Feature garden This super-busy family’s backyard is all about fun – for the adults as well as the kids
The three-level garden belonging to the dynamic duo behind My Food Bag is all about maximising fun for kids and adults
When you’re a highpowered entrepreneurial couple, quality leisure time is priceless. For Cecilia and James Robinson, co-founders of My Food Bag and Au Pair Link, this means spending time with their family and friends in a three-tiered marvel of a modern, family-focused garden.
But they haven’t always found their innercity Auckland patch so accommodating. When they first moved in, their outdoor spaces, though promising, were underdeveloped and the amount of time they could spend in them with their two young children, Thomas, 5, and Leila, 20 months, was limited. Enter Ben Shearer of Shearer Landscape Design with a purposeful design which has doubled the site’s social value, maximising the time the family spend outdoors.
The Robinsons’ renovated bungalow sits at the top of a sloping site and the outside space had been terraced into three levels when they bought it. There was an existing pool (but the fencing obstructed views through to the water) and a large, northwest-facing deck which lacked shade.
“The third tier was completely overgrown,” says Ben. “Access was challenging, too, as you could only get to the garden areas through the garage. As it is a sunny site, creating shade for play and socialising was important. And privacy was also an essential consideration.”
The Robinsons wanted the various outdoor spaces in their garden to feel more purposeful, all year round, so they could enjoy more time outside with their friends and family. “We wanted a paradise for young kids. A place for them to explore, be imaginative – be kids. We also wanted something attractive and in keeping with the lush, largely native outlook. Lastly, we wanted something lowmaintenance to work with our busy lives.”
To achieve this, designer Ben spent time homing in on how the family saw themselves spending time together and with others, then specifically zoned each area of the garden to support these interactions.
“In this garden I addressed each space individually to maximise the different areas,” says Ben. “Some spaces are for the children and their friends only (towards the bottom of the property), some spaces are perfect for children playing with adults (an artificialturfed strip of green on the second tier) and some spaces (closer to the house) are for adults and their guests to socialise.”
To improve the areas where the Robinsons like to entertain friends and family, the designer created more shade and shelter. Ziptrak blinds were added to the outdoor dining area on the deck. “These can be flicked down easily mid-dinner if the weather changes, or brought up to let in a cool breeze,” Ben explains. “With the addition of a hanging lamp, the room can now be used day or night as either an indoor or outdoor dining space, depending on the weather and time of year.”
A secondary area for relaxed outdoor living was created in a disused corner of the deck by adding bench seating, a cantilevered umbrella for shade and a floating, cantilevered barbecue. Cedar screening on the boundary gives the family privacy from neighbours. “The cedar timber makes the screens feel highly organic and natural,” Ben points out. “The result is a ‘privacy screen’, not a towering fence which can make occupants feel hemmed in.”
A place where both adults and children can have fun together, the swimming pool needed to feel more connected to the outdoor living areas. “Replacing the existing fencing with wraparound glass allowed the spaces to move fluidly into one another without compromising the safety of small children,” says Ben.
The second tier is another shared space for parents and kids, and as it’s fully covered in no-maintenance artificial turf, crawling around on the ground doesn’t require hosing off. “The playhouse there mimics the main house, plus a few extras: a blackboard-paint wall for chalk drawings and a secret escape hatch, via a slide, to the third and lowest tier of the garden. We also lined the playhouse walls with artificial grass (from Urban Turf Solutions) for tactile play.”
Ben’s aim was to ensure the bottom level of the garden, “where children rule the roost”, felt like a real escape. For this “enchanted garden fit for fairies” the designer used moss-like plantings, the delicate flowering groundcover Fuchsia
procumbens and lots of child-friendly edibles such as strawberries and feijoas. A steppingstone path, slide from the playhouse and a whimsical signpost add to the enchantment.
The pièce de résistance is undoubtedly the mural on the wall of the outdoor dining area by Flox (artist Hayley King). “I wanted to bring the rich green of the garden into the outdoor dining area, and the single white wall in this space naturally had great potential to be a feature wall,” says Ben. “A mural has the advantage of being no-maintenance while still hugely impactful. I thought Flox’s stencil work would be a great fit.”
The artist loved James’ idea of incorporating some of the native birds they could hear in the garden and its many trees into the mural. Wood pigeon, tui and native plants are key elements of the vibrant image. “The feature wall came together in a day, quickly and fluidly,” says Ben, “and marked the end of another great project.”
And as for the Robinsons, they couldn’t be happier. It works “wonderfully well” for them as a family, they enthuse. “When Tom has play dates, the kids disappear outside and explore for hours. Leila enjoys her play area (loves the slide) and plays in the playhouse kitchen for hours, pretending to make Mum and Dad ice cream (her favourite)!” •
yhg THIS PAGE A cedar screen shelters the deck where James and Cecilia often hang out with Thomas and Leila. OPPOSITE The outdoor dining area overlooks the pool, now clearly visible from the deck thanks to the wraparound glass fencing. A vibrant mural...
THESE PAGES Little Leila Robinson loves her playhouse designed to replicate the form of her parents’ house. A secret escape hatch in the floor leads, via the blue slide, to the children’s ‘enchanted garden’ on the lowest level of the property.