Words Clare Gleeson | Photographs Paul McCredie | NZ House & Garden, 2023
A beautiful inner-city garden needed a rethink once a neighbouring development began..
"Abraham Darby" and "My Mum" roses add salmon tones to Fiona and Tim Arbuckle's garden along with Polygala "Petite Butterflies" globes, wallflower Erysimum "Lilac Joy", Salvia "Rockin Deep Purple" and potted Heliotrope "Cherry Pie"
The saying that a garden is never finished takes on new meaning when changes to the property next door means your garden needs to change too.
Fiona and Tim Arbuckle moved to their Thorndon home, Wellington, in 2003. Despite those who said it would be too noisy, or the road too dangerous for a young family, they are still there and still loving it.
Daughter Sophie's bike sits on the path leading towards pleached ornamental pear trees planted by Rachael Matthews of HEDGE Garden Design & Nursery only two years ago.
The Arbuckles’ house was originally the club rooms of the Thorndon Bowling Club. The section is long and narrow and when Fiona and Tim bought the property the only plants were a cherry tree and a pōhutakawa. After moving in, the couple commissioned landscape architect Johanna King to create a garden. Her plan included a garage which gave privacy to the property, hard landscaping and a planting plan that retained the cherry trees near the front of the house and which have been a feature of the garden in spring ever since.
A couple of years ago, when a row of townhouses was being built next door, Fiona and Tim had to rethink the garden so approached Rachael Matthews of Hedge Garden Design & Nursery. Working together, the three have transformed the garden. “It’s wonderful to connect customers to their gardens, incorporating special details from inside their homes,” says Rachael. “Their floral wallpaper was a great source of inspiration!”
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Fuchsia flowers are a favourite of Fiona's as they remind her of ballet dancers; the taller trees are hornbeams (Carpinus betulus "Fastigiata").
The townhouses have shaded the garden along the side of the house so the planting had to be changed to cope with this. Fuchsias are a favourite of Fiona’s so Rachael planted several varieties to replace the standard ‘Iceberg’ roses. Both Fiona and her daughter Sophie love dance and the fuchsias’ petal structure reminded Fiona of a ballet dancer - she works in arts administration and Tim is a management consultant.
Star jasmine is trained up the fence while potted plants include ivy topiary (Hedera helix), and Supertuna "Vista" petunias and trailing Dichondra "Silver Falls" in the black pots; the wrought iron chairs are from a vintage shop in Featherston.
Roses are another of Fiona’s horticultural loves. Her absolute favourite is ‘Abraham Darby’ which she describes as “so full, like a big tutu”, and has the bonus of a beautiful scent. This as well as ‘My Mum’ and ’Margaret Merril’ standards were planted in the courtyard while ‘Dublin Bay’ froths over a decorative iron screen. The buxus hedging, which was struggling in the shade, was replaced with liriopes.
Pleached ornamental pears sit in front of a hill of green, full of native flora and birds; an old pohutukawa is one of the only two trees that remain from the days when the house was a bowling club; other plants include "Iceberg" roses, Echium fatuosum at left, Euphorbia wulfenii, wallflowers Erysimum "Lilac Joy", French lavender (Lavendula dentata), Hydrangea "Bridal Bouquet" and rengarenga lilies (Arthropodium cirratum "Matapouru Bay") which is one of the few plants that can grow under pohutukawa.
At the back of the house Tim loves the increased privacy from a row of pleached ornamental pears as well as the artificial turf that replaced the lawn which had struggled in the shade. Although not usually an advocate for artificial turf, Rachael believes it does have a place for greening up spaces where lawn won’t grow. The blossom of the crab apple trees is deep cerise, Fiona’s favourite colour
‘For a small garden there’s quite a variety of plants to enjoy year-round and we are enjoying experimenting’, says Fiona.
LEFT Tim now rakes, rather than mows, the everlasting lawn at the bottom of the stairs, a popular spot for summer picnics. RIGHT A classical bust peeks out from Japanese anemone foliage.
On the wooden steps leading from the back garden to the upper storey of the house Rachael trained a wonga wonga vine along wires to add greenery to the balustrade. The vine is planted in the ground below – “that was a first, putting a hole in someone’s veranda,” Rachael laughs.
The property contains another magnificent reminder of the days when the thwack of bowling balls could be heard along Tinakori Rd – a huge concrete stairway which originally led to the club’s bowling greens and which the family call “the stairs to nowhere”.
Fiona had always wanted to make a feature of the stairs, so Rachael encouraged Tim to build new boundary fences and commission the black metal screen which is planted with the climbing rose ‘Pierre de Ronsard’. Daughter Sophie loves propagating, and the wide, sunny stairs are the perfect place for her pots. There is a huge fig tree next to the stairs which Fiona says gets better and better each year. Sophie adds: “I remember choosing it when I was about 10.”
