviary.

Art also dots the property – Del­wyn and Bryce have bought sev­eral pieces from Taranaki’s bi­en­nial Kupenga stone sym­po­sium and other works have been ac­quired on over­seas trips. >

The Bar­netts are also par­tial to hav­ing a lit­tle fun with less tra­di­tional “art” made of found ob­jects. Di­rectly in front of the house stands a row of park­ing me­ters. They’re real, but “not op­er­a­tional un­for­tu­nately,” says Del­wyn, jok­ing about the po­ten­tial rev­enue. “But we bought them from the coun­cil and this sort is still be­ing used some­where, so they wouldn’t give us the mas­ter key.”

Else­where in the gar­den is a bright red tele­phone box that Del­wyn bought on Trade Me and re­stored and, be­side the ten­nis court, an old Austin Cam­bridge hun­kered down un­der a stand of olive trees, now com­pletely en­gulfed by ivy.

“The car in the ivy was Bryce’s idea,” says Del­wyn. “Cars are his ab­so­lute pas­sion and his first car as a teenager was an Austin Cam­bridge – he bought it for $100 and drove it for 10 years. It makes a real talk­ing point.”

Over the last eight years, other de­sign ideas have come from lo­cal land­scape de­signer Mike Mansvelt. Con­sult­ing a pro­fes­sional was a big help, says Del­wyn, es­pe­cially since Mike has con­tin­ued to ad­vise and di­rect them over sev­eral years of the gar­den’s de­vel­op­ment. >

“Mike’s ideas have re­ally helped us to tie the dif­fer­ent ar­eas of the gar­den to­gether,” says Del­wyn. “We had a lot of dif­fer­ent ar­eas and dif­fer­ent themes but Mike’s ad­vice means you now go seam­lessly from one part to the next as you walk around.”

The Bar­netts aren’t afraid of chang­ing things and so the gar­den continues to evolve as the fam­ily changes and grows. “You do one bit, then you do an­other bit, and then you change that first bit again,” says Del­wyn. “I love how the gar­den is right now, but we still talk about what we will change next year or the year af­ter. This gar­den isn’t a show­piece, it’s just some­thing we’ve cre­ated for our fam­ily to en­joy.” THIS PAGE (from top left) The old tele­phone box is one of Del­wyn’s fun Trade Me pur­chases; there’s a phone in­side (bought separately, also on Trade Me) but it doesn’t ac­tu­ally work. Old park­ing me­ters make a talk­ing point along the hedg­ing be­side the house; Mike used star jas­mine in front as a ground cover, with clipped or­ange jes­samine and then hi­bis­cus at the back to cre­ate a lay­ered ef­fect, but the hi­bis­cus hasn’t flour­ished in this par­tic­u­lar spot, he says: “Too much wind.”


The green and yel­low striped bam­boo is Bam­busa ‘Alphonse Karr’, which gets reg­u­larly limbed up to make the most of the var­ie­gated stems.

OP­PO­SITE The path from the drive­way to the house runs be­side a shal­low wa­ter fea­ture so ar­riv­ing guests hear the sound of wa­ter as they pass by.

THIS PAGE (clock­wise from top left) Mike bought the bronze statue of two tum­bling chil­dren from Auck­land com­pany Gar­den Bronze. A bed of trac­tor seat ligu­laria ( Ligu­laria reni­formis) sur­rounds dove­cotes that pro­vide homes for some of the Bar­netts’ 250-odd doves. An old Austin Cam­bridge – the same make as Bryce’s first car – com­pletely en­gulfed by Ca­nary Is­land ivy ( Hed­era ca­narien­sis). Home Stone is one of sev­eral works the Bar­netts have pur­chased from the bi­en­nial Kupenga stone sym­po­sium.

OP­PO­SITE The wa­ter fea­ture in front of the house was de­signed by Mike and built in situ, with con­crete poured into a large mould; when Mike started work­ing with the Bar­netts, they al­ready had a large collection of gar­den sculp­ture so his ini­tial aim was to cre­ate vis­tas to set off the var­i­ous pieces; the low hedge is the fra­grant trop­i­cal ever­green or­ange jes­samine ( Mur­raya pan­ic­u­lata).

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