Coastal flower garden, Auckland

Sensitive integration of native plants with flowering exotics is an important part of our work. It is our belief that this can deliver a wide range of possibilities for gardens founded in native ecology (and which contain threatened species), as the addition of certain exotic flowers provides seasonal change and some qualities (such as colour or scent at a certain time of year) that a purist approach cannot yield.

This garden, which was made for clients with a deep interest in gardening, was an opportunity to explore these ideas in depth, as well as engaging with the wider context around the site.

Rather than being curiosities, rare and threatened native species play important roles within the garden. A deep green, compact shrub, called Melicytus aff. obovatus (Titahi Bay), is the main structural species over much of the site. In combination with one of our more common native shrubs, Metrosideros perforata, it is planted in cloud-like groups, to provide informal structure. M. perforata has the additional appeal of producing white flowerheads in summer, whilst the carmine rātā (M. carminea) smothers itself in bright red flowerheads in late spring. A critically-endangered groundcover of Auckland’s West Coast, Lobelia ‘Woodhill’ bedecks the ground close to the house, producing large quantities of scented, white flowers over a long period in summer.

The rare sea spurge, Euphorbia glauca, sends up evergreen stems of beautiful blue foliage, whilst the critically-endangered grey saltbush (Atriplex cinerea, pictured below, right) sprawls over the gravel paths that weave between the gardens. The soft brown gravel was utilised as a surface for the majority of the paths in the garden as it possesses a similar amorphous quality to the sea beyond. This level of continuity was further reinforced by the composition of the paths on the seafront side, which is based on the patterns of the mangroves and breakwaters beyond the site. A South African shrub, Phylica pubescens (pictured in the top photo, right), has been inserted into this predominantly native structure for the tawny flowerheads that it bears in summer.

Whilst designing the garden, David McDermott and I researched the philosophy of the French landscape architect, Gilles Clement, particularly the principle of ‘The Garden in Movement’. This idea, in which some sense of mobility is considered desirable in certain plants has become a reality in the garden, as ephemeral species like the beautiful native linen flax (Linum monogynum, pictured above, left, either side of the carmine rata) emerge spontaneously from seed that has fallen in the previous season.

The same is occurring with more long-lived species that are germinating within the garden – notably a critically-endangered species of the Manawatu coast, Pimelea actea, of which we now possibly have more plants than the entire natural population (due to its enthusiasm towards the site). The garden was designed in a mosaic that is enhanced by editing these volunteer plants (allowing them to stay in many places, and removing them in others). It also represents a more viable system for a naturalistic garden in the long term, as plants become self-perpetuating.

South African bulbs, like the white form of Spiloxene capensis pictured above, send up flowers over a long period from winter to late summer, before nestling back amidst the matrix of groundcovers on-site. Lachenalias, Nerines, dwarf Watsonias, Veltheimia bracteata, and rarely-seen bulbs such as Ferraria crispa naturally emerge over a long period of respective flowering times, ensuring that there is interest over much of the year.

On the landward side of the house (above, right), the aesthetic employed is much more restrained, with a native groundcover flanking either side of the gravel path, leading to basalt stairs that ascend to the vegetable garden. Espaliered fruit trees lend a beautiful geometry to the concrete boundary wall – just another facet to a continually-developing garden that is one of the most satisfying projects we have ever had the pleasure of working on.

A pleasing geometry

For years, I have admired a small piece of concretework that stands outside a farm property between Pakiri and Wellsford. Having previously assumed it to be a stand for a farm-dog’s kennel, it was only comparatively recently that I learned that this concrete platform (which is pictured at the bottom of this profile) was actually a bobby calf stand – a platform on which bobby calves were placed before being collected.

The distinguishing feature of this stand was the angled, cut-off corner, which gives it an interesting geometry. This piece of our vernacular landscape reminded me of a very similar step that I had seen at Carlo Scarpa’s Museo di Castelvecchio, where a large slab of Lessinia stone has one corner cut off – a slightly eccentric detail that makes a smoother transition to the stairs above. With these two precedents in mind (one an anonymous piece of concrete from rural land north of Auckland, the other from Verona), we designed a precast step (pictured above) on which the cut-off corner makes for an easier transition to the deck (in both practical and aesthetic terms).

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