Home' Waiheke Weekender : 8 November 2012 Contents 8 November 2012
6 Waiheke Weekender
Contemporary Gardens of New Zealand
Carol Bucknell and Sally Tagg
Penguin Books $65
On Waiheke we are spoilt for both coastal landscapes and vernac-
ular art and architecture and Carol Bucknell and Sally Tagg's
Contemporary Gardens of New Zealand is a useful summation of
the maturing styles of New Zealand landscaping that will be both
refreshing and familiar to islanders.
Vernacular architecture is defned as a category of design based
on localised needs and construction materials and refecting local
traditions, which, of course, we haven't as a nation done too much
of in 170 years. Our most feted gardens (and buildings) further
south are mostly in the richly foliaged, familiarly coloured and
manicured English tradition.
There is a spareness to the palate of these contemporary gardens
to match the new architectural language of concrete and glass and
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water set into landscapes under wide skies and
the style's exempliary restraint generates an
interesting feast for the eye.
The elegant coffee table Contemporary
Gardens is a taste of the work of international
designers now being translated by innova-
tive local landscape designers, including Ted
Smyth, Trudy Crerar, Trish Bartleet and Robin
Shafer. Shafer's 1993 The Garden as a Room:
Decorating and Furnishing the New Zealand
Garden remains my frst glimpse of the real
language of gardens, despite the best efforts
of an exceptionally green fngered mother and
mother in law to engage me in the study.
The book features the work of more than
20 of the country's most prestigious landscape
designers (and an equally impressive lineup of the go-to architects
for diffcult and creative sites), although once or twice I would have
preferred the text to dig deeper into some of the landscapers' briefs,
which almost self-consciously reference the actual terrains of our
extraordinarily varied young country.
The best speak for themselves: High country landscapes with
created ‘tarns’ refecting stupendous views, artwork brilliantly posi-
tioned amongst mature bush and 'hanging step' concrete slabs over
water served up along with everything from palm-fronded inner
city porticos onwards.
Often with happy results. In one city garden, mass plantings
of tough South African perennial dietes delineate the ‘magnifcent
cascades' of outdoor staircases on an otherwise unassuming site and
provide 'a joyous whimsicality in contrast to the heavy materials
of the concrete’. The white-fowered irises with splashes of yellow
and mauve hover over the handsome, sword-shaped foliage that
takes over after the spring and summer fowering.
Veteran photographer Sally Tagg's pictures are something of
a study for plantsmen interested in the new palate of sculptural
groupings, the extensive use of tough coprosmas, mondo grass and
star jasmine showing how to resolve the issues which for years
bedevilled those who denuded their new-found coastal sections on
This rehabilitation of natural fora – without pedantic exclusiv-
ity – is strongly evident in the style developing for both the north-
ern coastal and Central Otago gardens, where the
texture of leaf, fax, hebe, wiry ground covers and
grasses play a leading and often colourful role
in support of our ubiquitous cordyine and built
elements like board walks, rock and water.
Issues like biodiversity and protection of endan-
gered native species are espoused in the design
practice, interwoven with historic, cultural and
practical considerations, particularly in the Peak
District work of Philip Smith of 02 Landscapes.
I liked the work of Japanese-inspired designer
Patrick Stokes, who says the study convinced him
the garden and the building were of equal value, the
garden having the additional dimension of being
alive and beyond the control of men and women.
The Japanese infuence led him, moreover, to use
mainly native plants without replicating 'bush'.
“If we can create our gardens with endemic plants then we are at
least working with nature's intentions. This can stimulate creative
ways to accommodate the plants on their terms," he says of a collab-
oration with architects Stevens Lawson.
The Owhanake garden of Erin Clatworthy (developed with her
late husband Gary) – familiar through a succession of Garden Safari
seasons – has fascinated me for years and the book’s description of
their ‘managed forest’ on the bay’s slopes and a magnifcent raised
bed kitchen garden would be excellent extracurricular reading
for those of us who will trawl Waiheke’s annual Jassy Dean Trust
Garden Safari this weekend.
In any event, the extraordinary sculpture collections of John and
Jo Gow at Connells Bay, Cable Bay, Te Whau’s Lance and Kaye
Peterson and the Sculpture on the Gulf exhibitions have already
educated the island’s affcianados over many years, whether resident
Like any new language, the vernacular of our own familiar but
evolving landscapes repays study with new vistas and understand-
ings of familiar contexts. In the spring weekend of the Jassy Dean
Trust Garden Safari, Contemporary Gardens of New Zealand is a
compelling read. EW
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