Garden writer Rose Thodey’s credentials are impeccable – she’s the author of three books and countless magazine and newspaper articles, a flower show judge, the gardens editor for NZ House & Garden and a committee member of the Garden Design Society of New Zealand. It’s no surprise to discover, then, that her particular slice of urban Auckland real estate is a serene and well-considered symphony of colours, textures and perfumes.
Towering purple-blue delphiniums have pride of place.
This three-storey villa has been their family home since Rose and her late husband Chris moved up from the capital almost twenty-two years ago. It’s where their four children grew up. The narrow Freemans Bay street, with its closely packed old houses, was chosen because it reminded the Thodeys of Thorndon, Wellington. “It had a nice, settled feeling. We felt at home here,” says Rose.
It was a priority that the new garden be sympathetic to the traditional house, so Rose engaged the services of husband and wife architecture firm Burgess & Treep. Lucy Treep was charged with the landscaping and Graeme Burgess designed the renovations to the house. “The garden needed to be in keeping with the Victorian villa, so it didn’t scream at you that it had been changed.”
The hard landscaping was completed in 2000 and since then judicious planting and fine-tuning have resulted in an oasis of calm a stone’s throw from buzzing Ponsonby Road.
Rose’s love of gardens has its roots in her childhood. She recalls her mother’s old-fashioned garden near Taihape with great fondness. “Gardening is me. I was brought up in a beautiful high-country garden with a large flower bed surrounded by a circular lawn. Visitors were always shown around and given plants and cuttings. I think atmosphere is the most important element of a garden.”
The design of her “colonial-style” rear garden, with an immaculate oval lawn as its focal point, is most striking when viewed from the first-floor verandah. Rose believes that gardens are as much about providing a vista from the house as they are for being in. “They’re to look at as much as to use.”
Symmetrical flower beds flank a central rectangular water feature starring a pair of glass trout by Jenny McLeod. A shell path is edged with black mondo grass, English box hedges and a row of conifers. Bricked areas and Tuscan sandstone paving are softened by a wisteria-draped pergola, a screen covered with star jasmine and titoki trees that provide a verdant backdrop.
“I wanted a strong, firm structure to contain my mad planting,” says Rose.
Like many gardeners with an enthusiasm for all sorts of plants, Rose is constantly tempted by new varieties. Nonetheless, there’s a great deal of method to her planting schemes. Native specimens have been grouped in one section and the beds are uniformly edged with miniature self-sterile agapanthus.
“It’s not totally willy-nilly,” says Rose.
“I linked lots of things in – in ways that aren’t obvious.” A case in point is a teardrop-shaped hedge of pittosporum ‘Golf Ball’, which mirrors the heart motifs in the original chimney (now an objet d’art in a corner of the garden). “I strongly believe in relating elements of the house and garden and vice versa – they need to work together.”
Although perennials may not find universal favour, Rose is a huge fan. For her, watching them bloom anew each year is like welcoming back old friends. Her favoured colour blue is represented by ‘Criss Canning’ geraniums, campanulas, perennial cornflowers, delphiniums, iris-like Neomarica caerulea and a cluster of standard Solanum rantonnetii shrubs.
In 2006 a deep green, reflective swimming pool was installed in the compact space between the front of the house and the street. Designed by landscaper Gudrun Fischer and edged with Burmese umbrella trees for a tropical feel, the pool features a Roderick Burgess work – a bronze sculpture of a nikau palm on an oval background of aged copper.
Rose’s pure passion for gardens is obvious. “I think they’re very therapeutic. We need to ground ourselves in nature.” She is also aware of how appropriate her given name is – not merely because she’s an avid gardener but also because she has such a love for old-fashioned roses and the way they can be blended into a garden. Her full name is Rosemary and, yes, there’s even a rosemary plant thriving in her salad and herb patch.
“It’s difficult to get small spaces to work,” says Rose. But there’s no denying that her city retreat works a treat – a fitting testament to a life spent immersed in all things garden.
Please see the photo gallery for more photos from this story including some web exclusive images.
Story: Shelley Bridgeman
Photographs: Gil Hanly