This overgrown St Heliers garden is now an incredible entertaining area

A total redesign of an upward-sloping and almost unusable section has given this family more than they ever expected – and pizza for all!

This overgrown St Heliers garden is now an incredible entertaining area

After six years of living in London, Brett and Sarah Dobson had one key priority when they went house hunting back in Auckland. “We wanted to be near water. Lots of our friends had moved back to the Eastern Bays and we wanted to be near them, with us all starting families at the same time.”

Two years of searching almost saw them give up in frustration but finally they spied a five-bedroom house in a quiet cul-de-sac in St Heliers. Although it needed a lot of work they were undaunted as Brett is an architectural designer, and the full section was perfect for a family. They moved in eight weeks before the birth of their first child, Emma, in 2011.


The 760-square-metre section sloped upwards from the house and was incredibly overgrown with a large backyard that was in many ways unusable, says Brett. “It was very damp and boggy with lots of large trees, and planters built directly against the house.”

After painting the interior of the house the pair turned their attention to the garden. They had a good idea of what they wanted but felt they needed some specialist advice to bring their ideas to life. A Google search led them to Kirsten Sach Landscape Design, her work impressing them with its wide range. “When Kirsten saw our property she had similar ideas to us on how to best utilise the space. She was instantly likeable and knew what she was talking about.”


Brett and Sarah had a clear picture of the kind of garden they were after. “A contemporary and easy-care entertaining space that felt small enough when hanging out with our family but would also be able to host larger gatherings when friends and families visited,” says Brett. “A spa pool was important, but we didn’t want it to dominate the space, which they sometimes do, given how large they are. We wanted a space for the kids to play but not one that encroached on the entertaining space. A pizza oven was a must as it creates engagement – people interact together, cook together and have fun together. So, all in all, quite a difficult brief to achieve.”

Their comprehensive wish list also included the use of clean lines and modern materials, new decking out from the living area, a barbecue, a functional lawn for the kids to play, new steps to the upper level, citrus trees and a grapevine, a mix of natives and exotic plants and new boundary fencing.

Kirsten “instantly got” what the couple were trying to achieve and they were thrilled with the depth of her plant knowledge. “She’s very talented around plant selection and location of planting to create features or privacy, colour, texture etc,” says Brett.


All the existing planting was removed and the entire section cleared down to base land. Contractors Zest Landscapes built the retaining walls, new deck, outdoor seating, steps, paving, spa area and screening and did a fantastic job on the whole project, says Brett. “They were professional, hard-working and a pleasure to deal with.”

Standout feature

The family have certainly become big pizza-oven enthusiasts since their beautiful garden was finished, and are constantly learning new techniques, says Brett.

“The ovens are a great social initiator. People can arrive with their own ideas on what should go on a pizza and get their opportunity to showcase it. Kids learn about how to roll out the dough and how to create a pizza and are proud to show off their own creations.

“It’s like a barbecue on steroids. We have cooked all types of meat in it, as well as different breads – especially the next day, using the residual heat left in the oven. We even cooked our Christmas ham in it. It also doubles as a relaxing outdoor fireplace at night once the cooking is done. Our backyard would not be the same without it.”

In fact, the entire garden redesign has exceeded Brett and Sarah’s expectations, they enthuse. “As Kiwis, we spend a lot of our time outside so we wanted to make use of our garden rather than investing in a new kitchen or bathroom that only we would be able to take advantage of (but that is next on the list!), says Brett.

“Our backyard has more than doubled our living space and provided us with a place that we love walking out into again and again.

“We entertain regularly – on a weekly basis – with neighbours, friends and families coming over, which is great fun. But we also get to use the space with just the family, hanging out in the spa, playing with the kids on the playground or making pizzas together. It makes life fun, and for that we feel very lucky.”

Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Helen Bankers.

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