Versatile Bamboo

I have long had a love affair with bamboo, especially the running black variety, Phyllostachys nigra. Bamboo is a very versatile plant and has many uses, screening being one that comes readily to mind. Unfortunately, it is very rarely used in gardens as it tends to get “bad press”. After all, who hasn’t seen it running rampant and unchecked through a garden. Not surprisingly, people tend to be wary of it. However, what most people don’t realise is that there are two types of bamboo – running and clumping. Clumping varieties tend to grow only a short distance away from the mother rhizome whereas running bamboo can send shoots up to 50 feet away and it can very quickly get out of control – if you let it. I have grown black bamboo down the side of my house for a number of years now and have had no problems with keeping it in check. If ever there is a shoot that I don’t want, ie in the wrong place, the husband just removes it in its infancy. However, if you are considering using it and want to be on the safe side, choose either clumping varieties (of which there are many) or plant running varieties such as black bamboo in a reinforced concrete trench.

Sanctuary garden designed by Norma de Langen for Ellerslie Flower Show 2003

Back in 2003, I designed a 10 by 10 metre exhibition garden titled “Sanctuary” at the Ellerslie Flower Show in Auckland. I have, for some time now, been drawn to Japanese garden design principles typified by simplicity and understatement, balance and harmony, spirituality and profundity. In this garden, I used a simple plant palette of black bamboo and grasses to contrast with Hinuera stone, gravel and water. Deceptively simple, it was, and still is, my idea of sanctuary.

Ellerslie Flower Show 2003, garden designed by Norma de Langen

And for those of you who need further persuading to consider using bamboo, take a look at this beautiful, modern Japanese garden designed by Haruko Seki of Studio Lasso.

Modern Japanese garden designed by Haruko Seki of Studio Lasso

Grass Art

A while ago I chanced upon the living grass portraits and art installations of Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey (Ackroyd & Harvey) who work at the intersection of photography, biology and architecture to create complex and unique photographs using grass grown from seed. Exposing plots of seedling grass to light through a custom-made negative, the grass grows in different shades from yellow to green, eventually revealing an image before fading away. In their words “exploiting the light-sensitivity of young growing grass, they imprint photographic images on to grass grown vertically, so that the image is on the length of the blade, rather than dispersed over the tips. As the grass grows, the image becomes sharper. The further away you stand from the image, the higher the 
resolution – the more distinct it is. But time is, of course, embedded in the fragility of these chlorophyll apparitions. We know that the image will fade, the grass will yellow and die. The gradual disappearance of the image from vision, memory, life, is implicit in what we are looking at”.

grass portrait by Ackroyd and Harvey

Along with their grass portraiture, Ackroyd and Harvey have also transformed desecrated and derelict buildings into verdant green chambers or external walls of living grass. Through the application of clay, germinating grass seed, water and light “the boundary between growth and decay, reverie and renewal is exposed”. The grass skin provides a temporary resurrection for these derelict buildings before fading away.

Dilston Church grass installation by Ackroyd and Harvey

Their art is for the most part ephemeral and plays with themes of aging, loss and fading memory on one hand, and germination of life, photosynthesis and growth on the other. However, conceptual ideas aside, the ever changing tonalities and hues of the green grass makes for a seductive and beautiful body of work.

sunbathers grass art portrait by Ackroyd and Harvey

Garden Roaming

On Sunday, a friend and I took the opportunity to take a peek at some private gardens that were part of the second Auckland Garden DesignFest. These gardens are not usually available for viewing by the public, so we must give thanks to the owners for their generosity in making them available. In total, I think we managed to view 17 or so of the available 25 gardens – no mean feat I can tell you! Although my energy and enthusiasm waned as the afternoon progressed, I am grateful that my friend encouraged, even cajoled, me to get around as many of the gardens as was physically possible within the six hour timeframe.

As much as I enjoyed all the gardens, there were two in particular that stood out for me. First up, was a garden designed by Bryan McDonald originally for Sir Peter Blake and his family. Apparently the Arts and Crafts style home had undergone major alterations – by Fearon Hay no less who have since gone on to architectural superstardom. Bryan was commissioned by the client to develop a garden that would blend in with the existing trees and palms and reflect its Auckland/South Pacific location.

