Surprise & Delight
Words Rebecca Lancashire | Photos Paul McCredie | NZ House & Garden, May Issue 2015
A happy surprise saw a Wellington couple swap a large country property for an elegant courtyard garden.
In a past life, Tim Day and Rose Percival enjoyed a bucolic existence in Martinborough. Their house was surrounded by 5ha of land with a park-like country garden, hundreds of roses and a productive olive grove.
These days, they are the proud owners of a compact courtyard garden. Their huge potager has been replaced by herbs and lettuces in a couple of tubs; their sweeping country lawns by pristine paving. And they couldn’t be more pleased.
“At the age of 46, Rose suddenly felt very, very sick,’’ recalls Tim. “At that age our last thought was pregnancy, so we were worried. But instead we had this amazing, lovely, lovely surprise.’’
That surprise was daughter Cassia, now 11, and beaming across the dining table at her father. The couple’s desire to bring up their “lovely surprise’’ in Wellington meant their country property was for sale – with a non-negotiable deadline in around nine months’ time.
“We were ready to move but we wanted to live in a suburb with a village atmosphere, as we had in Martinborough,” says Tim. “We also wanted to be close to town, we wanted a garage, we wanted a view, we wanted all-day sun, especially afternoon, and a couple of living areas – nothing extraordinary!’’ adds Rose.
They found their restored Kelburn villa with a month to spare. It offers the best of inner-city Wellington living: sweeping views down to the harbour from the east-facing bay window of the living/dining room and out to bush-covered hills at the rear. And a small, elegantly structured garden that offers a choice of places to sit out of the wind.
But it hasn’t always been that way. Though the circa 1903 house had been restored and extended, Rose recalls parts of the garden as “a weedy horror with scrappy trees’’. A retaining wall was bulging ominously on one side of the section and tree roots threatened to undermine part of the street-level garage on the other.
Tim and Rose would be the first to admit they are not hands-on gardeners; they’re more the sort who appreciate the results. They are keen to praise the talents of their “fantastic’’ builder, painter, regular gardener and garden designer. “It has made such a huge difference to have such skilled people – this is the result of all their efforts,’’ says Rose.
Garden designer Rachael Matthews (of Hedge Garden Design and Nursery) is the “intellectual of the garden,’’ says Tim. “And the creative force,’’ adds Rose.
So, can they take credit for any of it? “We just paid the bills!’’
“We wanted something that is nice to look out on. You can be in any room in the house now and look out and think, ‘Oh, that is so beautiful,’ says Rose. “You can’t actually sit out in the garden all year round in Wellington; let’s be truthful!’’ adds Tim. “So it’s important to have something that you can look at all year round.’’
Work began on improving the front and side gardens in 2007, removing overgrown flax and agapanthus. Rachael replanted with clivia, ferns, daphne, hostas, variegated ivy and more, to create a welcoming entranceway.
“Once the overgrown trees came out we could see right into the neighbour’s bedroom, so we had to do something,’’ says Rose. Cue the return of Rachael in 2010-12 for a major redesign. A new courtyard and curved trellis at the front of the house now frame the harbour view and provide privacy from next door.
A row of column-shaped pink-flowering ‘Amanogawa’ cherry trees provide seasonal contrast, with climbers, including Clematis montana, adding to the modesty screen.
Reshaping and shifting existing topiaried trees and buxus allowed for the creation of a formal hedge at the front of the house, punctuated by green topiary domes. Pretty perennial combinations include light and dark pink hydrangeas (“fantastic for Wellington,’’ says Rose), strawberry foxgloves, black hollyhocks, ‘Burgundy Iceberg’ roses and more.
The garden marries well with the house: though it has formal bones, it is not at all stuffy. Inside, there are many lively additions to the Victorian backdrop: contemporary art, a red-walled library and a huge multicoloured Murano glass chandelier.
“Rose has immense style,’’ says Rachael, “but she trusted me to know what they like and to get on with creating it.’’
At the rear of the property, the contemporary kitchen and open-plan living extension now open onto a courtyard, then up a few steps to the much-used raised dining terrace area, which was transformed by paving over the existing lime chip.
The terrace borrows green screens from neighbouring trees and features flowering cherries with Christmas lilies, white foxgloves and alstroemeria. Below the terrace is a striking planting of clipped boxwood balls combined with grasses and lime-gold berberis spires.
“Tim and Rose were open to new ideas and trying things out,’’ says Rachael. “They were happy to let the garden evolve over time. Great gardens take time to grow.’’
It sounds like a long-term garden project made in heaven. The couple have even instituted a regular Friday bubbles celebration with Rachael to mark garden milestones. “We really just like the overall effect of Rachael’s design,’’ says Rose. “She has tied it all together.’’
Q&A - Rose Percival and Tim Day
Soil type: Clay
Watering the garden: We use a hand-held hose in dry weather and for the pots.
Most significant plant in the garden: Hydrangeas and box in all shapes and sizes.
Most-used part of the garden: The courtyard at the back.
Best edible crop: Lettuce and rocket in tubs.
Best tip for other gardeners: Invest in good garden design and implement gradually.
Help in the garden: We have a gardener who comes for a day, once a month.
Mother’s Day thoughts on gardening: My mother, Norma, was a fantastic gardener and always really interested in garden design. Her last garden was a beautiful woodland with big trees and a very restful effect. (Tim)