Garden of the week: Eco-friendly Ponsonby garden

Thinking outside the square, landscape designer Jo Hamilton pleasantly surprised Ponsonby villa owners Cindy Beaudin and ...
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Thinking outside the square, landscape designer Jo Hamilton pleasantly surprised Ponsonby villa owners Cindy Beaudin and Mike Engle with a garden design revolving around two circular lawns.

As with many Kiwi backyards, the garden of Cindy Beaudin and Mike Engle has evolved with the growth of their children.

Twenty years ago, when the couple bought their charming villa on a deep 559sqm rectangle of land in Auckland's central suburb of Ponsonby, they were childless.

When son Zac and then daughter Ginevee came into the picture, the garden naturally became their playground – as home to a trampoline and as a grassy stadium for rugby and cricket tests, and fairy adventures. They would swing or slay dragons from the fruit-laden plum tree.

But, as they grew, needs changed. "Zac is now 19 and six foot five [1.96m]. When his rugby mates come over, it's like they suck all the oxygen out of the air!" Cindy says with a laugh. 

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Cindy loves the nooks of 'mystery and fun' around the garden, including this shaded area below the deck.
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Cindy loves the nooks of 'mystery and fun' around the garden, including this shaded area below the deck.

Cindy and Mike agreed that a little more space, with a degree of separation, would suit them all. So when they embarked on the home renovations that were 17 years in the planning, they decided not to tack on to the back of the villa, but to build a teenagers' retreat in the far corner of the garden. 

Following council guidelines, the design of the studio with bathroom had to be sensitive to the Victorian heritage of the house. "It's only three years old, but visitors say it looks as though it's been there forever," Mike says.

The couple then turned to landscape designer Jo Hamilton to create a new garden linking the two living areas and, finally, create a place for the adults to enjoy – a challenge Jo relished.  

A river of Waikato Gold pebbles, laid by Neven Millar of Total Landscape Creations, runs past the vegetable and herb beds.
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A river of Waikato Gold pebbles, laid by Neven Millar of Total Landscape Creations, runs past the vegetable and herb beds.

"I wanted to create a 'journey' through the garden from the house to the sleepout," Jo says. "It turned out to be one of my happier gardens. I'm a bit of a romantic, and I'd quite like to have a garden like this myself."

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Cindy and Mike are equally smitten. They've achieved their dream of a green, eco-friendly urban sanctuary that not only provides tranquillity, joy and a connection to nature, but is able to feed a growing family of four.

"Our original brief to Jo was to keep the garden as natural as possible," explains Cindy, a former publisher who grew up in northern Canada and met Auckland-born Mike in London. 

White daisies and alyssum in terracotta pots make a table centrepiece.
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White daisies and alyssum in terracotta pots make a table centrepiece.

The historic Glenburn Avondale bricks that form the borders around the two eye-catching circular lawns and the "pie-shaped" herb garden were salvaged from an erratic path that once cut through the back lawn. "We had the kids scraping off the mortar and cleaning the old bricks," Mike says.  

A recycled slab of totara forms a bench beneath the 60-year-old puriri tree that remains a dominant figure in the garden and a cafe to local tui, kereru and a pair of cheeky rosellas. 

Keeping existing trees, such as the large titoki, cabbage trees and nikau palm, was important to give the garden a 3-D effect, Jo says. Adding an intermediate canopy of Japanese maples gave it an instant sense of maturity. 

Cindy and Mike collect strawberries from one of the two vegetable beds
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Cindy and Mike collect strawberries from one of the two vegetable beds

Although Cindy and Mike wanted the relatively small backyard to house many different alcoves, they stressed that it shouldn't be fussy. They needed it to be a working garden, too. 

Mike spends much of his day behind a desk, so the vege patch is his weekend haven. "We both get out into the garden to ground ourselves, get re-energised and reconnect with nature," he says. 

Although the past summer was tough ("the cucumbers and beans were a disaster"), the garden still reaped a bounty of tomatoes, corn, celery, lettuce, beetroot and strawberries. With his love of chillies, Mike makes his own tabasco sauce (although the rest of the family don't savour the pungent six-week fermentation). He is still working on growing decent eggplants. 

The tiny purple flowers of phacelia planted among the herbs keep the resident bees in raptures.
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The tiny purple flowers of phacelia planted among the herbs keep the resident bees in raptures.

Fig and apple trees are espaliered against the wooden fence, and a macadamia is now bearing nuts. Birds have flown into the house seeking the huge heads of harvested Russian sunflowers. 

Beehives were brought into the garden in spring, tucked behind the vegetables and row of citrus trees. Mike's wish for an outdoor work area was realised with a potting bench and three compost bins at the back of the garden. The garden's eco-friendly features were a particular hit with visitors when it featured in the Auckland Garden DesignFest (which will be held again this year). 

"It's not a ridiculously high-maintenance garden," says Cindy. "I tend to do the trimming, tidying and weeding – and none of it is very onerous. Initially it was a little overwhelming, with a lot of plants I knew nothing about. But Jo gave me a detailed planting plan, and she drops in now and again to give me pointers." 

Vintage Bordeaux daylilies.
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Vintage Bordeaux daylilies.

And the landscape designer is delighted to see her "happy" garden, and the people who live with it, are thriving. 

Q&A:

Best tip: Putting paper bags around ripening tomatoes and grapes has been the most effective way to keep the birds at bay. (Mike) 

The 'pie garden' filled with herbs and companion pollinators borders a mini citrus orchard of two lemons (Meyer and ...
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The 'pie garden' filled with herbs and companion pollinators borders a mini citrus orchard of two lemons (Meyer and Villa Franca) and a Tahitian Bearss lime.

Things might have done differently: Install a water tank to collect rain for watering the garden, but it required a bit of space. And we wish we had done it all sooner. (Cindy)

Time spent in the garden: I spend four to five hours a week in the vege gardens, and Cindy spends half an hour here and there a few times a week trimming and weeding. Spring is manic! (Mike)

Favourite corner of the garden: The vegetable gardens and mucking around at the bench propagating. My most successful tomatoes this summer were grown from the seeds of a tomato I bought from a fruit and vege shop. (Mike) 

Mike has claimed the back corner of the garden as his open-air work room with three compost bins and a potting bench ...
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Mike has claimed the back corner of the garden as his open-air work room with three compost bins and a potting bench where he can spend hours propagating plants.

Favourite plants: The hydrangeas in spring and the puriri tree all year round. (Cindy)

Mike Engle and Cindy Beaudin

Wild iris and Astelia chathamica 'Silver Spear' line the fence.
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Wild iris and Astelia chathamica 'Silver Spear' line the fence.

 - NZ House & Garden

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