Earlier in the summer I visited the newly planted garden of a New Zealand client (full disclosure: my parents).
The previous autumn my parents commissioned me to design them a garden to provide a context for their new house, which had been sort of plonked in the middle of a rather flat and featureless rectangular quarter(ish) of an acre.
Once the previous owner’s expansive backyard surfboard making factory was removed, the only significant features remaining were a mature acmena hedge along the southern boundary doing an excellent job of screening the garden from the neighbouring driveway, a nice cordyline australis and a big ugly water tank in need of concealing.
The flat featurelessness of the plot initially made a garden quite tricky to imagine simply because of the absence of any constraints on the space. But as my parents described the features they wanted to include, the plot began to divide itself quite logically into zones.
There are raised beds for growing vegetables without risk of incurring back injuries:
And a pond, whose location was suggested by a depression left in the ground after the removal of the surfboard factory. My parents have planted it with aquatic plants like these gorgeous apricot water lilies and populated it with goldfish to eat any mosquito larvae.
My dad has brought his impressive bush carpentry skills to bear on the garden, building a very cute potting shed and some bench seats around a corten steel fire pit from material he had lying around.
With a new garden I am always impatient for the plants to grow to fill the space, covering all that brown mulch and softening the stark edges of the hard landscaping. But despite its newness, the garden is already quite photogenic thanks to the borrowed landscape of the neighbour’s beautiful established garden and the views of Mt Tamahunga beyond it.
That incredible hydrangea is 3 metres tall and blue, like all the hydrangeas in this part of the country, reflecting the peaty soil of the area. When we dug the hole to plant the first tree – a beautiful kowhai sapling – I was astonished at the blackness of the earth. It has been formed by the anaerobic decomposition of plant matter in swampy conditions over thousands of years and is sequestering massive amounts of carbon. It’s hard not to be jealous of that soil, not to mention the rainfall… Back home I can sometimes buy blueberries which have been grown just down the road from my parents. They are significantly fatter and more delicious than any of the blueberries I’ve managed to produce in Melbourne clay.