The Back Yard
Justin Newcombe's tips for creating a gorgeous and productive garden

Pool side rules for summer (Part 3 of 3)

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The last instalment of our series on the best ways to landscape your poolside area, with our expert Justin Newcombe.

Grasses and Cordylines are high impact plants that withstand a good deal of wear and tear. Photo / Richard Robinson
Grasses and Cordylines are high impact plants that withstand a good deal of wear and tear. Photo / Richard Robinson

Poolside plants

In many ways Auckland is a gardener's paradise. There aren't too many places in the world you can grow a tasty peach as well as a yummy banana. Our climate gives us a unique opportunity to experiment with a huge range of plants and ideas from around the world, which for a gardener is a wonder, as plants are what gardens are all about. There are, of course, the minimal brigade who treat gardens like some sad academic exercise, although a minimal approach does sometimes have its place, usually working well in a front garden. The time spent here is measured in minutes, so visitors need to be able to take in the whole garden quickly.

However, if you employ minimalism in a family garden situation you could be forgiven for thinking you're sitting in a car park. A more natural approach works better in family areas such as pool gardens because you spend a lot more time there. Diverse and generous garden beds offer more satisfaction. All of these things are easily accommodated in the tropical style garden I implemented in our pool makeover (Check out part 1 and part 2).

When designing with plants it's best to work from the biggest to the smallest - by the biggest I mean the plants with the biggest growth habit, not the biggest plants in the bag.

Luckily for me we already had some established palms on site as well as a great specimen cabbage tree. I also found some palm deals at Bunnings and grabbed three smaller varieties of cordyline to put behind the new seat. These made a strong impact against the bamboo fence.

Flowers are a priority in a tropical garden and for reliability and impact you can't go past rhododendron vireya. With hot tropical colours in salmons and corals, rhododendrons provide plenty of dazzle when they flower. To add contrast I interplanted the rhododendrons with silver foliage like astelia silver spear and dracaena draco. I also included bird of paradise which has a silver foliage and an amazing orange flower resembling a bird.

I found a clump of mondo grass on site which I split up. This stuff is easy to divide and requires little or no work once it's established. If you haven't got any, pick some up when you buy your plants or beg some from a friend.

Other important plants in this garden are bromeliads. Bromeliads are epiphytes which capture and store water like a cup, in the crown of their foliage. They also come in some really spectacular foliage types and have raucously iridescent flowers.

Other plants of note are lomandra logifolia which is a very hardy, lush green grass and is reliable in most situations, and a pair of lime tahiti bushes planted either side of the sitting area will be useful for those cool, poolside drinks.

Planning a garden

When I'm planning a garden my primary focus is on keeping things practical. After I solve the practical problems, I can dress the garden up pretty much any way I want. For our pool garden the emphasis was on a quick makeover to get the pool ready for summer. We wanted to spend less than $2000 and encourage the family to use the pool together.

Before I arrived the pool felt slightly isolated from the rest of the garden, which is the result of having to have a pool fence. It was also a little un-inviting, but when you're on a budget you can't worry about everything. It's surprising how much better untidy aspects of your garden can look when you improve the surroundings.

Because pool fencing is expensive, making the pool less isolated could have been costly.

I decided instead to focus on making the pool a lot more welcoming, with more seating and a relaxed summery atmosphere that family members can enjoy while others are swimming.

I did this by installing a new bench seat just off the path, so as not to disturb the flow of foot traffic around the pool. Secondly, I added a spunky new hammock set-up in the garden. The waka-shaped hammock structure gave the design some grunt, with something basic that really makes you look twice. You don't need to break the bank on something grandiose, just keep things simple.

The other major component of this project was the background. I was able to save money by using a cheap bamboo roll from Bunnings. To hide the gaps between the bamboo canes and improve durability I stapled weed mat on to the fence framing before I attached the bamboo. To give the screen a strong finish, I capped and framed it.

By choosing a natural material for the fencing I was able to integrate it with the hammock and seating in the garden. Finally, I stained the fence, edgings and hammock posts with Wattle Black Bean stain. This tied the components together and added a strong sense of continuity.

Six quick tips

1. Get to know your site
Spend some time walking around your site. Stand in all the corners you normally wouldn't. Dig some holes and check out the soil. Follow your cat about. They always find the best spots.

2. Keep it practical
Give seating areas good access, don't disturb natural foot traffic flows, use hard surfaces in high foot traffic areas and make sure tables and chairs have enough space and aren't in the way.

3. Be inclusive
Try to find ways to include the garden in the living spaces. In this case I chose to plant mondo grass under the hammock instead of paving. This incorporated one of our main hard landscaping elements into the garden.

4. Strong lines
Strong lines define the garden's format and shape, becoming the bones on which the rest of the garden sits. Introduce timber edges or bold features like our hammock.

5. Underplay aspects or areas which are unattractive or that you don't like
New elements can take the focus off of those under-performing details. If your garden has been hit with an ugly stick, you might not have to change it all to get a great result.

6. Aim for continuity through the garden
Continuity is always my end goal. A great garden should feel seamless, consistent and organised - no matter what the style.

Be in to win a garden design course

The Garden Design School in central Auckland runs part-time courses over eight weeks teaching students how to prepare a plan to the point of digging, including how to source and use council information and
work within regulations. We have three courses to give away, valued at $500 each.

To enter the draw, email your name and contact details to with "Garden design course" in the subject line, or post to PO Box 3290, Auckland by Wednesday October 6.

DIY workshops at your local Bunnings Warehouse this weekend

* Saturday: 10am: Kids' workshop: paint a terracotta pot; 11am: October gardening; 1pm: How to re-upholster a drop-in chair.

* Sunday: 10am: Kids' workshop: paint a terracotta pot; 11am: Build a letterbox; 1pm: How to clean and maintain a barbecue.

- NZ Herald

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