In Takapuna, an elegant and easy-care garden for all seasons.
Determined to enjoy their garden but not be slaves to it, a Takapuna couple opted for an elegant, easy-care design
Jean and Paul Byrnes’ garden, just a stone’s throw from Takapuna beach on Auckland’s North Shore, is a fine example of well-groomed, elegant simplicity. The couple love their garden and enjoy looking after it themselves. But their weekends are family-centred and when they’re not entertaining by the outdoor fire, they’re down the road kayaking, paddleboarding or exercising their black poodle Rocco.
“We still love walking the beach even after living here for 35 years,” says Paul. “You see changes every day. It’s mesmerising, like watching a fire.”
So, when the couple decided to redesign their garden, they took a clear-eyed approach to adapting it to their lifestyle. What they did not want was a high-maintenance flower-filled regime for their subdivided half section. They opted for a structured, contemporary style that complements their romantic twostoreyed English arts and crafts home, circa 1929.
First impressions are of leafy greens and whites, with splashes of dark red. Flowers? Not so much. And instead of crowding in on the house, planting is kept at arms’ length, encouraged to grow upwards and colonise the sky. >
“It’s easy to keep tidy,” says Jean, the head gardener. (Paul says he’s “very much the part-time groomer”.) “The hard landscapes help define themed areas.” It’s also timeless, thanks to the efforts of Devonport architectural designer Fraser Gillies and Bryan McDonald of Auckland Landscapes.
Before they rolled up their sleeves, the house was hemmed in by a narrow path down one side and a driveway on the sunny side, where the land dropped 3-4m to the neighbours’ place. At the back, clay banks sloped towards the boundary. “It was a really small, difficult site,” says Bryan, a veteran landscape designer with a reputation for pulling off challenging projects with aplomb.
His brief was to provide year-round texture. “They weren’t mad about a cottage garden,” he says.
The first phase of the garden’s rebirth saw the house enlarged and updated, at the same time as creating improved access, a garage and usable areas for outdoor living. That meant months of tradies and landscapers avoiding each other’s diggers, trucks, barrows and spades, to conjure up custom-made retaining walls and paving and planter beds. It also meant craning in three nīkau over the pergola to a berth at the bottom of a dramatic new stone stairway. Jean says that was touch and go, watching the trees only just scrape in.
At the garden’s lowest point at the foot of that stairway, which Bryan reckons has an almost medieval feel, you reach a pocketsized lawn. Jean keeps this emerald green square of tall fescue grass mown slightly longer than usual for a velvety, lush look. It feels luxurious too, just like walking on a living shagpile carpet.
To screen out neighbours, tītoki (Alectryon excelsus) hedges grow on stilt legs opposite a large raised planter where giant bromeliads, Alcantarea imperialis, add a red glow to their curvaceous bed mates, ponytail palms (Beaucarnea recurvata).
Those big broms are a favourite, and Jean has used them as a linking element throughout the garden. “I think they’re gorgeous and they give us colour in a garden without flowers,” says Jean.
Only one tree from the before garden – a nīkau (Rhopalostylis sapida) – survived this massive undertaking, and that’s because they tethered it and cosseted it, so it didn’t slide into oblivion as the main boundary wall was built. “So understandably that’s our favourite plant,” says Paul. >
THESE PAGES In the raised planter beds bordering the main entertaining area of Jean and Paul Byrnes’ Takapuna garden, a bronzy-red cabbage tree(Cordyline australis ‘Purpurea’), rubs shoulders with a Paul Dibble bronze and Corten steel sculpture, Kerer¯ u.
THIS PAGE (from top) Looking down across the terraces, tiered and espaliered Michelia gracipes jazz up the plastered walls between pilasters. The n kau stand at the bottom of the stairway was craned in from the driveway on the far side of the house, a nerve-racking experience.OPPOSITE (from top) The water feature, lit at night, and pavers containing crushed pa¯ua shell frame the formal lawn area on the upper level. Looking back to the entertaining area from near the water feature.