A steep coastal site near Nelson transforms into the ultimate outdoor room

Discover how this young couple sculpted their steep coastal section into a beautifully designed terraced garden with an envy-inducing outdoor living area


A steep coastal site near Nelson transforms into the ultimate outdoor room

Nestled at the heart of Tasman Bay is the Waimea Inlet, a large, semi-enclosed estuary that is home to migratory birds such as the bar-tailed godwit and the white heron. When Canopy Landscape Architects were asked to create a garden for a new house overlooking this beautiful stretch of coastline, their prime concern was the creation of outdoor living areas that were sheltered from the site’s sea winds but allowed enjoyment of the wonderful view across the water.


“Our clients were a young couple, Scott and Justine, who had just moved back from overseas to settle in Nelson and were in the early stages of building their first home,” Canopy director Heidi Stewart explains. “The site was a sloping section and we needed to create flat, usable spaces, including a lawn terrace and outdoor living areas. It was also important to provide privacy from the road and a sense of arrival so that visitors would be clearly directed to the front door.

“Scott and Justine wanted a mix of native and exotic species for the garden that would fit into the rural, coastal context of the site. They were very hands-on with the project so it turned out to be a good collaboration.”


A steep site

Scott and Justine bought the 3000-square-metre site six years ago. “It was a fairly steep, semi-rural coastal section,” remembers Scott. “The main challenges were its steepness, exposure to afternoon sea breezes, proximity to the road and lack of privacy. Our new house was finished in June 2013, 18 months after we bought, and the garden was started soon after.”


Style and structure 

Scott and Justine put a lot of thought into the look and functionality of their garden. “We wanted a semi-formal, structured look with whites and greens as key components. The garden had to be easy-care and include large outdoor areas that were private, as well as flat, usable spaces and an orchard.”


Canopy came up with a design that reflected the style of the house and its setting. “Clean and contemporary in design,” says Heidi. “We took a simple, structured approach to planting, using grids of flowering cherries and hedges to relate to the rural context of the site. We then introduced a more relaxed palette of native plants on the seaward side of the garden to connect it to the wider coastal environment.”


Planting plan

Planting trees in grids creates a smart, architectural look in the garden. Along with flowering cherries (Prunus ‘Mt Fuji’), Scott and Justine’s planting plan included ornamental pear, magnolias and michelias. Griselinia and silver-leaved teucrium were planted as hedges, while the dwarf native shrub Pittosporum ‘Golf Ball’ was planted in grids and lines to create the look of clipped topiary. Among the many natives in the garden are coastal tree species such as titoki, kanuka and yellow-flowering kowhai, along with oioi, hebes and flaxes.



The first stage of work involved extensive retaining to create large terraces for outdoor living and flat lawns. Timber decks were built on two sides of the house along with timber and concrete steps to connect the various areas of the garden. The main outdoor living area is connected to the northern end of the house and features an elegant steel pergola with cedar rafters, an outdoor fireplace, barbecue and an integrated outdoor fridge.


Standout feature  

The hero of this garden is clearly Scott and Justine’s delightful outdoor living room. Justine worked closely with interior designer Emma Morris of Eterno Design to style the space with furniture, lighting and accessories.


“We can use it all year round with the addition of two 3kW infrared heaters and the awesome big outdoor fire,” Justine says. “We eat outside most evenings during summer and the outdoor area, including the adjacent lawn, is fully utilised throughout summer for plenty of gatherings with family and friends. The flat and contained lawn space surrounding the courtyard is fantastic for our one-year-old daughter, Arabella, and Otto, the family Labradoodle.”


Now it’s all done, the couple couldn’t be happier with their garden. “We thoroughly enjoy our outdoor living spaces and the garden we have created. Through the extensive planting and garden design we have achieved complete privacy and shelter in a short space of time and are delighted with the result. The designers responded extremely well to our brief. We spent a lot of time and effort working through the detail with them and couldn’t be happier with the result.”

Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Daniel Allen.

Create the home of your dreams with Shop Your Home and Garden