How this lush Auckland garden achieved privacy without fences

By using plants instead of fences to define their property, this couple ended up with lush green spaces and a sense of privacy – all on a small section in urban Auckland

Borrowing views of the surrounding landscape is an age-old design trick traditionally used in Japanese gardens that is now a feature of many contemporary outdoor spaces. The idea is to incorporate views of neighbouring features, such as beautiful trees, a mountain or beach, into the garden design, making it feel larger and, of course, more interesting. Unattractive features are cleverly screened out.

In Marianne and Terry Kayes’ Mt Eden garden, this technique has been used so successfully the outdoor spaces feel more like part of a country garden than an inner-city Auckland plot. Rather than boundary fences, strategically placed planting has been used for screening, allowing the garden to feel as if it extends well past its borders.

“This garden was about engaging with the mature trees beyond the property while screening out neighbouring houses,” explains landscape designer Xanthe White of Xanthe White Design (XWD). “We wanted to create privacy and intimacy, but without putting in fences that would cut the garden short visually.”

The front yard is unfenced, too, allowing the newly built home to sit comfortably alongside its heritage neighbours. “We were very keen to keep a connection to the street,” says Marianne. “This also affected the brief for the house design – tall cedar panel windows on the street side allow a view right through part of the house to the rear garden (and vice versa), which we love.”

The site

The recently retired couple bought their 506-square-metre property in late 2014. An old cottage on the site proved unworkable so it was removed and replaced with a new three-bedroom home designed by architect Guy Tarrant. The house, which was a finalist in the 2018 Home of the Year awards, was completed in April 2017.

Lack of privacy from two neighbouring homes was one of the major issues for the XWD team to contend with. Another was the basalt rock which covered most of the site, with the topsoil very shallow in parts. However, two positives were that the back garden faced north, and that it dropped steeply down to provide its owners with elevated views.

The brief

XWD started conceptualising the garden’s design early in the project, before construction started on the house. Marianne says the brief to the landscape designers was “fairly broad”.

“We wanted a natural, casual-looking garden, with natives and some bird-attracting plants. There was a large existing gum tree, a large avocado on the northwestern boundary and also some taro, which we wanted to retain as the plants provided some existing sculptural form on the northern side.
“We also wanted some flowering, pickable plant varieties, perhaps one or two fruit trees [a plum was planted]. We were keen to make a feature of some of the large basalt rocks that were excavated from the site. We also talked about finding somewhere for a vege garden.

It was XWD’s idea to construct a raised bed out of site-excavated basalt rock. They’ve planned it so there is always something in flower.”

We were keen to make a feature of some of the large basalt rocks

that were excavated from the site

The design

As well as those borrowed views, an important part of the design rationale was “to create a garden for a gardener,” says Xanthe. “It was about creating complexity and layering for Marianne, who likes plants and had come to this garden from a much larger site. She didn’t want to wait 20 years to have an established garden again.

“Marianne wanted colour, natives and a productive garden. Like most gardeners, she wanted everything! We used colour to help unify those different aspects. We also used curved shapes to make the garden drift out into the trees. The spaces flow into each other, enhancing the perspective rather than breaking it up into different, clearly defined spaces. The massive lava flows fixed us at various points. We worked with the natural levels but also manipulated them to help create that flow.”

The planting

Marianne and Terry discussed their plant preferences with XWD, which included hellebores, Hydrangea ‘Limelight’, ligularia, and abutilon to attract tui. Overall, they were happy to be guided by the designers, who suggested a palette of oranges and blues throughout the garden to unify the various areas. In spring, when these photos were taken, drifts of Californian poppies, crucifix orchids, blue star creeper and morning iris flow between the large rocks, their bold oranges and yellows contrasting beautifully with the purple-blue groundcover Convolvulus mauritanicus. Orange-flowering abutilon helps screen the house behind, while the large, shiny leaves of ligularia add a green lushness to the garden.

At the front of the house, the colour palette is mainly white, as the planting there is designed to help “anchor the house into the landscape”, says Xanthe. “The garden there forms part of the view towards the house so we wanted it to relate to the architecture, whereas at the back the view of the garden is from the house. It was about creating viewpoints from the house into the back garden.”

Marianne admits that she and Terry are not very knowledgeable about plants and gardens. “We’re still learning. But we get a lot of pleasure from the garden – it’s a key part of the overall feel of the property and the general aesthetics are a combination of house and garden. I’m also enjoying the birdlife. And we both love how the front garden is a riot of various pinks, greens and white. From sunrise, this part of the garden is humming with bees attracted to the Gaura lindheimeri, which looks wonderful flowering en masse over the summer.”

Garden tip Use flower colour as a linking device. The purple and orange blooms in this garden provide a visual connection between the backyard spaces.

Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Carme Aguayo.

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