Outer space

SARAH CATHERALL
Last updated 05:00 11/12/2010

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The outdoor area is often far down the list when homeowners decide to renovate, but when you look at the difference

Hamish Moorhead and Mark Newdick have made to several landscapes in their portfolio, they prove that a garden design plan is money well spent.

When they're designing outdoor areas for homes, the landscape architects are often problem solving, dealing with steep sites, poor soil or gardens that are buffeted by New Zealand's variable climatic conditions.

Plants need to be able to cope with coastal conditions, and strong southerly or northerly winds. Despite these challenges, Moorhead and Newdick have won several awards for their ability to revive the landscapes of several houses, making a difference to the lives of the homeowners who have taken them on.

In a recent project, the owners sought to transform their rambling, overgrown garden into a "pleasure" garden, or a space they could look down on. They had renovated their house that peers out over Wellington's Oriental Parade, and sought a garden that would be visually eye-catching from their living area two storeys up. The existing area was tired and overgrown with straggly plants.

The owner, who did not wish to be named, said: "The house is really quite tall and we wanted something we could enjoy from further up. We go down there to trim the hedges but most of the time we're up the top looking down at it."

Moorhead and Newdick designed a contemporary version of the parterre gardens that are common in parts of Europe, carving part of the space up into defined areas, the idea being that plants can be pulled out and changed  just like shifting furniture around a living space  if the owners tire of their view.

A long pond with a cantilevered path glows when lit up at night. The land was retained, so they needed to build a strong, steel foundation to hold the pond.

Moorhead and Newdick like landscapes that are simple but striking, and they use plants, gravel and stones, and different types of concrete to provide texture. With this nine metre by 14m garden, they've put large stones in the pond, and gravel in the garden for texture and contrast. They deliberately chose low plants along the existing glass fence in front of the view, while also staggering Cyprus trees along the fenceline to shut off the neighbour's house.

Three different hedge plants  box, box honeysuckle and escallonia  create a three-dimensional patchwork look from above. The end result is a garden that is calm and serene, and ordered and formal but with a contemporary edge.

"The challenge was to create an interesting and entertaining space which provided a strong yet complementary response, so as not to compete or detract from the view. The design responds to this requirement by drawing the eye out over a varied and textured garden into the landscape beyond," they say in their design brief.

Out in coastal Raumati, Moorhead and Newdick had more space to play with but were restricted in other ways when they were asked to transform the garden of a weekend house near the beach. The main outdoor area was neglected there, too, and apart from a couple of large pohutukawa and karo trees the space was fairly bare. The section is buffeted by strong onshore winds, and they realised it would be difficult to get anything to grow.

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But the end result is quite stunning  an outdoor area carved up into different courtyards, divided by small corokia hedges and freestanding concrete walls, linked together by timber "bridges" or paths. "The wind rips right through the place and that's why we used so many walls and corokia hedging. The planting has been quite successful even we have been surprised how well it has done," says Newdick.

Green moss is dotted along a gravel path, punctuated by Australian dianella, or lilies, jutting out. Hebes, pohutukawa and astelia are different shades of green to provide contrast. "We like plants that are hardy, otherwise you can end up with things looking weather-beaten," says Newdick.

Because it is a weekend house, the owners also wanted an easy-care garden that didn't need hours of work when they were there. "It wasn't an expensive project but it was an extensive one," says Newdick.

- The Dominion Post

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