Penny Cliffin, current president of the Garden Design Society of New Zealand, has a degree in horticulture and a particular interest in urban trends. She points out that while homeowners increasingly don’t have the time or space for hands-on gardening, an outdoor space is shown to be an important counterbalance in our busy lives. So a garden should be a de-stressor, not the opposite.
No square pegs: Plants have adapted to thrive in different growing conditions, so work with nature. In shady areas, go for species with leaves that have a big surface area (to capture as much light as possible) and are dark green (the extra chlorophyll helps them get more nourishment from low light). Curiously, plants with names beginning with H seem to be adept at this: hosta, hellebores, hydrangea. In hot, dry conditions, plants with smaller leaves or furry surfaces (to reduce evaporation) and with grey foliage tend to thrive. Think lamb’s ear, corokia or Muehlenbeckia astonii.
Cover story: Suffocating weeds is the best way to stop them before they start – and groundcovers will do the job for you. Penny’s favourite is prostrate rosemary, which has attractive blue flowers that the bees love, is wonderfully fragrant, easy to grow and gives your roast lamb a herbaceous boost. Another to consider is the native ‘Poor Knights’ coprosma, which doesn’t mind wind, sea salt or lots of sun. In winter, to stop the spring convolvulus from exploding, Penny likes to mulch with six layers of newspaper under a fresh spread of bark and compost. Graceful ageing: There isn’t much that looks better with age, but one or two materials buck this reality. Weathered steel is one example. Its warm, rusty tones are eye-catching and can be used for screening and planters. Macrocarpa, a New Zealand native, is cost-effective, naturally durable and silvers off beautifully.
The art of manipulation: Many people who say they hate gardening don’t mind wielding a power tool, which means only one thing: they are born hedgers. Set them to work on plants that are easily trainable. New Zealand tītoki (Alectryon excelsus) is an evergreen with glossy green leaves and fruit that birds love. Buy a tallish specimen grade and you won’t have to nurture it so much in the early years. Also, a current favourite that can be hedged or espaliered (another one of those instant-gratification tasks) is Pyrus calleryana ‘Aristocrat’, the ornamental pear.
Go potty: If you’re averse to mowing lawns, pruning trees and continually composting flower beds but still want to dip your toe in the gardening game, nurture one or two grand potted statements. For inspiration, visit the New Zealand Flower & Garden Show (from 28 November to 2 December), where 20 designers from the Garden Design Society of New Zealand will present miniature gardens in huge pots with themes such as “The mountain to the sea”, “Plants for birds” and “Scented subtropical”. Something just might capture your imagination.
Bypass the vegetables: Plant multitasking edibles instead. Try hedges of Tahitian lime and feijoa, grapes clambering over a fence, olives for screening and long-lasting evergreen herbs such as rosemary and parsley. >