July 22 2017, updated 11:33pm

Garden of the week: French-style courtyard

Last updated 15:08 23/05/2017

Monica Lindsay surrounded by some of her old and new French outdoor furniture; the iron-domed pedestal on the table holds freesias in small bottles.

The courtyard brims with wrought iron collectables and topiaried buxus in pots.
The covered area is ideal for an Aperol spritz with friends.
An iron urn stands amid the greenery, with Philadelphus ‘Virginal’ flowering behind.
An ornamental grape entwines the pergola in the covered part of the courtyard.
Monica’s much-loved French-shuttered window opens from the kitchen; what was once a blank wall is now smothered in Boston ivy.
Pots abound in Monica's garden.

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Monica Lindsay loves the intimacy of the small but meticulously formed garden she has created at her Hamilton home. "I feel like I'm in a little bit of France, sitting in my own courtyard."

As she sits in a wicker chair, her handiwork is all around her. The high-walled garden is lush with pretty perennials, pleached plane trees, a terracotta fountain, a fig tree and a pear tree, citrus, topiaried buxus, tubs of lavender, old-fashioned roses and rambling ivy, as well French country style outdoor furniture and collectables in zinc, wrought iron, stone and basketry.

Each plant, tub and accessory in Monica's garden has been thoughtfully positioned, and most have been acquired through her finely tuned fossicking skills.

Recently, Monica and husband Richard were visiting his old hometown of Oamaru when Monica spotted a vintage zinc bath-tub in a shop window. It beckoned to the self-confessed zincaholic and although she already had a well-planted zinc bath at home, she knew she'd find room for a second one.

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Monica and Richard bought their 1970s house 15 years ago after admiring its timeless style and design, and the potential for them to create an enclosed French courtyard to meld seamlessly with the living areas. Monica is an interior and garden design consultant, and this was an opportunity for a personal project.

The Lindsays stripped out the existing garden, built high walls for privacy and structural detail, and started from scratch with the planting. Monica researched pleaching techniques for her newly acquired plane trees and she became expert at topiary.

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A pair of clippers is never far from reach: "Monica Scissorhands," she jokes.

She's currently training a couple of pears to grow into bottles strapped to her pear tree. A French technique, the bottles containing the pears will eventually be topped up with brandy for Monica's first attempt at pear liqueur. 

Monica has admired French country gardens and interior design all her life and at one time owned the Hamilton homeware store The French House.

A few years ago she had a first-hand taste of French life. She and Richard and their family – children Tim, Margot and Sophie, daughter-in-law Sabrina and grandchildren Milo, Zari and Cleo – rented a house together in Uzès, near Avignon. "It was an old stone house with a lovely garden; we had the quintessential French holiday."

The late French gardener Nicole de Vesian has been a particular inspiration. Monica recalls finding a book years ago about de Vesian's garden in the south of France, and falling in love with its style. Nicole de Vesian's garden was strong on clipped shapes and skilful use of plants to create different areas and elements of surprise. Monica has embraced de Vesian's philosophy, although she says her approach has become softer in more recent times. "I have added more flowers such as dahlias, lilacs, irises, philadelphus, hydrangeas, lavender, euphorbia and false valerian."  

Her flowers spill out of tubs and nestle together in various plantings amid more regulated topiary and clipped buxus hedging. There is a mix of hard and soft underfoot as well. Lawns, paving, gravel and aggregate define different spaces. Wrought iron, zinc and terracotta collectables draw the eye to green nooks.

Similar French country detail has been applied indoors. The Lindsays plastered and painted their concrete block house inside and out and added shutters, and Monica used soft, gentle colours as a backdrop to artworks, glassware and mirrors, an armoire and vintage dresser, and comfy sofas and chairs. House and garden flow, and there are views from every angle of the living areas.

The green courtyard is a happy gathering place for family and friends. For special occasions, like Christmas, Monica transforms her home, spending a day setting up her vast stash of decorations.

Some of this tradition stems from a childhood on a Matamata dairy farm where her mother Rhoda Ryan was known for her generous hospitality – although she was more famous as a legendary New Zealand bowler, an eight-times national champion.

 "She was a clever lady," says Monica, who is an entertainer like her mother.

"I love having everyone gathered in a traditional way, in a happy atmosphere and providing them with home cooking." 

Favourite plant combination: 'Annabelle' hydrangeas with clipped buxus balls. Soft and smooth.


Most used part of the garden: The covered area of the courtyard, shaded by an ornamental grape. It's the perfect gathering space.

Favourite season: Summer; sitting outdoors with family and friends on sunny days amid lush greenery.

Favourite decorating style: French Provincial with a touch of English country.

Proudest DIY achievement: Painting some of our furniture with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. I love its waxy softness.

Best decorating tip: Mix timber pieces with painted pieces for an eclectic look and to avoid being matchy matchy.

- NZ House & Garden


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