A post-earthquake rebuild incorporated a Swan Lake garden makeover

A post-earthquake rebuild was extended to incorporate a garden makeover for this Christchurch section, which includes mature native trees and a private lake

A post-earthquake rebuild incorporated a Swan Lake garden makeover

Facing a complete rebuild of their house after the Christchurch earthquakes, Marisa Bryan and Mike Payne decided to take the opportunity to reshape their garden at the same time. Overlooking a small lake in the leafy suburb of Cashmere, the property boasted existing features such as several semi-mature native trees on its lower slopes.

However, other parts of the garden badly needed a lift. “It had a lot of grasses but no colour or fragrance,” remembers Marisa. “We wanted an easy-care garden to complement the existing established natives on the lower level by the lake. I also wanted some flowers.”

Builders Mike Greer Hills carried out the reconstruction of Mike and Marisa’s 1970s-style house, which they have lived in since 2010. The new house was built on the original footprint with some changes made to the interior.

The builders then recommended Craig Wilson of FORM Garden Architecture for the redesign of the garden and the couple were immediately impressed. “Craig is a wonderful guy and very passionate about what he does,” says Mike. “We had a meeting with him and explained that we wanted an easy-care garden to complement the natives and lake. Then we left it up to him and could not have been more pleased with the result.”


The 1200-square-metre site slopes down towards a private pond called Swan Lake. With houses quite close on either side and the house’s main entrance adjoining the rear garden, privacy was an issue. Another problem area was the street entrance. Despite the retention of attractive Halswell stone steps, columns and a retaining wall from the original house, this part of the garden was “very stark and bland”, says Marisa.

The client brief was for a plant-rich garden. A key priority for the couple and their designer was to clarify and beautify the approach to the house by creating a “clear and logical journey” from the street to the hidden front door set deep inside the property, while also respecting the existing significant native trees. “Plus, there was a great opportunity to highlight and create an outstanding context for the rimu, totara, kauri and tree ferns at the end of the garden,” says Craig.


With his clients’ wish for a plant-rich garden in mind, Craig opted for a fusion of lush green and flowering exotics “to blend with the existing spectacular native plants, which are not what you’d expect from a Christchurch garden”. Year-round interest was also important.

To improve the transition from public to private spaces, Craig created a welcoming new entry space behind the house’s stone columns with a low wall-cum-seat to encourage visitors to linger a little. An oiled timber boardwalk directs them to the front door. “A plaster-finish wall with climbing fig and a stepped cedar wall provide a visual screen for the rear lawn and garden area that open off the living areas of the house,” says Craig.


As is so often the case, the construction process for both house and garden took a long time due to various hold-ups, Marisa explains. “For instance, when the house was demolished, some old crockery and bottles were found so it came to a halt while the heritage people collected those and examined the site.”

FORM rebuilt the deck at the lakeside end of the garden to create two levels, a larger one for entertaining with steps leading down to a smaller lower deck for the spa pool. Another set of steps leads to the foreshore of the lake with soaring trees above.

The entrance garden was also transformed, says Marisa. “I wanted some flowers and fragrance so Craig incorporated roses, lavender, daphne, hydrangeas, jasmine and Michelia trees. He also added lots of lush green plants such as the tractor seat plants (Ligularia reniformis) which obviously love the soil and location as they are huge.”

Garden care

Marisa says she and Mike aren’t avid gardeners, but they enjoy pottering and love the beautiful native trees and roses. “Mike is always in the garden and I get called out for advice on pruning and so forth. But it is a very easy garden to maintain.”

Standout feature

The deck overlooking the lake is now one of Marisa and Mike’s favourite places, and they love using it to entertain friends and their family of three grown-up children. “There have been many happy hours and family gatherings on this deck; it’s a fantastic entertainment area and gets very well used,” Marisa enthuses. “It’s beautiful any time really, but we do love summer evenings on the deck or down by the lake.”

The couple also enjoy wandering down through the trees to the lake to feed the swans and ducks. The spa is used a lot, too, particularly during the winter. Even their two “gorgeous cats” are happy with their new “adventure playground”, she says.

Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Kate Claridge.

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