The initial brief to connect this Auckland house with its outdoor cooking area expanded to enhance its whole relationship with the garden. Designer Sally McLeay explains how raising levels created a greater use of space.
The backyard of this 1930s house was at different levels and partially shaded. By terracing and retaining, it has become easier to maintain with many outdoor ‘rooms’ to display the owners growing collection of artwork.
We have created five interconnecting lawn areas, accessed by steps or slabs. To link and provide visual interest and definition, I created planted channels of Zepherantes candida to create a floating lawn effect that further delineates the different garden zones. The size of each lawn is different, but each one relates to dimensions of the house.
I wanted to define each area in some way visually and practically, so each had a point of difference in terms of experience, plants, or a piece of art. Whether walking around the garden, or viewing it from one of the deck areas or the house, there is always an interesting ground plane geometry reinforced by the plants and trees.
Old and new
Designing a garden for an established home raises many questions regarding materials. Concrete was an obvious choice as it is a strong visual element that linked with both the traditional brick house and several elements of the original garden that we planned to keep — for example the pool and surrounds designed by Leo Jew in the 1990s. This led me to use concrete as a sculptural element in the form of slabs cast on site for the free-standing walls, the pizza oven, steps and interconnecting polished concrete pads between the lawns.
I retained a more traditional look at the front entrance of the house with polished aggregate steps, lush planting, and borders of mondo grass to delineate between the original materials. As you walk around to the rear of the garden the more contemporary features become evident.
There were many established trees and plants in the garden before the design process began. We made very careful decisions on whether to retain, move or discard. Established hedges provided a backdrop to new plantings and the mature olive trees were retained — the level changes and planting channels were designed around one of them.
The bold mass plantings in blocks and lines were intended to reinforce the ground plane geometry while the layers of taller plantings were intended to provide backdrops for art works, privacy and a solidity of mass to match the house.
New plants reinforce the existing palette
I design with plant colours and forms in mind and then refine and detail the selection once the hard landscape has been formed. Here I chose the new plants to reinforce the existing palette. I used as many natives species as possible, playing with the greens and textures of, for example: Grisilinea lucida, Grisilinea ‘whenuapai’, Corokias, Coprosmas, hebes, Kermadec Nikaus and Poor Knights Lily. The Zepherantes candida were selected for their lushness and flowering as a mass.
It is always such a pleasure to see a garden planted after months of design and con- struction. It is even better to return after a few years and see the real scale of the plants emerge and, in this garden, absolute attention to detail regarding maintenance, care and an understanding of the design intent.
Written by Brisbane-based designer Sally McLeay