Garden of the week: Asian design with a modern twist

Jessie Sun in her Auckland garden.
JANE USSHER

Jessie Sun in her Auckland garden.

When Jessie Sun is overseas on one of her many fashion expeditions to bustling cities like Hong Kong and Beijing, she pines for the green serenity of her garden back in Auckland.

"When I'm away from home, I miss the sun, the coffee and the veges that we grow. It's nice to see different cultures when you travel, but it's always wonderful to come home to our house and our garden," she says.

Jessie – who was born in China, but grew up in Auckland – runs bespoke menswear store French83 with her husband, Peter Cheng. They have two stores in Auckland, one in Beijing and sell in two department stores in Hong Kong. Hence Jessie's frequent overseas work trips.

The vitex boardwalk, surrounded by Dietes bicolor and Dietes grandiflora irises.
JANE USSHER

The vitex boardwalk, surrounded by Dietes bicolor and Dietes grandiflora irises.

Five years ago, Jessie and her family bought a villa in Remuera. They removed the house, which now sits on a farm in West Auckland, and with the help of friend and architectural designer Billy Yeung designed a two-winged home the couple now share with Jessie's parents.

"We asked him to design it for two generations now, and maybe three in the future," Jessie says with a smile. 

READ MORE:
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Garden of the week: Eco-friendly garden in Ponsonby 

In the front garden, the rich green carpet doesn't need mowing - it is a blend of ground covers Selliera radicans and ...
JANE USSHER

In the front garden, the rich green carpet doesn't need mowing - it is a blend of ground covers Selliera radicans and Leptinella dioica; climber Ficus pumila 'Minima' will, in time, help to create a green room.

 

The striking four-bedroom, five-bathroom home was designed with substantial windows, inviting the outdoors in. When it came to fashioning the landscape outside, Jessie and her family wanted to look out on a different aspect of garden from every room of the house.

Richard Neville and Mark Read of Natural Habitats took on the challenge of creating a harmonious landscape, something that hadn't been considered when the house was designed.

The design duo were limited in the amount of hard paving they could use because of council rules about having enough permeable area to allow water to soak in. But that wasn't a problem, as the garden design needed to soften the lines of the house.

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Richard describes the style of the resulting garden as contemporary Asian. "The colours and linear nature of the house meant we could provide big green spaces with a flat, green carpet that is characteristic of Asian-style gardens."

Everyone has their own favourite spot in this oasis. Jessie's mother Lisa loves to sit in the living room looking out on the front garden. "My mum has tea and listens to music here, while she looks at the magnolia blossoms. You can also see the beautiful Japanese maples from here," Jessie says. 

There’s plenty of seasonal change in the front garden, with the Japanese maples, Magnolia ‘Felix Jury’ and ...
JANE USSHER

There’s plenty of seasonal change in the front garden, with the Japanese maples, Magnolia ‘Felix Jury’ and orange-flowering Clivia miniata.

Her father Tim swims each day in the lap pool, designed to divide the home's two living wings. "My dad was a swimming athlete, who won a national medal in China and trained for the Olympics," says Jessie. "Unfortunately, I don't have his swimming DNA." She still enjoys the solar-heated pool, surrounded by large wooden decks, although she prefers a dip in the spa pool under the umbrella of a flourishing jacaranda.

The vitex boardwalk that links the front garden to the back – and appears to float on a green sea of Dietes grandiflora and Dietes bicolor – is another of Jessie's favourites. It leads to a special area created to cover a blemish on the landscape. The poky, awkward corner at the rear of the property posed a problem. "My mum is into feng shui, and she didn't like that corner. So, it was turned into a beautiful garden partly hidden behind wooden walls."

Natural Habitats turned the ugly corner into a focal point, with a viewing window giving just a peek of what lies beyond. Within the macrocarpa walls is a lush native shade garden, with small ferns, kawakawa and titoki trees, and an outdoor shower that the family use before and after swimming.

Five citrus trees – lemon, mandarin, orange, grapefruit and lime – are planted in sunken Corten steel planters topped ...
JANE USSHER

Five citrus trees – lemon, mandarin, orange, grapefruit and lime – are planted in sunken Corten steel planters topped with white stones; the fence is painted Resene ‘Bokara Grey’.

The family wanted a garden that was easy to maintain. The vibrant green carpet made from a tightly woven collection of ground cover plants means the front entrance garden doesn't need mowing. And Natural Habitats comes once a month to maintain the major areas of the garden.

"All we have to do is tidy up leaves and pick the fruit and vegetables. That is just what we wanted; it's less demanding for our ageing parents too," Jessie says. They are content to potter in the small orchard in the side garden – a row of citrus and peach trees, and a passionfruit vine laden with purple globes – and the two raised vegetable beds. Broccoli, capsicum, celery and lettuce have been plentiful, but Jessie wages an ongoing war with the local birds over who gets the tomatoes first.

Although she grew up with a large garden and a swimming pool, Jessie admits she never took full advantage of them in her youth. "With this garden, I'm trying to correct my old ways." You can visit this garden in the Auckland Garden DesignFest, 25-26 November 2017.

The jacaranda tree provides an umbrella over the main outdoor living area, with star jasmine blossoming below.
JANE USSHER

The jacaranda tree provides an umbrella over the main outdoor living area, with star jasmine blossoming below.

Q&A

Watering the garden: An irrigation system waters the grass every day and every three days in the front garden.   
Most significant plants in the garden: The Magnolia 'Felix Jury', the Japanese maples and the grass carpet.
Favourite new plant: The fragrant star jasmine that grows by the spa pool.
Most used part of the garden: The deck by the kitchen; we have afternoon tea there on the weekends and sometimes have tea after dinner during summer nights. 
Favourite season in the garden: I love the fruit in autumn, and watching the maple leaves turn red.
Best tip for other gardeners: Paint your garden fence a dark colour to make your garden look bigger and make the greens stand out.
Jessie Sun

Jessie and her family spend a lot of time dining and relaxing on the deck off the kitchen; the black chairs are from ...
JANE USSHER

Jessie and her family spend a lot of time dining and relaxing on the deck off the kitchen; the black chairs are from Studio Italia and the modular sofa suite is from Dawson & Co.

The baby grand piano, played by Jessie’s mother and niece, looks out to the lap pool and decks, with a backdrop of ...
JANE USSHER

The baby grand piano, played by Jessie’s mother and niece, looks out to the lap pool and decks, with a backdrop of feijoa hedging.

 - NZ House & Garden

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