This Grey Lynn home nailed their landscaping with a sunken outdoor ‘room’

A spacious living area beneath soaring white beams has been the runaway hit of this beautifully reimagined garden in Auckland’s Grey Lynn

Under the pergola

Most people start with the house first when doing up a property. Not Dianne Ensor and Geoff Cawthorn. Dianne, who is co-owner of The Makeup School and the Makeup Collective store, and Geoff, a television and film director, began work on their Grey Lynn garden four years ago.

Guided by Adam Evans of Urbis Landscapes, the couple agreed to start at the back of their plot and work their way forwards, leaving their house renovation (still to come) for the final stage. Adam had worked with Dianne and Geoff on two previous properties and they liked and trusted his design aesthetic. The result has been a garden that has “transformed our place, giving us a beautiful living area at not an enormous cost,” enthuses Geoff.

The site

When Dianne and Geoff bought the property it had a rambling cottage garden, featuring old brick planter beds and a semi-circular design. “It had a lovely aspect but it felt lacking as an outdoor living space. There had also been some subsidence at the rear of the section and the bank there needed reinforcing,” Geoff explains.

With lots of curved brick walls that had to be removed, a lawn that sloped down to the deck, and “a collection of random plants” including some large trees and a port wine magnolia (Michelia figo) hedge, the garden needed to be brought into the 21st century. Limited access to the back of the garden for large machinery was another factor Adam had to deal with.

The design

The garden’s design was a joint exercise, which the designer was happy to pursue. “Because this was the third garden I’ve done for Di and Geoff, they know my work and I understand their approach, so we shared our ideas together,” he says.

Geoff also enjoyed this collaborative approach, particularly in relation to the pergola area. “Our brief to Adam was to give us a sizeable outdoor living area, and to create a more structured garden with a modern feel,” he says.

“Di came up with the idea of a pergola, using Pinterest references, and this really set the tone for the collaboration. We ended up with quite a large structure, four metres square, on Di’s insistence. Adam’s knowledge and advice was really important in us trusting that this could be achieved. The broad concrete steps were also Di’s idea, which we all agreed would bring the various levels together in an exciting way.

“We have plans to extend and renovate the house, but decided that the pergola outdoor area should be its own distinct feature. Our plan is to then redo the existing deck with wider beams and wrap that around the side path. So, in essence, we’ve started at the back and are slowly moving forwards.”


The existing wooden retaining walls were kept but reduced on the lower level to “square off the garden” with Buxus hedging planted in front. To help keep the budget under control it was decided to break the project up into three main areas of work, says Adam. “The back hedging first, then the patio, pergola and concrete steps. Finally the planting of the garden.” Existing plants and structures were reused as much as possible to cut down on costs.

The garden design also had to take into account the poor site access: “Some earthworks for footings and the concrete pad were nearly all done by hand and wheelbarrow,” remembers Adam.


Fortunately most of the existing trees, including a plum and a pear, were able to be retained as well as the roses and box hedging. To solve the slippage issue a two-tiered hedge now runs along the back of the property, adding crisp definition to the garden. “Adam used his impeccable understanding of trees and shrubs to create a unique mix of structure and freedom, with hydrangeas, magnolias and roses contrasting with rounded topiary balls,” says Geoff.

“Both Adam and Di agreed on a strongly ‘white on green’ palette with the roses, hydrangeas and other flowering plants. The one area of disagreement was over planting a forest pansy in a very prominent spot. Adam won out there, and we absolutely love it now – it’s a fabulous blast of colour that announces the arrival of spring.”

Standout feature

Without a doubt the centrepiece of this garden is its beautiful white pergola. “It’s a fabulous space. We all love the minimal white beams which are so dramatically offset by the lush garden,” Geoff declares. “We get a huge amount of enjoyment out of entertaining here, with barbecues and parties or just hanging out after work or on the weekend. It’s a very relaxing spot – we’ve even held yoga sessions here in summer. Very Zen!”

Feeling inspired by Dianne and Geoff’s pergola? Check out our tips on how to decide which outdoor shade option is best suited for you.

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

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