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

Your Home and Garden - - Contents - Text by Carol Buck­nell. Pho­tog­ra­phy by He­len Bankers.

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.

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