I've been painting in my spare time for years, mainly portraits and figurative stuff in oils. For the past few years I have focussed very much on building a house and developing a garden on Waiheke Island where I now live. The island has a very strong artistic community and this has inspired me to take up my brushes again, more portraits perhaps and hopefully some botanical work. Here are some of my early paintings.
It's been awhile since I talked about my garden on Waiheke, I realise, nearly 18 months in fact. Such a lot of changes since then, some areas flourishing, some having to be replanted when I realised the species I carefully propagated from seed couldn't cut it growing in a very damp, wastewater field (I'm talking about you rengarenga lilies!). There have been some surprises too. South African plants like Dietes bicolor growing well in the same often boggy soil. Who knew? My favourite hedging plant Murraya paniculata and the scented climber Stephanotis both prefer hot, sunny conditions yet they are thriving (fingers crossed) in an area that is very shady in winter. That's one of the joys of gardening, pushing the boundaries with plants you simply have to try to grow despite what the books say.
I have to had to supplement the hundreds of plants I originally grew from cuttings and seed with a few from nurseries to fill gaps where other plants have failed. Oioi our wonderful native reed has been a winner as has the ground cover Coprosma Poor Knights. Another native , the lovely grass Carex viragata also seems to thrive in the frequently wet soil in my garden.
My garden is still a work in progress. Even though Waiheke Island is part of Auckland City it has a different climate, much warmer and sunnier in summer. And of course it is more exposed to salt laden winds which does affect some plants. As time goes by I'll gain a better picture of the local environmental conditions. Until then it's a matter of trial and error, with a bit of good luck too.
I believe with a little guidance we can all create beautiful gardens that also provide spaces for outdoor living, play, growing edibles, exercise and so forth. I wrote this story recently for Houzz.co.nz to give readers some basic guidelines about how to start the process by analysing their sites, hope it's helpful.
I've been writing for the website Houzz.au for awhile and now they're launching in NZ so they asked me to write a few stories with local content. Here's one on native plants which I love to use in my own and other people's gardens.
I had a lovely day shopping with my daughter Miranda the other day, not at the mall as you'd expect. We went to the garden centre where she picked out some plants for her bedroom and the pots to match. She knew exactly what she wanted - the ferns were her favourites - and guided by me we found a lovely maidenhair fern, a trailing plant (Cissus) for her macrame hanger (remember those!) and some Baby's tears. Next we repotted the Kentia palm she had previously been given into a beautiful new pot. The plants looked so good it inspired her to completely clean out her room, miracle! But I was already elated by the fact she was discovering a passion for plants. Long may it continue.
After months waiting for diggers to finish reshaping the land I was finally able to start planting, a process which began on the day I had invited a few friends over to the island to celebrate my birthday. A few good mates brought over their gardening clothes and spades and insisted on helping me to plant. November is not a good time to plant a new garden in NZ, particularly on Waiheke Island but we had no choice. The plants needed to go in the ground as they had out grown their pots and we needed them to be doing their job, cleaning our waste water (apparently the water is virtually clean once it moves out of the septic tank but its great to know the plants are helping the process).
We began with flaxes and oioi, planting them in sweeping curves to mirror the landforms. These were followed by generous swathes of daylilies, Dietes bicolour, rengarenga lily and at the top northern end, to disguise eventually the retaining wall around the driveway, a block of euphorbia. Love the grey blue foliage of euphorbia, they should look stunning when they produce their large lime green flower heads next spring.
After waiting a few more weeks for more digging, we started on the top area of the garden closest to the road, planting more flaxes then moving up the slope into Dietes grandiflora, Dietes robinsiniana, Coprosma repens 'Green Rocks', aquilegia, echinacea and neomarica. The flowering plants will attract bees to the mini-orchard I hope to soon plant along the top, roadside edge of the site.
I was inspired by one of my favourite landscape designer practices Oehme Van Sweden, trying to create a meadow like feel with perennials and strappy leaved plants. The idea is that the garden will become a tapestry of colour an d texture in front of the black shed-like house.
Now comes the hard part, keeping it all alive through the hot summer, and battling the thousands of weeds that have been germinating rapidly through our wet spring!
My long wait to plant a garden on Waiheke Island is hopefully nearing an end. Although we bought our land nearly two years ago it has taken many, many months for planning, site works and now the house construction. During that period I have created a nursery of around 500 plants, virtually all of them from seed I have gathered, or cuttings and divisions from friends and family (just as my mother did when she gardened).
With the building nearly complete the 200m2 septic field is about to be laid and the plants can then go in. November is not an ideal time to plant but hopefully they will survive the summer heat if I water them regularly.
Many of the plants are now bursting out of their pots particularly the flaxes and dietes, as I thought they would be in the ground well before now. The rengarenga (also from seed) are flowering madly and so are the aquilegia. My aim is to create a kind of perennial meadow in the large space in front of the house. Here they all are, out of the nursery and ready to be loaded into the trailer, bound for Waiheke.
