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).