Garden by Bryan McDonald Auckland Garden DesignFest 2013
From the moment you entered the front gate, you could be forgiven for thinking you had stepped into another world altogether – one that was infinitely more beautiful and peaceful. For me, the definite highlight of this garden was a series of zig-zagging timber boardwalks beneath a canopy of mature palms that led you down the site and eventually revealed the house and an inviting outdoor terrace. Following on from the terrace was a series of looping paths that took you down to a wide lawn area on the harbour’s edge, eventually returning you to the house. This was the first garden we saw – the bar was definitely set high for the remainder of the day.

outdoor terrace in garden design by Bryan McDonald for Auckland Garden DesignFest

The second garden that stood out for me was designed by Xanthe White. To be more precise, it was the native front garden that I fell in love with. The rear garden, although lush and inviting, displayed the usual subtropical plant suspects in wide curved beds that I have seen many times before. The front garden was something altogether unique. Xanthe is a master when it comes to designing with New Zealand natives and this garden was beautifully composed. Using a subtle and sophisticated native plant palette including ribbonwoods, Muehlenbeckia and Selliera radicans, plants cascaded over, down and around the various sized rocks that anchored the slope.

Native front garden designed by Xanthe White in Auckland Garden DesignFest

At the rear of the property was a dark paved terrace with an adjacent pool and spa. Now I am a pushover when it comes to a dark pool and this one was a beautiful wee gem hidden behind a wall of papyrus. Of all the pools that I saw that day, this was definitely the best.

Garden designed by Xanthe White in Auckland Garden DesignFest 2013

In conclusion, it has to be said that the house, designed by Glamuzina Paterson Architects, is one of my favourite houses in Auckland. Named the S House for the way it expands and contracts spatially on its elongated rectangular site, it won a Housing Category Winner award in the 2013 New Zealand Architecture Awards. I have no doubt we will be seeing many more inspiring buildings from these young architects in the future.

S House designed by Glamuzina Paterson Architects

Click on the thumbnails for gardens designed by Jan Hart, Damian Wendelborn and Jo Hamilton.

Garden designed by Jan Hart Auckland Garden DesignFest

Garden designed by Damian Wendelborn in the Auckland Garden DesignFest

jo hamilton


Bridges – debut single by Broods

brother sister due Broods debut single Bridges
You saw it here first … I’m picking Kiwi brother-sister duo Broods will be the next big thing! Like Lorde before them, Georgia and Caleb Nott have been working closely with uber-producer, Joel Little, and have recently produced their debut single “Bridges” which you can listen to here.

I’m loving Georgia’s voice which Billboard likens to a “fragile version of Imogen Heap’s – floating skyward and twisting back down like a maple leaf caught in an autumn breeze – while the production oscillates between a lonely, three-key piano refrain and a kaleidoscopic alt-pop arrangement”.

With all the Lorde mania swirling around currently, it is natural to compare Broods with her. After all, like “Royals”, this is a great debut single. It remains to be seen if they can rise to the same heights as Lorde but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if they do. I look forward to hearing their debut EP due out early next year.

Tea houses, meditation huts …

I have an enduring passion for architecture that blurs the boundary between building and landscape. For me, the best buildings are those that are in harmony with the landscape and enhance, and are enhanced by, their surroundings. Not surprising really, given I spent 6 years studying landscape architecture and garden design. However, as much as I love landscape design, there are definitely moments when I wish I had studied architecture instead.

Given my love of both buildings and landscapes, I am dedicating this second post to exquisitely crafted tea houses, meditation huts, follies – whatever you want to call them. All featured buildings are small spaces, designed as places for reflection where one can be free of modern distractions such as the telephone, television and internet.

First up, a tea house by David Jameson Architect. Although I am not entirely convinced of its fit within the confines of a suburban backyard (and it definitely feels at odds with the architecture of the adjacent home), this tea house is a very beautiful building indeed. Personally, a little more “greening” to create the illusion of getting away from it all, not to mention screening that suburban fence, would make it perfect!

David Jameson Architect Tea hut

Next, a meditation hut designed by Jeffery Poss, Architect. Perfectly positioned over a pond and accessed via a ramp, this building is in harmony with the surrounding water, grass and mature trees.

Meditation hut designed by Jeffery Poss architect

Featured next are three tea houses designed by Swatt Miers Architects. Situated under a grove of ancient Oak trees, each tea house is designed for a particular purpose – one for meditation, another for sleeping and the largest for visioning, ie dreaming and/or thinking big!

Three tea houses by Swatt Miers Architects

Up next is a black tea house designed by Czech Studio, A1 Architects. With large sliding doors that can close off part of the building, this ticks all the boxes for me, and if I had to pick a favourite, this would probably be it. I love the cultivated garden within the wider pine forest and lake landscape as well as the charred black larch exterior of the tea house.

A1 Architects black tea house

Lastly, from my little corner of the world – a wetland folly on Great Barrier Island designed by Herbst Architects. This basic and unpretentious pavilion sits within the bush on a slope overlooking a wetland. Although rudimentary when compared with the other huts, for me, it is the simple materials and detailing that encapsulate its charm.

Herbst Architects folly

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