Shel­tered haven

Un­daunted by the squalls of our cap­i­tal city, one gar­den de­signer cre­ated her own out­door sanc­tu­ary.


A court­yard sanc­tu­ary in Welling­ton.

Cre­at­ing an el­e­gant court­yard gar­den in Welling­ton is a coup – es­pe­cially for some­one who hates gar­den­ing in the wind. The cap­i­tal city is de­fined by its blus­tery squalls, though on a good day it’s hard to beat this place for stun­ning views of har­bour­side and hills. As for ac­ces­si­ble flat ground around the house, it’s a lux­ury for a green­fin­gered Welling­to­nian. But if any­one could pull it off, it’s gar­den de­signer Sarah Caugh­ley.

When Sarah first moved to Welling­ton, it took her a while to ac­cept that she wasn’t liv­ing in the coun­try any­more, and that, though the house had a charm­ing coun­try feel, it came with next to no gar­den.

Sarah was raised on a farm in Okareka near Ro­torua, where she used to “run around the pad­docks all day like a sheep­dog”. She had worked in gar­den cen­tres be­fore she mar­ried Richard and moved to the city. En­er­getic and cre­ative, she pined for a project – un­til their three chil­dren came along and she started en­joy­ing city life. And once the fever­ish clam­our of baby­hood calmed to a dull roar, she went back to work in a gar­den cen­tre. There she learned which plants were suitable for the cap­i­tal’s cli­mate, and a two-year course in land­scape de­sign taught her how to use them.

Ten years or so af­ter mov­ing to the house in Wadestown, Sarah fi­nally found the time to get se­ri­ous about her sec­tion. They bought the neigh­bour­ing prop­erty so they could re­move a mas­sive clay bank that loomed over one side of the house: this in­volved truck­ing 160 loads of clay up a steep slope in a nar­row street in a ma­jor gear- grind­ing ex­er­cise. Sarah planted the newly built raised gar­den and its paved ter­race, but this ex­er­cise ended abruptly when her veg­eta­bles took flight in the wind: gusts of 120kph sent even the out­door fur­ni­ture skit­tling. That bulky old bank had at least pro­vided some shel­ter; in its ab­sence the wind whipped around unchecked.

Un­daunted, Sarah grew a wind­break be­low the ter­race, us­ing a fool­proof se­lec­tion of wind-tol­er­ant plants such as karo, ngaio, lonicera, English and Por­tuguese lau­rel, Vibur­num japon­icum, the griselinias lit­toralis and lu­cida,

corokia and Co­prosma repens, lots of minia­ture toe­toe ( Chionochloa flav­i­cans) and ren­garenga lilies ( Arthro­podium

cir­ra­tum). Te­co­man­the speciosa weaves be­tween the branches, fill­ing in the gaps. (Take care to plant ev­ery­thing se­curely in the ground, Sarah cau­tions, to avoid wind-rock.) Once they all be­gan to thrive, she had an­other go at the ter­race.

The orig­i­nal idea for an ed­i­ble parterre was shelved be­cause of the wind and the wind-chill fac­tor. Grow­ing all her own food – the most in­ten­sive form of gar­den­ing, which re­quires daily at­ten­dance – proved im­pos­si­ble when the wind chased her back in­doors.

In­stead, Sarah has sur­rounded her foun­tain with plump­tious cubes of Corokia vir­gata ‘Geenty’s Green’. The raised bound­ary beds house top­i­aried shrubs, tree ferns and flax, large stan­dard ac­me­nas, the oc­ca­sional rose, hy­drangeas, laven­der and buxus, siren-red pelargo­ni­ums, and a fence­line shrouded in climbers. And be­side the house, shabby chic con­tain­ers of buxus and suc­cu­lents, and a hedge of bul­let­proof In­dian

Not one to cod­dle, she swears by choos­ing the right plants for the place. Clay and rock? She takes what she gets and deals with it.

hawthorn ( Rhaphi­olepis in­dica) soften the junc­tion where weath­er­board meets paving.

