A sad, slop­ing back­yard re­born as a tiered place to play


Georgina con­der shud­ders when she re­calls the out­door laun­dry in the dank con­crete shed they had when she, hus­band Deighton and their young chil­dren first moved into their Welling­ton home. “It was dark and damp and cer­tainly wasn’t going to work for long, es­pe­cially for a fam­ily with young chil­dren.”

Fast for­ward a cou­ple of years and the gar­den, with sooth­ing cas­cad­ing water and the sounds of chil­dren playing, has an en­tirely dif­fer­ent at­mos­phere.

The Thorn­don villa was built in 1873, and the cou­ple bought it on­line when they were liv­ing in Brus­sels. With Georgina just a cou­ple of weeks off giv­ing birth to the cou­ple’s sec­ond child, in­spect­ing it in per­son was im­pos­si­ble so they re­lied on the good judg­ment of friends and haven’t looked back.

They rented out the house at first, then re­turned to New Zealand, moved in and started plan­ning ren­o­va­tions. That out­door laun­dry and an equally un­for­tu­nate shed both sat on a slop­ing, bar­ren sec­tion edged with badly bro­ken paths that hadn’t been touched in decades.

“Es­sen­tially we didn’t have any out­door space that was us­able for a fam­ily,” Georgina says.

Work started 15 months later. The Con­der fam­ily by then in­cluded a four-week-old baby, two tod­dlers and a dog, so con­sid­er­ate builders were a must.

From the out­set, the house ren­o­va­tion and gar­den over­haul were un­der­taken at roughly the same time. A self-con­tained wing was added to the back of the house to cater for vis­it­ing grand­par­ents, and ex­ca­va­tion be­gan on the sec­tion. >

Deighton and Georgina brought in Rachael Matthews, director of Hedge Gar­den De­sign and Nurs­ery, and pretty much handed over the reins. She worked closely with ar­chi­tects Liz Wal­lace and Rochelle Tse of Tse:Wal­lace Ar­chi­tects to en­sure the hard land­scap­ing and gar­den would be com­ple­men­tary.

“We had a gen­eral idea of the kind of style we wanted,” says Georgina. “We wanted it to be sym­pa­thetic with the house and we knew Rachael cre­ates such beau­ti­ful gar­dens for these kind of houses that at the same time are a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent.”

Rachael says the early start en­abled her to talk to the builders about what needed to hap­pen with the ground. “Welling­ton soil is all hard clay and rot­ten rock so we had to ex­ca­vate about 40cm and bring in some fluffy gar­den mix.”

The pri­or­ity was us­able fam­ily space, so the aim was to cre­ate a large out­side liv­ing area and pro­vide im­me­di­ate im­pact with big plants. Once the dreaded sheds were gone, the struc­tural land­scap­ing be­gan. >

The sec­tion was ter­raced, a water feature was in­cor­po­rated on the sec­ond level and the top level was re­served for ar­ti­fi­cial turf framed by paving. Ar­ti­fi­cial grass is some­thing Rachael has used often, pre­fer­ring its ver­sa­til­ity and har­di­ness when Welling­ton’s cli­mate is a lit­tle less for­giv­ing. It’s also a great area for the chil­dren and dog, Maika.

On the main level, the court­yard holds cen­tre stage, with a bar­be­cue and fire on one side. It’s a fam­ily haven that of­fers pri­vacy, space and pro­tec­tion from the fickle weather, and is the most used part of the home.

While the colour pal­ette is mostly green and white, over­hang­ing the ter­race is a sturdy Cer­cis canaden­sis ‘For­est Pansy’ that boasts huge bur­gundy leaves in sum­mer and pur­ple flow­ers in spring.

Those sea­sonal changes are a feature of the Con­ders’ gar­den. “That’s where Rachael’s ex­per­tise comes to the fore,” says Deighton. “I know what I like but lack the knowl­edge to es­tab­lish a gar­den that’s al­ways chang­ing and de­vel­op­ing.”

