Nurse-turned-landscape designer creates a garden for family, birds and bees

This nurse-turned-designer wanted a garden that offered privacy and poolside fun for her family as well as biodiversity for birds and bees

Meet + greet

Louise Hanlon, (landscape designer), her husband Nick, Maxim, 18, Scarlett, 14, plus Monty the dog.

Nursing and landscape design may seem like two very different professions but for Auckland-based designer Louise Hanlon, they are very similar. Giving up her career as a nurse to retrain as a landscape designer was really just a matter of swapping people for plants, she laughs.

The trade has been a successful one if the garden Louise shares with husband Nick and their two teenage children Maxim and Scarlett in Orakei is any indication.

Olive hedging, carefully placed trees, limestone paths and raised beds filled with native grasses and flowering perennials all combine to create a sense of peaceful privacy, as well as a haven for insects and birds.

“As a landscape designer, it was at the forefront of my mind to have a positive effect on the environment, however small that may seem in a suburban garden,” Louise says of her design. “Also, space is a luxury today, so I wanted to create something of beauty and atmosphere that would draw us out into the garden to make the most of it. The new garden also needed to be integrated with what was already in existence.”

The site

The main existing feature was a swimming pool which lacked privacy in the northwest-facing back garden. Apart from that, the site was essentially a blank slate, with flat lawn areas front and back and a large expanse of decking.

“I could see an opportunity to remove the back lawn that was weedy and cracked in summer and shaded and muddy in winter,” explains Louise. “The front garden had lawn but no other plants. It was quite unwelcoming.”

The design

Four key factors drove the final design concept. The first was Louise’s desire for a drought-tolerant garden that could also withstand Auckland downpours. This influenced the second, which was to get rid of the lawn.

“Lawn is a monoculture that doesn’t offer much in the way of biodiversity,” she says. “Coupled with its high water usage in summer, there are alternatives that environmentally make more sense. I liked the appearance and function of hoggin, a crushed limestone surface that binds together when compacted but remains permeable. You can kick a ball, ride a bike and play games on it. There would be no weeding, mowing, or fertilising, either.”

Privacy from the road above was also an important consideration. Louise’s response was to strategically position trees with a broad canopy, such as the summer flowering crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) and weeping peppermint tree (Agonis flexuosa). The trees will screen the garden from above and provide shade once their canopies have filled out.

The final key factor was biodiversity. Louise designed a wide perennial garden bed where she could plant the variety of different species necessary to attract birds and insects throughout the year. “It also gives me space to trial new plants for their hardiness,” she adds.

The construction

To integrate old with new, Louise planned a strong structural layout. A wood-formed concrete planter intersects the original deck and extends into the new hoggin area. Creating wood-formed walls during winter can be a challenge, but the team at Second Nature carried out the construction without a hitch.

“Wood-formed walls are an art form and need skilled craftsman to build them,” says Louise.

Another concrete wall was used to define a firepit area that has become a gathering point for Maxim and Scarlett, extending the use of the garden into the night. Corten steel edges the garden beds around the perimeter.

The planting

Louise’s mantra for plant selection was: choose the right plant for the right place. “It is much easier to work with nature than against it,” she points out.

In the perennial beds, native grasses Chionochloa flavicans and Carex testacea mingle with perennials Salvia ‘Love and Wishes’ and Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’. Mexican lily (Beschonaria yuccoidies), Eucalyptus pulverulenta ‘Baby Blue’ and Podocarpus totara ‘Matapouri Blue’ add their muted blue-green foliage to the mix. At the front of the house, clipped Westringia balls and spring-flowering Betchel’s crab-apple provide year-round structure.

Crepe myrtles are a favourite tree. “We have three,” says Louise. “They are the perfect size for a suburban garden and flower profusely in summer when a lot of others have finished. But look for varieties that are resistant to the fungal disease powdery mildew,” she advises.

Louise finds her revamped garden therapeutic. “As there is plenty of seasonal variation, there’s always something emerging or fading away. Bee-watching is also a good mindful activity! I do a little garden taming often and find that is the most enjoyable way to keep things looking good.”

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

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