The magnificent stairs to nowhere used to lead to bowling greens but now hold daughter Sophie's pots; a fig tree grows on the left.
The view of the garden from the living areas inside the house was also important. Although it’s close to the CBD, the hillside behind the house is green and visited by tūī, kaka and kererū.
In early summer, the green is punctuated with the red of pōhutakawa flowers. Rachael’s planting choices have created a green outlook nearer to the house and the glow of ‘Limelight’ hydrangea flowers can be seen from the upstairs living room window at night.
A young agave and a trailing white perlagonium peek from the concrete urn.
Spring is a favourite season. The new lilac coloured wisteria has begun to flower profusely at this time although only briefly. Blossoms appear – the echium, wallflower, jasmine and roses. “For a small garden there’s quite a variety of plants to enjoy year-round and we are enjoying experimenting with new plants when a free space appears,” says Fiona.
‘For a small garden there’s quite a variety of plants to enjoy year-round and we are enjoying experimenting’
LEFT Plants in this corner include, from back, espaliered star jasmine, ivy topiary and Polygala "Petite Butterflies" while Lorepetalum "Razzleberry" thrives in a concrete urn and oregano in a terracotta pot. RIGHT The green leaves and white flowers of agapanthus contrast with the copper beech trees (Fagus sylvatica "Dawycks Purple") behind.
She says that some simple things Rachael did, like rearranging the pots in the front garden and moving the love seat to another spot, also made a big difference. Rachael always recommends installing a watering system, which they did, and for maintenance Shane Miller of Blackbird Gardening comes once a month.
Rachael is still involved with the Arbuckle’s garden. “You never get it right the first time, you have to come back. Clients often do things in stages,” she says. For example, a pile of small granite setts in the front courtyard are waiting to be placed in an asymmetric pattern. Says Tim: “We do rely on the ongoing advice from Rachael and Shane and his team at Blackbird Gardening. With pruning roses and hydrangeas, and training the pleached pears and star jasmine - it’s great to learn from the experts and know our garden is in great hands.”
Fiona and Tim are thrilled with the garden Rachael has created. “It’s like a sanctuary,” says Tim. "It's calming in there, like a sunken garden, an oasis," adds Fiona.
with Fiona & Tim Arbuckle
THE MOST-USED PART OF THE GARDEN: The grass area and seating outside our bedroom which captures great afternoon and evening sun. Over summer we often dine on a picnic rug on the everlasting lawn. I’m delighted that I never have to try and grow grass again. (Tim)
FAVOURITE NEW PLANT: The copper beech trees Rachael planted in our entranceway inside the front gates are very striking in colour and sculptural in form. They add a vibrancy to the entranceway and passers-by often comment on them. We’re excited to know they grow to 6m. (Tim)
PLANTS THAT GROW WELL HERE : Hydrangeas have always done well. Rachael has introduced us to ‘Limelight’ hydrangeas which are more loosely formed than the standard hydrangea. They could almost be mistaken for a plant from a Dr Seuss book. (Fiona)
OUR BEST EDIBLE CROP: Our fig tree is finally producing an abundance of figs after many years. It’s a race to get to the ripe figs before the birds and before they drop to the ground. Sophie has also produced a bountiful crop of tomatoes over the summer. (Fiona)
FAVOURITE PLANT COMBINATION: A friend down the road had a beautiful display of echium and wallflower together which I have added to our garden. Also, the hellebores with miniature fuchsias go well together. And finally, the ‘Pierre de Ronsard’ roses growing up the steel framework at the top of the concrete steps, inspired from another friend further up Tinakori Rd, surrounded by a border of liriopes*. (Fiona)
Q & A with Sarah & Dean Burke
RENOVATION HIGH POINT: We love seeing people’s reactions when they walk through the front door for the first time. It’s wonderful to see their enthusiasm and enjoyment of our hard work. (Dean)
ANY THING YOU’D DO DIFFERENTLY: I would have loved a bigger garage, but that’s central Wellington for you! (Dean ) If space permitted, a prep area/ scullery off the kitchen. (Sarah )
B E S T L E S S O N L E A R N E D : The art of a well-placed skylight can transform a space, making it more spacious and lighter. (Dean )
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT LIVING IN THORNDON: It’s convenient and central, but we still feel removed from the city. Katherine Mansfield Memorial Park is across the road, which feels like an extension to our house. I also love the street’s history as one of Wellington’s foundation streets. (Dean ) There are great walking tracks on our doorstep, Thorndon’s proximity to everything, and it has a lovely village feel. (Sarah )
BEST PL ACE FOR COFFEE NEAR HOME: Mojo for coffee on the go or La Cloche for a treat. (Dean ) Goods, which also has lovely pastries. (Sarah