A tale of two gardens
— Mount Eden, Auckland
Maungawhau dominates the local landscape of this home in Auckland imparting on the site the great soil and an undulating topography typical of the lava flow areas surrounding the volcano. Working with the landscape of the site was always a priority. As Xanthe explains; ‘I’m no flat earther. I love a gradient.'
In level gardens you lose space to the design, in a sloping garden the design creates space.
‘The first challenge was managing that rise from street level to front door. I orchestrated it to make a melody of the journey - the steps creating a musical rhythm of beats and pauses - not just a utilitarian ascent. Then on either side we used volcanic rocks excavated during the construction of the sunken garage as a dramatic but practical way to retain the slope.’
Around the house, the emphasis was on reinforcing the connection between indoor and outdoor living spaces. As well as terraces leading off every main room of the house there is a raised swimming pool which doubles as a low barrier between the house and the front path. ‘Here we went for a sleek, contemporary look, covering the pool and terraces with polished black slabs which, like the boulders in the front garden, are volcanic basalt. We also used the same slabs for the front path and steps, all imported from South Island, so I can’t strictly count them as the sort of ‘local’ materials I prefer to use, but the natural basalt in the Auckland area is too aerated to give the crisp finish these elements demanded.’
‘My client comes from Sri Lanka and she wanted something to remind her of where she grew up, so we set out to create a subtropical wonderland of lush planting cut through with secret paths. It contrasts in character with the front garden, which has a coastal, alpine feel, and the terraces act as a portal between the two.’
These different zones are connected by key plants which are repeated throughout. ‘These little memory plants create a sense of place. For example, there is a lot of shrubby Muehlenbeckia astonii and creeping Muehlenbeckia axillaris. The M. astonii, in particular, has a wonderful translucency that captures dew and filters light.’
Palms are another prominent feature of the planting. ‘I wanted to use only native Nikau palms, Rhopalostylis sapida, but we needed really large trees to give the garden the right atmosphere and these were just too expensive. So we shipped in some big specimen King palms, Archontophoenix alexandrae, for instant impact, but also planted lots of smaller Nikau palms that could grow up and take their place in due course.’
At the very end of the garden, almost hidden by all the vegetation, is a beautiful colonial stable block which Xanthe framed with more native exotics – a formal pairing of two large Cordyline australis – leading into a European-style vegetable garden with raised beds. ‘It is about respecting the building and washing layers of history through the whole design. I wanted to celebrate the continued occupation and care of this site, which has been a home to so many different people over so many years.
‘For me, garden making is about place and working with what is there. We set out to bind the client to the land, weaving them into their space. That is where the magic happens.’
Excerpts taken from UK Garden Design Journal, 2022
Colocasia esculenta, Coprosma repens (Taupata), Cordyline australis (Tī kouka), Costus barbatus, Cussonia paniculata, Cyperus papyrus, Gunnera prorepens, Heliconia tortuosa, Hibiscus richardsonii (Puarangi), Imperata cylindrica, Ligularia reinformis, Muehlenbeckia astonii (Shrubby tororaro), Muehlenbeckia axillaris (Creeping pōhuehue), Olearia traversii (Hakapiri), Phoenix roebelenii, Pimelia prostrata, Plagianthus regius (Manatu), Podocarpus totara (Tōtara), Pomaderris kumeraho (Kūmarahou), Ptisana salicina (Para), Rhabdothamnus solandri (Taurepo), Scadoxus multiflorus, Sophora microphylla (Kōwhai), Sophora prostrata (Prostrate kōwhai), Tecomanthe speciosa, Xeronema callistemon (Raupo tauranga),
2012 - 2016
Maungawhau (Mount Eden)