Oasis to Order
It takes more than green fingers to transform a dreary garden into a subtropical oasis. Pat and Roger Ansin reckon it takes luck too. When the couple embarked on a massive overhaul of their overgrown front garden, they discovered the only things holding the bank in place were a few tree roots – and a bit of good luck.
“There was no drainage behind the retaining wall. If it weren’t for those overgrown trees the whole show would have come down,” says Pat.
Pat and Roger’s Birkenhead property on Auckland’s North Shore sprawls over a third of an acre (1300sqm) and a kauri reserve fringes the southern side of the property, but it was the postage stamp-sized front garden that was the cause for concern. When the couple first arrived in 1986, they thought it odd that swift-growing gum trees and a Leyland cypress were planted there.
But gardening wasn’t a top priority. Their business – the development of call-management systems to stop phone fraud – took up most of their time, so they set aside any immediate plans to create their dream landscape. Meanwhile the trees, and in particular the Leyland cypress, “grew and grew and grew”.
“In the end we had to get special consent to take out five trees, they were so big. We had no light in here at all,” says Pat. “The Leyland cypress had an enormous trunk, more than a metre round. By that stage the fence had started to buckle and the path had started to subside. Then the driveway subsided, so we couldn’t get the cars in the garage without ramps and stuff.”
They needed a solution, so they enlisted the help of landscape designer Sandra Batley of Flourish, who produced a plan to transform their muddled landscape into a lavish and leafy retreat – exactly what the Ansins ordered.
“I love that wild forest look we have at the back, but I wanted something more elegant in the front garden,” says Pat. “We wanted to have that lovely resort feel – a tranquil oasis when people came through the gate, when we came through the gate. But we also wanted an area off the family room where we could sit in the summer time or on a nice warm winter’s day.
Work began on the garden in July 2008, and it was then that the Ansins discovered there was no drainage behind the existing retaining wall – a disaster waiting to happen. When the driveway was dug up, they also discovered that a drain connected to the stormwater drain was broken in several places. Channels of water streamed out of it into the clay soil and down the driveway.
Luckily, seasoned landscaper John Eagleton from Outside Edge was on hand to fix the problems. In charge of all the hard landscaping, he replaced the retaining walls, the fences, the driveway, the decking and the paving.
Although it wasn’t originally part of the plan, the Ansins decided to extend the new decking right around the house, as well as on the lower levels (the house is a pole house), replacing the existing pine with kwila to keep it consistent with the new kwila additions at the front of the house.
“We figured, if we were going to do it, we were going to do it right, because we have to live with this for a long time. It was a massive job, but it was a massive result as well.”
The planting, by comparison, was an easy task and the garden is now packed with subtropical stalwarts such as palms, cycads, ferns, puka, dracaenas, bromeliads, griselinias, Ligularia reniformis, Fatsia japonica and tecomanthe. A carpet of mondo grass edges the sandstone pavers and a curvaceous water feature adds the finishing touch.
“We weren’t going to have a water feature because we didn’t think we needed it,” recalls Pat. “But then Sandra brought around the pot and I thought, ‘Mmm, that looks really good there’. Then they put the water pump in and turned it on and it just made it.”
Pat and Roger had a hand in the design too, devising the decorative railings and lamp post caps, which match the slatted retaining walls. “The good thing about Sandra and John is that they did allow us enormous input, so it was a collaborative effort between us all. I think that’s the best way to do it because you’re getting their expertise, which we don’t have, obviously, and they could tell us whether our ideas were do-able or not – not only aesthetically, but whether it could be done from an engineering point of view. They were brilliant. I can’t speak highly enough of both of them.”
Pat and Roger’s decision to go subtropical really paid off and they’re pleased as punch with the end result. “We wanted that lovely tranquil feeling you get when you go to a resort and I think Sandra nailed it. With the sound of trickling water and the perfume from the gardenias when we sit outside – it’s really just lovely.”
Typical Auckland weather. We’ve had only about three frosts in the 26 years we’ve been here.
Time spent each week in the garden: I pick up leaves and do little tidy-ups, but when it comes to pruning, I get in a landscape gardener. It was one of our stipulations for the garden to be maintenance-free.
Our garden is watered with: Its own irrigation system, which was built into the garden. In summer it goes on every day at 4am. In winter we put it on manual.
The most significant plant in our garden is: The ligularia. It’s leafy and green. I just love it. It’s the one plant in the garden that everyone comments on. Several of our friends have planted it after seeing ours. It looks really lovely, really tropical.
One thing we’ve changed is: The original planting included a lot of palms – date palms, kentia palms and another hideous lime-green palm that looked really weak. We replaced some of those.
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