Terraced garden, Mt Albert

There is something particularly grand about a long entry sequence to a house; especially where one ascends a gentle slope beneath the shade of established trees. Whilst discussing this Mt Albert project with the architect, Marc Lithgow (of Space Division), we both felt that this sense of progression (which many projects do not permit) contributes significantly towards the success of both the architecture and the garden.

We were introduced to this project when the original house was being extended to create a new pavilion-like volume. From the driveway at the base of the hill, we designed a series of landings and paths to lead one to the front door; formed alternately from handworked local fieldstone, concrete and specially cut blocks of Timaru Bluestone (the latter elaborating several important junctures within the design).

From the point at which one leaves the driveway, rounded specimens of a highly scented variety of Osmanthus play a role in establishing informal structure within the gardens, as they do elsewhere in the design. Throughout the garden, we developed informal structure through an array of contrasting characters, from Osmanthus‘s rounded form to the columnar (yet simultaneously cascading) growth habit of weeping mapau (Myrsine divaricata) and the distinctly upright character of an attractive, bright green shrub, Pseudopanax gilliesii, that naturally occurs on the cliffs surrounding Whangaroa Harbour.

These elements of the planting design provide a matrix within which flowering perennials (such as the exceptionally floriferous Geranium ‘Rozanne’) and herbs are able to carry out their seasonal rhythms with impunity; bursting forth with colour from spring through to autumn, and retreating back to the matrix in winter. The overall character of our planting design reflects the context created by the presence of mature trees (both on the property and in the surrounding area), which is that of a woodland.

The existing vegetable gardens (constructed years ago from timber) were integrated into our scheme for the main approach to the house, and are separated from the entry paths by a miro hedge (Prumnopitys ferruginea). We experimented with the use of this forest tree as a tightly-clipped hedge more than a decade ago in a Waikato project, where it proved itself to be both adaptable and beautiful (with a particularly bright green hue).

At that time, its suitability for this purpose made sense on the basis of the connection between the name of its close relative, matai (Prumnopitys taxifolia) and the archetypal European hedging species, yew (Taxus baccata) – and we consider miro to be an even better species for hedges, due to its livelier colour and feathery foliage.

A central requirement for the main terrace was the ability to be able to accommodate large groups of people, whilst also feeling appropriate for everyday usage. Rather than crowd the space with a plethora of seats or benches (which have the potential to look empty, or awaiting use, when not filled with people), we adopted the approach of integrating seating into the structure of the garden – via the construction of a series of concrete walls that are at the ideal height to sit upon.

For all the built elements in this garden, we worked in with our colleagues at Cameron Landscape Design for the seat walls. Over the course of the last few years, we have undertaken several projects in which we have collaborated with Nigel Cameron in their formation, due to the high level of construction knowledge and craftsmanship that his firm brings to the process. This project also demonstrated the benefit of the dialogue that permeates the making of things, meaning that the end product represents a true collaboration.

As already noted in this profile, we specified blocks of Timaru Bluestone cut to a variety of sizes to bring refinement to major junctures in the design, such as the point where one steps up from the concrete entry path to timber platforms near the front door (as shown in the image above). We used the same detailing to create a better meeting point between the main wall and our concrete path, as well as positioning a band of Timaru Bluestone pavers along the threshold with the new pavilion.

The aforementioned dialogue that we enjoyed with Nigel Cameron resulted in an enhanced result on the benches that we designed to extend off the walls defining the 2 herb gardens (shown above). Instead of utilising angle iron for the supports, the most unobtrusive means of supporting the timber boards was applied, lending a sense of lightness and simplicity to these benches.

Concrete seat walls separate the main terrace from a long garden, through which one walks to the lawn that sits atop the garage wall (via abrupt breaks in the walls). In this garden, bearded irises, primroses and woodland geraniums are combined with an evergreen framework for a planting that combines seasonal colour with a backbone of undulating shrubs.

The new pavilion was consciously designed to provide a clear view through from one side to the other where one enters the building, such that there is a strong feeling of a building enveloped within gardens and mature trees. Whether on the ground floor or upstairs, the effect of all this is a setting in which the house and the garden feel particularly closely connected.

All photographs of the plantings shown above are by David Straight. They may not be reproduced without permission from O2 Landscapes and the photographer.

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