Around the other side of the house, a soft car­pet of lawn sur­rounded by buxus-edged beds is presided over by a splen­did old cab­bage tree and an Ir­ish yew Sarah planted the year her daugh­ter Rachael was born. The plum is a favourite: she res­cued it from the dig­gers and dragged it around the house to its new spot here op­po­site the din­ing room win­dow. A 100-year-old white-flow­er­ing

Camel­lia japon­ica and a Mag­no­lia soulangeana, which she in­her­ited with the house, have earned Sarah’s re­spect and af­fec­tion. But per­haps her favourite part of the gar­den is a patch of wild grass nod­ding in the breeze, a lit­tle touch of coun­try she can’t live with­out.

Sarah de­scribes her­self as a fru­gal gar­dener. “I try to be eco­nom­i­cal,” she says. “I’d rather spend the money go­ing some­where warm in the win­ter.” She trawls the sick bays in gar­den cen­tres and nurs­eries, look­ing for pa­tients she can nurse back to health (don’t be afraid to un­ravel the roots, is her tip). Laven­der, rose­mary and hy­drangeas are all grown from cut­tings. She grows suc­cu­lents for con­tain­ers and ground­cover be­cause they’re bid­dable. Pa­tience is a big money saver, too, says Sarah. Buy small plants and wait for them to grow in­stead of go­ing for an in­stant ef­fect with larger, more ex­pen­sive plants.

Not one to cod­dle, she swears by choos­ing the right plant for the place. Clay and rock? She takes what she gets and deals with it, with­out us­ing im­ported soil. There’s no

Any plant need­ing care and at­ten­tion is not in this gar­den – there are no fussy an­nu­als or peren­ni­als.

need to feed or fer­tilise, she says, be­cause plants don’t need a lot. But the one thing that will help a Welling­ton gar­den to flour­ish is or­ganic mulch laid on thick.

Sarah doesn’t toil in her gar­den for hours, ei­ther; this is a de­lib­er­ately easy-care gar­den. With a gar­den de­sign busi­ness called Re­viresco (I will grow green – her father’s fam­ily motto), a busy house­hold of adult kids who come and go, and a week­end prop­erty in Otaki, time is tight. Any plant need­ing care and at­ten­tion is not in this gar­den – there are no fussy an­nu­als or peren­ni­als. A whip-around once every three weeks or so keeps the gar­den in trim – in two hours she can “fix the whole bloom­ing gar­den” with lop­pers, se­ca­teurs and a nifty tool that deals to tap­rooted weeds (Vita Sackville-West’s favourite, ap­par­ently). She throws non-in­va­sive weeds to the back of beds – free mulch.

When her chil­dren were small, Sarah helped set up gar­den tours as a fundraiser for Wadestown school char­i­ties. She’s still in­volved: she en­joys the peo­ple con­tact and well-in­formed feed­back. And thanks to her skill, vis­i­tors to her gar­den find a place that never looks wind­blown de­spite the el­e­ments. It’s a charm­ing, slightly out of con­trol, ro­man­tic coun­try gar­den in town, where bound­aries and fences dis­ap­pear among the green­ery, ful­fill­ing Sarah’s aim of cre­at­ing a won­drous pic­ture on a big can­vas.

The crooked plum tree, pot­ted suc­cu­lent and glossyLigu­laria reni­formis make an art­ful in­stal­la­tion in the orig­i­nal side gar­den.

Sarah de­lib­er­ately screens fences for a more spa­cious feel.

The windy front end, now a study in lay­ered plant­ing.

Be­fore the trees grew into a shel­ter­belt at the far end, plants and fur­ni­ture were bowled like skit­tles.

Aeo­nium ar­boreum ‘Sch­warzkopf’.

Rosa ‘Veilchen­blau’.

Abu­tilon x hy­bridum. ‘Nabob’.

Protea cy­naroides.

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