A lush garden with no lawn

This family chose a series of decks and platforms in lieu of a lawn


When you have a beautiful park right next door, why bother with a lawn? Jacqui Vaughan and Craig Kells came to this conclusion when planning a redesign of their inner-city Auckland garden bordering Grey Lynn Park. “The kids play in the park every day so we wanted to create a subtropical sanctuary in our own garden, and connect the house to the pool area,” says Jacqui.


The couple had owned their house for a year before they tackled the garden with its “pretty basic and disjointed backyard”. “We fell in love with the location right beside the park and saw that the property had good potential. The previous owner had built two small decks, one off the house and one at the pool but there was no connect at all. The middle was just lawn with some sporadic planting.”


Craig is even more enthusiastic about the garden, developing very green fingers since its installation and spending up to two hours a week on average out there. His skills as a qualified builder have also come in handy, with the decks, seating areas and double-sided timber batten screens all his handiwork. “He was very busy,” laughs Jacqui.

Donna Stanish of Seed Landscapes created a subtropical plant palette for the garden, inspired by the “borrowed landscape” of the next door park with its nikau and pohutukawa along with an existing stand of banana on the property. “Cool roots and a sheltered suntrap have created a microclimate that has seen the plants grow at an astonishing rate,” she says. “Craig followed my advice by putting in good quality soils and mulches. Start right and you will be rewarded with outstanding growth and plant health, protecting and enhancing your garden. It sounds boring but there is no better way.”


Donna also recommended her clients use lighting consultant Jenny Pullar who suggested coloured lenses for the outdoor lighting, green for the plants and amber around the decking. “This also bathes the skin in a warm ‘candlelit glow’ effect around the seating areas,” says Donna. “Otherwise we can look grey and washed out in white light at night, not a look we want.”

The pool area is now the focal point of all summer family entertaining in the Vaughan-Kells household. “Kids’ daily swims after school, weekend gatherings, Christmas Day family events – we have had well over 30 people here for barbecues and there is always space to sit back, relax and enjoy the sunshine while keeping an eye on the children in the pool,” says Jacqui.

So sheltered is the garden that even during the winter months the family can be found outside on weekends, relaxing and reading on the wicker sofas out on the top deck. Whatever the season, having such a variety of outdoor areas has been key to the success of this garden, Jacqui believes.

“As there are numerous spaces available to entertain, the garden never gets old. We can either use the concrete table on the top deck, the wooden seating corner where we usually have the beanbags or down by the pool on the loungers, soaking up the Auckland sunshine. Sometimes we just sit with our feet in the water chatting to the kids on a hot summer’s day or floating on pool toys.

It is serene down there – I always say it’s our little slice of Titirangi right in the heart of the city. We have a kingfisher that comes every year, tui and fantails aplenty. It is our subtropical oasis.”

Tips for choosing a landscape designer

Using a landscape designer is a good option if you want that extra ‘wow’ factor in the garden. As Jacqui says: “If you want something to look amazing then using a professional is the only way to go. Stepping the decks and those amazing floating pots makes our garden look really special.”

Make sure you and the designer are on the same page, and can communicate well. Jacqui found Donna easy to talk to and liked the fact that she understood what they wanted from the space. “From day one – she nailed it.”

Ask a designer for options. Most can provide advice to suit your budget from a quick consultation to a full plan with construction drawings and planting schedule.

Seed Landscapes
Jenny Pullar Outdoor Lighting

Words by: Carol Bucknell
Photography by: Helen Bankers

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