Garden makeover: This corner site was once bare sloping lawn

A bare Bayview section was a dream come true for a landscape designer with a passion for plants and a penchant for colour


A landscape designer struck gold with this Bayview, Auckland garden

Finding a garden that is a completely blank canvas is like striking gold for most landscape designers. Sandra Batley of Flourish Garden Design was smitten when she and partner John Eagleton discovered a 1970s clinker-brick two-bedroom unit in Bayview on Auckland’s North Shore. “It was a total do-up with a ton of potential and we had all the skills and tools to renovate it both inside and out,” Sandra says. “Nothing had been done to the outside at all.”

The lowdown on the site

The lack of screening or planting had its downsides, however.

“It was just a bare, sloping lawn and the garden was fully open to the street. Because it’s a corner site this meant there was little privacy in the garden at all. Drainage across the section was not great, either,” Sandra explains.

On the plus side, the site was a good size (410 square metres) for a unit, located in a leafy suburb and had a sunny north- and west-facing aspect. “Bayview is situated in a valley leading down to the water so it is quite sheltered.”

Landscaping lessons

Every landscape project should have a precise brief and Sandra was very clear what this should be for her own garden. “Maximise the space, create privacy and good indoor-outdoor flow (which was previously non-existent) and utilise every square inch.”

The couple started by addressing the drainage issues on the site then worked on creating a series of levels for outdoor living. “The section slopes from back to front,” Sandra says. “So first we brought in 30 square metres of clay and topsoil to build up and create a generous, level lawn area at the front. A fence was built on top of the retaining walls to make the property more secure.”

Next on the agenda was the construction of a large deck, which they connected to the living room with a new ranch slider. With the deck sitting 70cm above the lawn area, John was able to sink the spa below the deck, with just its top protruding above it, so users can now walk out of the house and step straight down into the spa. Large platform timber steps float down alongside the spa to a smaller deck and then down to the lawn.


Style secrets from a landscaper

When asked if she would define her signature landscape design style as ‘subtropical’, Sandra is reluctant to narrow it down so rigidly. “Sort of,” she says. “I like colour. I like bold combinations and foliage plants.”

She enjoys the lushness of the planting in her garden but it’s the functionality of the outdoor areas that is the key attraction for her. The large deck has extended their living space hugely, she enthuses. “The house is so small we would be lost without our garden and outdoor living area; it’s added so much value. It’s what sets it apart from other two-bedroom units. From summer through to autumn we use it to entertain our friends. And John is in the spa most nights – it’s his man cave!”


Tropical planting guide

To give the garden some vertical structure, Sandra planted a variety of palms: kentia, dypsis and bangalow. In timber planters she has used cycads for sculptural accents while gold-flowering cannas add summer colour. Clipped topiary spheres provide a counterpoint to the lush-leaved subtropicals – but they’re not your traditional box plants, though. These are a faster-growing native pittosporum cultivar called ‘Golf Ball’ which has lovely light green foliage.

Sandra finds it hard to pin down one favourite plant, pointing out several all around the garden, including the broad-leaved ligularia alongside the deck and the purple and burgundy foliage of the forest pansy tree (Cercis canadensis) planted in a side courtyard alongside her office.

Is the garden designed to be low maintenance? “No, not at all,” she confesses. “It’s lots of work keeping it looking good, to be honest.”

Standout garden features

There are many highlights but the water feature would have to be one of this garden’s key attractions. Sandra designed it herself, using a special paint to achieve a rusted look on a purpose-bought pot and fitting a copper spout in the centre.

Another interesting touch is the use of a cream trim on the black fences. “We wanted to do the best with a basic timber fence,” she explains. “We used cream and black to work with the brown clinker-brick cladding on the house. I wanted a black fence to provide a dark backdrop for the plants. The cream cap on the fence is also a good way to stop black-painted timber warping or twisting when it’s in full sun.”

Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Sally Tagg.

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