Suburban Zen garden transformation

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Landscaped platform introducing modern and traditional Japanese garden elements.

What happens when you get a landscape designer and a landscape architect to design a special destination garden in your own backyard? A calming Zen garden which borrows features from traditional and modern Japanese gardens.

Before After
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After first approaching another landscape designer to do a plan on their Eastern boundary, which was later implemented, Siew still felt frustrated that the main area at the back of her property was an eyesore and totally non-functional.

She toyed with the idea that perhaps she could use the space for fruit trees and edible plantings, but the area was solid clay and hard to access, so she left it for a number of years.

Developing a new landscape design

The designer's brief was to design a special destination garden which borrows features from traditional and modern Japanese gardens - a space where they could go and sit in within the garden, with an appropriate plant selection that was simple, reflecting the calming nature of a Zen space.

A landscape design with wooden steps

It’s like the garden has a soul within this sanctuary

The garden also needed to provide access right around the property and to provide an eye-catching focal point to be seen from the driveway.

Hardscaping and softscaping

The project started with an excavation, cutting into the bank with a digger to create the flat platform that was critical to maximising the area.

A back retainer was then erected, with a series of internal steps made from Macrocarpa sleepers, to another smaller area at the very top. Here the views are fantastic, and a perfect piece of macrocarpa slab was located that formed an extra seat for that contemplative space.

The next area of construction was the series of boardwalks, also in macrocarpa timber, milled to 150 x 50mm and stained with an oil-based stain to protect and enhance the wood. The width of the boardwalk was 900mm wide, and the zig-zagged shape which is essentially three long staggered boardwalks captures the essence of Zen. This is all about slowing oneself down and being in the moment. It’s a ‘take time to smell the roses’ kind of vibe - a holistic approach that is becoming very popular in garden design.

A landscape design in Auckland

A handrail was also put into place and two types of bamboo were used to give a definite Oriental feel. The handrail was repeated further down the slope as the steps were a little steeper in this area.

To naturalise the retaining, rocks were added to the scape and a natural dry river bed was created. Plants were positioned on the outskirts to this particular area. It was a much better result, rather than have too much timber retaining, which can often look too harsh in a Zen like environment.

The series of steps and platforms were then formed and also zig-zagged as they made their way down the hill towards to the driveway. Once again, natural rock was used to soften these steps and pockets of interesting pop-up small bulbs and ground covers were intermingled in between. A seasonal delight of flowering surprises pop up within these rockeries.

Things like Rhodohypoxis and Thymes and the over-sized pink pompom heads of an Armeria Pacific Giant repeat themselves from the bottom towards the top weaving their magic in and out of the rocks. Acacia ‘limelight’ is used as an accent plant and creates that feathery feeling, sitting in pockets as you ascend, while the majestic Maples leave their mark and connect to the authenticity of the garden.

“I just love the way the steps climb up the hill and lead you into this fantastic space”, says Siew, delighted with her new garden. “I especially love the groupings of these Pittosporum balls amongst my Maples”.

Series of steps and smaller platforms which zig-zag to the main platform.

Pittosporum Golf Ball was used here as it is a smaller growing hybrid and is naturally rounded in its shape. A light clip is all that it needs to keep its shape. Clusters of these appear throughout the garden, providing a modern and different plant arrangement.

Final thoughts

The use also of artificial turf in the flat area top and bottom, makes this a relatively-maintenance free garden and makes life easier, as it would be very hard to mow this by hand. Also, being a clay base, to get a good lawn to grow would have been a very difficult task indeed.

All in all, within this suburban setting is a happy ending. This completed landscape will further grow and improve the overall look as it matures.  “It’s like the garden has a soul within this sanctuary “says Siew. And as the Grand Master would say, “to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow”.  


You might be interested in reading this Zones case study: A backyard makeover for a wedding.


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This article featured in Issue 018 of Renovate Magazine. New Zealand's first and only magazine solely dedicated to home renovations.

*All information is believed to be true at time of publishing and is subject to change.

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This project was completed in
February 2016
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Auckland Central
New Zealand
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