This overgrown Herne Bay garden was transformed into the ultimate oasis

This lush garden in Auckland’s Herne Bay was prompted by an unlovely outlook and shaped by the stone structures and trees already on the site

This overgrown Herne Bay garden was transformed into the ultimate oasis

Dilapidated fences, a high block wall and a trampoline – not exactly the kind of garden outlook most of us dream of. This view from their living area was the number-one concern for the owners of this Herne Bay property when they asked Damian Wendelborn of Auckland landscape design firm Urbanite to take a look at their garden. “Above all, they wanted to make better use of the outdoor space for them and their two children to enjoy,” says the designer. Two large pohutukawa trees, plus another next door with roots that weren’t to be disturbed, also complicated the brief.

The site

The site was greatly underutilised, Damian recalls. “It was broken into three distinct zones by the house’s size and position: a small upper lawn over which two large pohutukawa spread their branches; a narrow and sloping side garden incorporating a couple of other native trees; and a lower area outside the garage that was subject to overland flow in flooding events.”

The top-floor living area extended out onto a deck over the garden but the views were dominated by the children’s trampoline and, behind that, the neighbour’s block wall. Other fences were in need of repair as well.


After several discussions, the owners and design team opted to build a small swimming pool in front of the block wall to provide a more pleasing outlook as well as a great place for the family to kick back and enjoy themselves. The spot they selected was also one of the few areas not overhung by pohutukawa, says Damian.

He suggested adding “a bit of fun and colour” to the sloping side garden outside one of the children’s bedrooms by creating a series of circular stepping stones in various sizes. These also provide a playful pathway through an area of small fruit trees including citrus and blueberry.

In the bottom part of the garden, structural work had to be limited due to the area’s tendency to flood. However, this vulnerability inspired Damian to come up with a unique concept for the fencing. “We designed a bespoke cedar fence with pieces of varying size spaced apart and threaded onto tubing supported on powder-coated aluminium posts. A gate is incorporated into the same design,” he explains. The fine texture of the fence contrasts beautifully with the lush leaves of the subtropicals, and the space beneath and between the ‘palings’ allows for free flow of water in extreme rain events.

The trampoline was moved to this lower area for two or three years after the pool was built, but has since been replaced by a secluded outdoor living area with a gravel floor and firepit. A feijoa hedge provides fruit and screening from the neighbours.

Standout features 

The focal point of this garden is undoubtedly the wall of Timaru bluestone that lines one end of the pool area. “Its volcanic texture and blue-grey colour worked well with the stone found on site and seemed appropriate in Auckland’s volcanic environment,” says Damian.

Other materials, such as blue and brown mosaic tiles and sustainable hardwood decking, enhance and offset the stone. A cascade palm (Chamaedorea cataractarum) spills softly over the stone wall, connecting the lawn and pool areas and “feeding into the lush vibe”.


Although the pool required some excavation, Urbanite took a low-impact approach to other built structures by reusing existing footings (concrete foundations) and recycling materials where possible. “There was an old stone retaining system snaking through from the neighbouring property so the pool structure was used to replace the retaining function of the old stone wall. We reused the stones (Auckland bluestone) on site to form an edging for the lawn and an informal path, plus a set of stairs up through the side garden which was laid on shallow footing and all dug out by hand,” Damian explains.

A permeable, resin-bound pebble path (using a StoneSet product) was used on the lower area near a semi-mature rimu tree to minimise disturbance to roots and feeding systems. “Arborists (both council-based and independent) were consulted as part of the planning and consenting process, as well as during excavations,” says Damian.

“Root-zone protection measures were instigated to enable small machinery to access the pool area. An ‘excaveyor’ system transported the excavated material off the site to minimise machinery traffic in and out. As expected, no significant roots were encountered in the pool area and the trees continue to thrive.”

Damian credits the superb skills of contractors Second Nature Gardens and Frontier Pools for delivering the project. “The Second Nature team helped to interpret the essence of the design on site and continue to maintain the garden six years later.”


The owners were fond of a giant bird of paradise (Strelitzia nicolai) plant at the bottom of the garden and this, along with some existing palms and puka trees, helped determine the direction for their plant palette.

Most plants in the garden are lush-leaved subtropicals such as the New Guinean kapiak (Ficus dammaropsis), Philodendron ‘Xanadu’, nikau palms, Cordyline stricta and the Three Kings Island kawakawa (Macropiper melchior), which has beautiful, glossy green leaves. Below taller plants the designer used shade lovers such as Blechnum ‘Silver Lady’, mondo grass (Ophiopogon ‘Kyoto’), Liriope muscari and Acorus ‘Mini Green’, along with bromeliads from the original garden.

Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Helen Bankers. Styling by: Ashlee Quérée.

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