This project involved the redesign of a suburban back yard. The clients were young parents whose desire was to combine the wild aesthetics of New Zealand’s natural areas with a refined sensibility. The brief also included the design of raised vegetable gardens, a sandpit and a citrus orchard. 

The design saw the backyard simplified, with a large, single band of planting along the rear property boundary, with the sandpit absorbed partially within the planting. Vegetable beds were inserted into existing spaces adjacent to the rear deck, and other areas of planting were specified around the garage to provide separation. This format retained a large lawn area for children to play, a primary requirement of the backyard.

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The planting design is composed primarily of Northern New Zealand species and punctuated by exotic flowering elements. In order to provide both wildness and order, the planting was designed in a three-tiered structure, with the upper and lower layers comprising a non-diverse palette of intensely green trees and shrubs, with the diversity sandwiched in the middle.

The upper layer was composed of two very similar species of native olives (white maire/Nestegis lanceolata and oro-oro/Nestegis montana), relating to the tone of existing european olive trees present on both this property and the neighbouring one. The lower tier consisted of two species of dense green shrubs (Poor Knights māpou/Myrsine aquilonia and Akatea/Metrosideros perforata) and a tapestry of groundcovers, including several species that were sourced and propagated from relict populations on the property (Dichondra repens, Hydrocotyle moschata and Doodia australis).   


The diverse central layer is composed of many shrubs with similar qualities: fine leaves borne on ‘divaricating’ (i.e. interlacing) branching structures. These form a spectrum of tones from verdant green through olive, hazel, fawn and silver. This ‘hollow’ central layer gives the illusion of space, whilst still providing screening. Included in this central layer are Coprosma crassifolia & Coprosma areolata, Myrsine aquilonia (at risk: relict), Pittosporum obcordatum (nationally vulnerable), Pittosporum pimeleoides subsp. Pimeleoides (naturally uncommon). Also present in this layer is kaikomako (Pennantia corymbosa), a slow growing tree which exhibits a heteroblastic growth strategy, growing as a tangled shrub until three metres, at which point (where it grows above the central tier) it forms a columnar tree with a traditional branching form, and medium-sized olive leaves. 

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Several bulbs were included for their elegant seasonal flowering, including paintbrush lilies (Haemanthus spp.), Ithuriel’s spear (Triteleia laxa), rain lily (Zephranthes candida) and evening flower (Gladiolis tristis). Natives also contribute to the flowering elements of the gardens, such as mikoikoi (Libertia ixioides) and pōānanga (Clematis forsteri) as well as the modest, yet heavily scented Pittosporum pimeleoides and P. obcordatum.

Sandpit, vegetable gardens and edging were constructed from sustainably sourced tōtara – a beautiful and naturally durable native timber – and constructed in a manner such that the timber could be disassembled and salvaged for a second use if it outlasts its original purpose. Use of concrete and plastic was kept to an absolute minimum, and the vast majority of waste from the project was either recycled as greenwaste or reused or donated (in the instance of timber and plastic).