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.

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