Step into a beautifully designed Auckland garden

More than two decades have gone into creating this lush garden which unfolds over three tiers

It’s no secret that artists will often extend their creativity into their domestic surroundings. Step into the beautifully designed garden of glass artists Ben and Suzanne Hanly and you’ll see what I mean. The couple have spent the last 21 years developing their garden in Auckland’s inner-city suburb of Mt Eden. And despite Suzanne’s claim that it’s still a work in progress, the results are nothing short of stunning.

With its dramatic parterre and formal pond in the front of the house and volcanic-stone walls and richly planted beds behind it, you could spend hours in this garden and not uncover all its treasures.

Ben and Suzanne met when they were both students in Christchurch; Ben was studying horticulture at Lincoln, Suzanne fine art at Canterbury. “I got a holiday job doing stained glass, and didn’t go back to Lincoln,” says Ben. “Not long after, Suzanne joined me and we’ve been making stained glass ever since.”

Suzanne’s passion for plants is abundantly clear as she leads me through the garden’s terraces and lawns, spread out over three levels. The front garden is on the top level, a paved rectangular space bordered by the street, the house, the couple’s Glassworks studio and the house next door. Here the layout is formal, with a rectangular pond on a direct axis with the front door and beds edged with box hedging laid out in a parterre pattern, inspired by the couple’s love of Mediterranean gardens.

An enormous dragon tree (Dracaena draco) is the centrepiece of the parterre. A variety of trees in the front garden, including a row of evergreen magnolias along the driveway, create a leafy canopy for vireya rhododendron, helleborus and bergenia. In the sunnier spots Suzanne has planted rugosa roses and she’s in the process of adding more flowering species here to attract bees.

“Rugosa roses are one of the bees’ favourite plants; they love their single flowers. All those architectural plants are wonderful but they don’t provide food for the bees,” she explains.
Across the front of the house is a concrete terrace where Suzanne’s collection of potted topiary box plants is displayed. “I like growing them quite big,” she says. “When topiary is too small it looks twee.”

The second level of the garden is behind the house and includes a small lawn and vegetable potager edged with more box hedging. The couple grow most of their own vegetables including lettuce, herbs, peas and strawberries. Suzanne is about to plant the box circle in the centre of the potager with basil plants, as she does every summer.

Key features of this garden are the walls, steps and paths connecting the three levels, all built by Suzanne’s brother, Stephen Johnson. Particularly impressive is the long stone staircase that takes you down to the lowest level. Brachyscome flowering daisies soften the edge of the steps, their blue blooms making a vivid contrast to the orange bird of paradise flowers alongside.

Suzanne calls this area “the dry garden” as it’s too far away from the hose to be watered. Silver butia palms, aloes, Californian poppies, and Poor Knights lilies thrive here against the volcanic-stone walls. The generous couple also regularly open their garden to the public for the Heroic Gardens Festival but are having
a year off this summer in order to “chop a few things back”.

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

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