June top & flop CROPS
Lynda’s regular round-up of the best & worst seasonal performers in her Hunua country garden.
This lush, leafy Asian green (pictured at the back of my salad foraging basket) is my new flavour of the month. Not only is tatsoi quick-growing and versatile, raw or cooked, its dark green rosettes also look attractive in the garden.
Also known as spoon mustard, spinach mustard and rosette bok choy, tatsoi is a cut-and-come-again Chinese cabbage. It’s frost hardy, fast (ready in 40-50 days), compact, ideal for containers and pretty carefree, especially now that we’ve seen off the last cabbage white butterflies for another season.
How to eat it? Add the spoon-shaped baby leaves to a mixed green salad, soup or noodle dish, or roughly chop the whole head and stir-fry in oyster sauce with lots of garlic, fresh chilli and ginger.
Sow tatsoi direct (source from Kings Seeds or Egmont Seeds) or pop in a punnet of seedlings from your local garden centre.
When a garden is located in a dramatic coastal setting, it can be a fine balancing act to mediate between it and the wild beauty of the wider environment. Add an impressive collection of outdoor art and a strongly contemporary house into the equation, and the task becomes even more challenging. Fortunately for the owners of this garden on Auckland’s west coast, landscape designer Trish Bartleet was more than able to find that balance, creating a place where house, artworks, garden and the natural environment work in perfect harmony.
The owners have a city apartment, but the beach house is their chief residence and the outside space their only garden. For this reason, Trish considered it important that they were able to go outside and enjoy the garden, not just gaze at it from within or from above on the wide terrace that runs around the northern side of the house.
“The clients are also passionate art collectors and wanted to display many pieces outside so the garden design had to allow space for these,” the designer explains. “They drove the selection and placement process, and we talked at length about where individual pieces might go.”
Right from the start, Trish knew that she didn’t want to replicate the verdant green bush which surrounds the house. “The idea for the garden was that it was not to be a completely natural landscape. It would have a more controlled look, but still contain natural elements,” she says. “The p¯ohutukawa screen the house quite well but the garden is not meant to be hidden. It declares itself as a garden.”
Achieving this goal was particularly challenging given the amount of large p¯ohutukawa around the edges of the steep site with little open space apart from narrow areas either side of the house and a little at the front and the back. “I didn’t want the owners to feel as if the garden was hemming in the house,” Trish explains. “I know the area very well and in so many west coast properties, the bush comes in very close to the houses. I wanted to make the garden feel more spacious, so you don’t feel as if all the large trees are crowding you in.
“The planting gives little hints of what is in the bush and the wider environment as you walk around the garden, without trying to imitate it.”
“The outdoors is so extreme on the west coast, you are constantly buffeted by the winds so it was about providing havens.”
“Using structural elements and planting, I tried to create soft, cool restorative spaces around the garden. The outdoors is so extreme on the west coast, you are constantly buffeted by the winds so it was about providing havens.”
The oioi garden just above the main entrance is one such haven. An informal courtyard designed to be viewed from a quiet sitting area inside the house, the garden comprises horizontal bands of the native jointed reed ( Apodasmia similis), interspersed with lines of pavers to lead the eye out to the boundary. This broadens the feel of the site, Trish says. “And the wind blowing through the reeds creates movement and a further feeling of space.”
At the end of each strip of paving is a vertical panel of Corten steel framing the branches of the p¯ohutukawa trees on the other side, drawing your attention to the texture of the bark and the intertwining limbs of the trees. In the afternoon the sun sets behind the panels accentuating the glowing orange of their weathered sides. In contrast, the inside of the panels facing the house have remained a rich brown as they are not as exposed to the weather. “They are a foil for the dark green of the trees and a barrier between the house and the bush. Even though they are not a solid barrier, they still create a feeling of enclosure,” the designer points out.
On the opposite southern side of the house is what Trish calls the N¯ikau Walk. Beneath the palms are broad horizontal strips of paving designed to draw the gaze away from the house. One of the most striking artworks here is Leon van den Eijkel’s Urban Tree, its columns of orange and yellow metal squares contrasting vividly with the graceful fronds of the n¯ikau.
As the palms grow upwards, other artworks partly hidden amongst their fronds will be fully revealed. “I wanted the N¯ikau Walk to be a journey connecting the different outside spaces,” says the designer. “You weave your way through the palms and over the stepping stones with the native groundcover Fuchsia procumbens growing around it. The planting gives little hints of what is in the bush and the wider environment as you walk around the garden, without trying to imitate it.”
Planting is almost entirely native, most species found locally. So why then did Trish select three tree aloes ( Aloe thraskii) to mark the entrance to the house? “It needed something strong in that position,” she replies. “I wanted to create a sense of excitement and arrival at the end of the driveway, so that when you drive in to the house there is something cheerful and uplifting to greet you.”
Aloe thraskii grow naturally in the coastal dunes of eastern South Africa and the designer knew they
would work in this coastal garden, having used them in several previous projects. She also knew they would attract birds to the garden in winter which her clients were keen to do.
Certainly, with the dappled sunlight catching the edge of their arching succulent leaves, the aloes make a strong statement, their statuesque form complementing the tall glass and concrete house (designed by award-winning architect Malcolm Taylor of X-Site Architects, with whom Trish often collaborates). Shoots, a stone artwork carved by local artist John Edgar, sits beneath the three succulents while a tumbling green profusion of the low divaricating native shrub Muehlenbeckia astonii unites the composition.
She also works regularly with landscape firm Second Nature, who built and maintain the garden. It was a tough project. Before work could even start on the garden, they had to construct a series of rock retaining walls through the steep site to allow the house to be built. The sandy soil made planting difficult as did the dense mat of p¯ohutukawa roots. “The pˉohutukawa take everything from the soil. They are really tough. We had to select tough plants that could take those conditions. As the owners are not here all the time, we also needed to use plants that could be left for reasonable periods. Planting is an ongoing task. As the garden evolves and trees such as the nˉikau come up, the planting will change,” Trish says.
The design of the garden had to also be very structural rather than flowery, to be able to compete with the strongly architectural house and the massive forms of the pˉohutukawa.
The design of the garden had to also be very structural rather than flowery, to be able to compete with the strongly architectural house…
To add colour and texture to the mainly green palette, Trish specified plants such as red-leaved cordylines, silvery astelia and various muehlenbeckia species with their wonderfully tangled foliage. The Corten panels add more warmth and the designer’s habitual enthusiasm goes into overdrive when extolling the virtues of her favourite material. “I love Corten because it feels like an organic material even though it is not. Unlike other manmade materials such as steel or glass, you can’t control the weathering process as it gradually changes from reddish brown to orange. It works really well with plants for that reason. You can introduce it to almost any garden and it always fits in.”
Working with her client to find the perfect position for the many artworks was one of the highlights of this project for Trish. “Many of the plants and features such as rocks and paving were selected and located to ensure the artworks were seen as part of the landscape. It was a fantastic process.”
John Edgar’s Shoots.
John Edgar’s Transformer.
Designed to be viewed from the top deck, a water feature connects the house to the sea in the distance.
N¯ikau Walk from above.
In the shade of the native bush stands Figures by Christian Nicholson.
One of two female profile cut-outs by Christian Nicholson.
Oioi courtyard viewed from inside the house.