Woodland garden, Auckland

As the rain falls straight from the roof on to the stone paths that flank this building, the gardens adjoining the house take on the character of waterfalls or cliffs. Rivulets run through the meandering centre line of the paths, whilst countless droplets form on the small leaves of a threatened columnar tree, Pittosporum obcordatum, in addition to a range of other native species from riverine environments and waterfall zones (including Myrsine divaricata and Hoheria angustifolia).

In contrast with the rather less predictable movement of water within nature, the architects (Stevens Lawson) did such a good job of anticipating the likely path of water that the plants in these narrow gardens do not need to accommodate the kind of impact with which they must contend in our wild places (where swollen rivers and gushing cascades periodically constitute a very specific challenge). However, some of the characteristics that such species have developed in response to riverine and waterfall environments (notably a narrow growth form and fine-textured foliage of various shapes) are especially apt for the creation of layered plantings within very confined spaces.

Most importantly, it is the ethereal quality of many of the trees, shrubs, ferns and grasses that come from such habitats that we were interested in - for the client desired an environment that has a quiet, contemplative character to it. This is achieved in part by the establishment of simple 'voids' within the garden, such as the extensive sheet of Hydrocotyle elongata (pictured above) that dominates one of the two courtyards in the centre of the house, through which giant maidenhair (Adiantum formosum) and Pittosporum pimeleoides sporadically emerge.

As mentioned above, the stone paths effectively function as gutters do in a more conventional house design. On one side of the house, these have been worked to have a smooth surface and are concreted in place (and grouted). They are finished with an undulating, indefinite edge so that they read as being part of the garden; an impression that is reinforced by the organic nature of their composition. The exercise of both designing and laying the stone to correctly divert all water into the drains (which are positioned at selected points along the paths) required a considerable amount of calculation and rigour in setting out, to ensure that it functions well.

When designing pool areas, it is generally the matter of a pool fence that is the most disruptive element within gardens. This was dealt with well by the architects, through the specification of a fencing solution that is in effect a continuous line of rods that follows the form of the circular pool.

In order to integrate this with the naturalistic character of our plantings, we opted to provide a counterpoint to the strong geometry of the pool, and envelop it in an amorphous planting dominated by Muehlenbeckia complexa and a green form of Carex testacea (amongst a mat of interweaving groundcovers, including Dichondra aff. brevifolia and the critically endangered Lobelia 'Woodhill'). In combination with the mature pohutukawa that hangs over the seaward margins of the pool, this creates the sense of a swimming hole within a garden. The small stone terrace and stepping stones that we designed for the pool reinforce this impression, due to the fact that they are consciously secondary to the plantings within the composition.

In the entry garden, we felt that it was important to generate a greater sense of space between the street and the front door, through the specification of a gently shifting path of Timaru Bluestone blocks (in a rectangular module ordered to particular dimensions). On one side of this path, eight blocks change (in terms of stone type) to Takaka marble (sourced from the same farm as Parliament Buildings was quarried from) - as a 'shadow line' off a marble statue that occupies the entry garden. When rain has fallen on these marble blocks, their colour intensifies, and the contrast of this detail against the grey bluestone is sharpened.

The front fence is designed with a very lightweight aesthetic, so that it becomes enveloped in vegetation. This allows the front face of the building (which has a particularly elegant composition, in the association of walls, windows and doors) to be viewed as it should, rather than being diluted by the presence of a more solid fence. In designing the posts for the fence, we decided upon an extremely simple arrangement (pictured below, right), wherein the posts are formed from the combination of a line (flat bar steel) and a circle (steel rod), as viewed from above.

The planting design for this area is based heavily on the contrast between the deeper, vibrant greens of shrubs such as Coprosma dodonaeifolia and Pseudopanax gilliesii against the finer texture of small-leaved species (notably Corokia cotoneaster and Myrsine divaricata). As in other areas of the garden, there is a focus on the integration of rare and threatened species, including a critically endangered forget-me-not, Myosotis pottsiana, which is now seeding happily within the garden, and the critically-endangered Northland horopito (Pseudowintera insperata) - a particularly fine shrub on which the whitish undersides of the leaves reflect light as viewed from inside the house (especially as they move in the wind).

Note : All photographs of this garden have been taken by David Straight. They may not be reproduced without permission from O2 Landscapes and the photographer.

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