Long lasting gardens

Be inspired by a combination of amateur and professional.

By Lee Ann Bramwell

I hate instant makeover shows, especially those that revamp a garden in one weekend. Call me cynical, but I can see the whole thing falling to pieces after one bad winter.

Even the most enthusiastic and talented gardeners hit a creative wall from time to time.

You suddenly find yourself wishing there were a couple of thousand completely new and different plants to choose from, and that some celestial creative force would infuse your head with stunning new design ideas – easily executed and inexpensive, of course.

The next best thing to standing around waiting for such a miracle is to go on a garden safari, where private gardens are open to the public.

I’m a great fan of exhibitions, and wild horses wouldn’t keep me away from the likes of the Melbourne International Flower Show, but I have to admit that real gardens – the ones people work at and live in every day – are probably a bit more useful in terms of motivating me to tidy up some of my own spaces. That is simply because I know they are achievable and will last the distance.

Actual gardeners, with soil under their nails and really dirty gumboots, have toiled in them over months, and even years, as opposed to very smartly dressed designers who have galvanised a team of about 20 blokes to put
them together in a week, expressly for display.

So, I’ll be breaking out the nail brush and my best jeans to go and see the 25 private gardens open for a fantastic two-day event. It’s the Auckland Garden Design Fest, held on November 16 and 17 – an ideal opportunity to visit a range of gorgeous gardens and talk to the people who put them together.

One I’m looking forward to seeing was driven by the architecture of the house and the location, which backs onto paddocks. The inspiration to be gained from this design (pictured) is all about carving usable garden spaces from a very difficult, rocky site. The long, skinny shape further dictated the arrangement of landscape elements, but thanks to designer Jan McGowan’s skills, the result does not feel confined.

Rocks found  on site have  been placed on  the bank, which  shelters the  pool area.
Rocks found on site have been placed on the bank, which shelters the pool area.

The quality of the house called for landscape materials and features of similar weight and elegance, so Jan used extensive rock walls, wrought- iron fences and raised planters to step the garden up the gradually rising site.

The front garden is formal and restrained, with a small lawn featuring a mature totara tree. The middle section is all about indoor-outdoor living, with limestone paved patios for entertaining and family gatherings, surrounded by lush, subtropical planting.

Finally, graceful steps rise to the swimming pool/spa level, where informal, massed low planting covers the slope above the pool. Big boulders that were found on site and rustic steps link the garden to the park beyond.

The whole garden is a combination of simple and elegant, with a restrained selection of plants that work beautifully on the site.

For more information on the event, visit

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