Ev­er­green fo­liage is used at a low level com­ple­mented by de­cid­u­ous spec­i­men trees that let in the light over win­ter and keep the space open.

Hy­drangeas, helle­bores, lilies and im­pa­tiens bloom year­round and Georgina par­tic­u­larly loves the ‘Ice­berg’ roses – her only re­quest for the gar­den, which have been planted in me­mory of her mother. “They just don’t stop f low­er­ing, it’s un­be­liev­able. We’re so lucky.”

Un­der the roses and the Mex­i­can orange blos­soms they have found room to plant veg­eta­bles and herbs, which have been ex­cep­tion­ally pro­lific.

In fact, the en­tire gar­den has been an out­stand­ing suc­cess ac­cord­ing to Georgina, who leaves the main­te­nance to her

hus­band. The court­yard is lit­tered with chil­dren’s bikes and toys and the bar­be­cue gets more use than the oven. It’s also a mag­net for friends and neigh­bours.

“The whole area works re­ally well. I love be­ing able to sit in the cor­ner and watch the kids run around. And it’s so quiet. Often we’re not aware of how windy it is ev­ery­where else.”

Deighton, a metic­u­lous gardener ac­cord­ing to Rachael, has a spe­cial fond­ness for the gar­den at the side of the house. That’s where you’ll find his one re­quest: pleached or­na­men­tal pears, a com­mon sight in Bel­gian parks and a re­minder of the time the fam­ily spent in Europe. On stain­less steel frames, they bor­der the gar­den and screen the neigh­bours.

“When you come through the gate and walk around the side of the house,” says Deighton, “you feel like you’re away from it all, even though this is a house that’s on the fringes of the city.”

THIS PAGE Out­door liv­ing is easy for Georgina and Deighton Con­der, their chil­dren Nico, three, Will, five, and He­lena, seven, and dog Maika; the Cer­cis canaden­sis ‘For­est Pansy’ (left) adds colour; on the upper tier, pot­ted cop­per beech are be­ing clipped into bar­rel shapes as they grow.

OP­PO­SITE The Con­ders’ Ital­ianate villa in the Welling­ton sub­urb of Thorn­don was built in 1873, it sits above street level; the de­cid­u­ous ‘Dawyck Gold’ beech be­hind the fence will grow to 7m.

OP­PO­SITE The din­ing area and kitchen open out to the court­yard; up on the bal­cony are pot­ted conifers Thuja oc­ci­den­talis ‘Smaragd’, adding some ev­er­green tex­ture to the ex­te­rior.

THIS PAGE (from top) Left of the water feature is a branch of the

Cer­cis canaden­sis ‘For­est Pansy’ tree, which has vi­o­let flow­ers in spring and large bur­gundy leaves in sum­mer. Star jas­mine trained over wires has been un­der­planted with box holly balls and trail­ing

Ba­copa cor­data, which has masses of starry white flow­ers from spring to au­tumn.

THIS PAGE (from top) ‘Ice­berg’ roses are Georgina’s favourites and share the gar­den with cos­mos and Buxus ‘Green Gem’ hedg­ing; a row of mondo grass in front com­pletes the look. Wide ter­rac­ing and a mass of green and white lure visi­tors to this peace­ful gar­den haven, only a few steps away from hec­tic city life.

OP­PO­SITE The steps around the side of the house are framed by or­na­men­tal pleached pears that re­mind Deighton of time spent in Europe, and Hy­drangea pan­ic­u­lata ‘Lime­light’ with cone-shaped flow­ers on long arch­ing stems that are per­fect for lin­ing path­ways and drive­ways.

THIS PAGE The built-in cor­ner seat is one of Georgina’s favourite places to sit in the sun and keep an eye on the chil­dren.

OP­PO­SITE A pot­ted var­ie­gated pit­tospo­rum is sur­rounded by minia­ture ‘Princess Alice’ rhodo­den­drons and Liri­ope mus­cari ‘Ev­er­green Gi­ant’, with a hedge of Buxus ‘Green Gem’ along the front edge.

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