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