They say a weed is only a plant in the wrong place. And that Auckland is the weed capital of the word, not surprising when you consider how benign the climate is, not too cold to kill things off in winter, plenty of moisture, good soil....So once desirable plants such as the arum lily and agapanthus become villains because they grow too damn well. Which brings me to the reason for this post, I spotted this gorgeous grove of Chinese lantern (abutilon) growing beneath the tree canopy around a creek near where I live yesterday as I walked with my daughter. I love the plant and would like to have some in my new garden if I can find a place shady enough for them. The birds like them too, with white eyes and tui big fans of the nectar filled trumpet shaped blooms.
Will Chinese lanterns start appearing on the noxious weeds list some time soon? I hope not. But moist, sheltered shady gullies like the one where I found this grove are not uncommon in Auckland so who knows?
One of the things I am asked about most often as a garden designer is screen tree options. Not surprising really as our houses grow larger and gardens shrink (don't me get started on that one!!) So I am always on the look out for new screen tree ideas. This week on my walk I noticed a screen of the native Taraire (Beilschmiedia tarairi), a tree I always admire when out in the native forest because it has the most beautiful evergreen leaves, large dark and shiny with distinctive veins. Wood pigeons love their fruit which are purple and oval shaped.
Taraire grows into a big tree so I was surprised to see it planted in a narrow garden in a suburban street. However it may respond well to being trimmed as do many of the other trees used in screening (which if left to their own devices would grow into big trees also).
It's getting more and more scary out there with the news that toxic pesticides are not only killing bees but fish, worms, butterflies and birds. Perhaps some action might now be taken with the realisation that if we don't stop the widespread use of neurotoxins the world's farming systems will collapse. Check out this link to a petition pleading with Bayer to stop producing this horrific stuff.
Magnolias have always been right up there on my list of favourite trees. Go virtually anywhere in Auckland during late winter or early spring and you can’t help but notice the pink, white or dark red tulip shaped blooms of deciduous magnolias bringing life and colour to the often dismal landscape. I get so excited when I see the first magnolia flowers in winter I can’t help pointing them out to all and sundry. So much so that my daughter Miranda recently commented, Mum you’ll have to plant a magnolia tree in your Waiheke Island garden.
I would love to, but would they thrive in a sunny, coastal environment where water is scarce in summer I wonder? Most deciduous magnolias prefer well-drained but moisture retentive soil and shelter from strong winds. But in my years of writing about and designing gardens I have often been surprised by the number of plants that do very well in conditions they are technically unsuited to. I've always admired those enterprising gardeners who push the boundaries with their plant choices so I think I'm going to risk it and find a place for a magnolia on Waiheke, ideally one of the dark red flowering types such as Vulcan or Genie.
I'm also a fan of star magnolia (Magnolia stellata), with its beautiful bird-like white blooms which appear in winter when there’s very little else in flower. You do need plenty of space for these though as they have a rounded form which never looks its best when crowded by other plants. Best to plant star magnolia in a bed with low planting around it so you can appreciate its lovely shape. Sadly I don’t think I have the room for one but I’ll continue to admire them and the many other wonderful magnolias from afar.
The ideal space must contain elements of magic, serenity, sorcery and mystery. (Luis Barragan)
I first saw photographs of Barragan’s gardens when I began studying landscape design many years ago at UNITEC. Until then most of the gardens I had seen had been quite traditional, both here and in England where I had lived for eight years. Barragan’s work and that of Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, Martha Schwarz, Isabelle Palmer as well as New Zealanders like Ted Smythe, Trish Bartleet and many others gave me a new appreciation of garden design. I've been passionate about the subject ever since.
Working as a garden writer and designer is for me an ideal combination. Writing about gardens means I get to talk to and see the work of some of the country's most talented landscape designers. I intend to write more about some of their inspiring gardens in this blog.
I'll also provide updates on my own landscape design work, which I'm hoping to devote more time to in the future. Garden writing has been my chief focus for many years but now I would like to have more of a balance between the two.
One of my most challenging landscape projects currently is the creation of my own garden on Waiheke Island. My husband Barry and I bought a piece of land there about a year ago with the aim of building a house, actually a modest shed but we like the idea of living in a small space. And it suits our budget.
We’re now nearing the end of the construction process and I am desperate to plant the garden before summer. All the residents of Waiheke harvest rainwater for domestic use, there is no mains supply, so water for the garden will be a precious commodity. Planting before the ground becomes very dry in the heat of summer is therefore essential.
My design for the garden obviously has to focus on drought tolerant plants, but many will have to be suitable for planting in a septic field (Waiheke also has no sewage system). This means they must be able to cope with reasonably high levels of nutrients and moisture in the ground.
When we first bought the property I decided to set myself the task of propagating as many of the plants for the garden as I could. With an 800 m² site this means lots of plants! I've had a year or so to do this and now have a flourishing nursery of flaxes, rengarenga, dietes and many other perennial ready to be planted.
The small house movement is getting bigger and bigger (excuse pun). I'm about to join it with a small house on Waiheke, although ours will five times larger than this one. Luckily the garden won't be tiny.
Could you live in a Tiny Home?
Andrew and Gabriella Morrison recently completed their home project, a 221 square feet / 20 square meter tiny house on wheels. The Morrissons spent around $33,000 to build their house, furniture and appliances included.
More images and a video