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easy glamour

From Habitat magazine - issue 12

This smart easy-care garden beautifully complements the iconic Art Deco architecture of the house it surrounds.

Art Deco home exterior
The horse-shoe shaped front garden echoes the shape of the Art Deco house.

Tracy Brain’s brief was simple and to the point – she wanted a no maintenance garden. When told by her garden designer that ‘no maintenance’ didn’t exist, her response was to “go as low as you can go”.

Landscape designer Michelle McDonnell took heed and created a garden which Tracy declares she’s totally rapt with. The icing on the cake, she says, is that maintenance equates to half an hour a month.

Tracy, her husband Errol and their three daughters Molly (12), Bella (10) and Scarlett (6) – plus Ruby the dog and Pepper the cat – moved into their 1930s Art Deco house in Tauranga two years ago.

“When we bought it I rang Michelle and said ‘we are moving in on such-and-such a day and you need to be there’. That’s how good the garden wasn’t. It certainly didn’t call my name, and totally let the house down,” Tracy says.

The garden was ‘stuck in the 1980s’, which didn’t reflect the era of the house and its iconic architecture. “And there was nowhere to sit,” Tracy remembers. Dramatic change was called for. One of the only remaining plants is a majestic michelia tree on the back boundary, while the likes of palm trees, flax, and “lots of overgrown bits” went.

Outdoor home garden
A concrete slab underpins a super-sized outdoor table, with a large, black cantilevered umbrella providing the ceiling. Cantilevered umbrella, from Shade Makers, Mt Maunganui. Designer: Michelle McDonnell Landscape Design.

In her endeavours to make this an uncomplicated gardening experience for the Brains, Michelle has opted for mulch to keep weed growth down and a small palette of select plants repeated in different areas.

Most of the plants look great all year round, and some – such as the Viburnum Eve Price and Dietes grandiflora (wild iris) – flower for about nine months.

The Brains had a few items on their wish list, such as a welcoming front garden. Accordingly, a weeping silver pear tree is now the front garden centrepiece – so good it was deemed worthy of up-lighting for a touch of night-time magic. The horseshoe shaped garden echoes the form of the house and is edged with Euonymus japonicus, behind which thrives Dietes grandiflora, with its little white butterfly-like flowers suspended above the foliage. Corokia Frosted Chocolate hedging at the front has been continued down to the road frontage to create a more impressive entrance and the sense of a bigger garden.

Outdoor fireplace
The new outdoor fireplace features the classic Art Deco sunburst motif that also features on the front and side of the house. Potted strawberries. Fireplace, from Landscape Elements.

At the back of the house, Tracy and Errol were determined to have an outdoor haven complete with a fireplace and alfresco dining area feeding off the kitchen.

A concrete slab was poured, big enough to cater for their super-sized outdoor table, and a large, black-cantilevered umbrella provides the ceiling. The new outdoor fireplace keeps things toasty and adds to the ambiance. The Art Deco sunburst motif that features on the front and side of the house inspired a similar one to decorate the fireplace.

The Brain’s previous home was on a large site where privacy wasn’t an issue, but this new inner-city 512m2 site needed attention given to boundary fences and hedging. Michelle has gone with pleached Viburnum Eve Price for instant height on two boundaries.

Garden walkway
Art deco exterior
Walkway: Down the side of the house, Robinia Mop Tops are under-planted with hydrangea and clivia. Home exterior: A weeping silver pear tree is the front garden centrepiece and is up-lit for night-time drama. Get the exterior look with Resene Lumbersider tinted to Resene Half Thorndon Cream.

This “hedge on stilts” is under-planted with star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) as ground cover and Euonymus japonicus – which resembles the more common buxus – as low hedging.

The garden is on two levels and skilful design has seen the backyard transformed into three outdoor rooms. The biggest contains the outdoor dining area. Beyond the fireplace, to the east, is the spa pool surrounded by an olive tree hedge, star jasmine and gardenia.

Down the side of the house, a third area features Robinia Mop Tops under-planted with the trademark large white blooms of Hydrangea Trophy. Clivia add a splash of orange.

Here Michelle has laid large concrete stepping-stones inter-planted with tiny green mondo. It’s a look she’s repeated on the other side of the house.

Not a single part of this property’s outdoors has escaped the transformation wand – not even the narrow strip down the western side of the house. A plain concrete path butting up against the boundary wall was narrowed allowing for a 400mm-wide strip of garden – wide enough for a row of Euonymus japonicus behind which Ficus pumila happily creeps up the wall.

Michelle’s delivered exactly what her clients required in terms of a near-zero maintenance garden and one which suits the era of the house. An inspired Tracy has added another dimension... produce. On the tabletop sit five terracotta pots in which strawberries grow.

“My daughters get to reap the harvest – which equates to about one strawberry a day,” she laughs.

Top tip

Re-colour exterior concrete slabs and pavers with Resene Concrete Stain. See the Resene Decks, Paths, Driveways and Recreational Areas colour chart for ideas.

Alternative solution

The new design, with its colour scheme of turquoise, red and silver, is inspired by the Art Deco house

Helen Cloke of Project Landscape suggests this alternative design:

Strong, geometric lines and motifs feature in this Art Deco inspired landscape. The space has been designed to produce a feel of casual sophistication, combining elegance with functionality. Plastered columns surround the main outdoor living space while a stainless steel water rill runs alongside, ending in a reflection pond in which sits a ‘floating’ sculpture. This sculpture provides a focal point from inside the home. Plant species chosen reflect the repetitive geometry and the pastel tones of the Art Deco era. Accents of stainless steel and graphic colours, like Resene Daredevil and Resene Kumutoto, link the individual areas of the landscape and nikau palms and Cape Cod chairs create a resort atmosphere next to the swimming pool.

Contact: phone: 0800 55 67 55 mobile: 027 531 4567 email:

Accessories: Aloe plicatilis. Nikau palm. Cape Cod chair, from Connoisseur Chairs. Sedum Autumn Joy. Agave attentuata.

Alternative solution

Perfect indoor-outdoor flow with the outdoor entertainment area

Monique Hoogers of Imagine Landscape Design suggests this alternative design:

Perfect indoor-outdoor flow is created by levelling the outdoor entertainment area with the floor of the house. The pergola, pillars and the stairs create a separate room from the rest of the garden. A block-and-plaster lounge suite with comfortable squabs and cushions makes this a very relaxing place to unwind. A simple palette of colours, plants and materials gives the garden a sense of unity. The coffee table and pillars are made of schist cladding and a special touch is the schist inset strip in the concrete, drawing the eye towards the raised pond and waterfall focal point. The planting is low maintenance with year-round visual appeal, where purples contrast with the green foliage.

The Resene Boulder house and Resene English Walnut pergola are a quiet background to the vibrant purple and cerise tones of the plants and cushions.

Contact: phone: 0800 ildesign mobile: 027 453 4534 email:

Accessories: Aceana Purpurea. Schist stone, from NZ Stone. Castana up/down wall light, from Lighting Direct. Colocasia 'Black Magic'. Iris Germanica.

Words: Monique Balvert-O’Connor
Pictures: Chris Parker
Illustration: Bruce Bryant

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Printed copies of habitat highlights are available from late March 2024 at Resene ColorShops and resellers, while stocks last. You can view back issues of habitat magazine online.

If you have an idea, project or story that you think would suit habitat, we’d love to hear from you. Please drop us an email with your details and include photos if submitting a project.

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