At home: A growing passion

By Amanda Linnell

Three Auckland women share the secrets of their green thumbs with Viva.

Anna-Maria Morris' favourite plants to use in her designs are plants that complement the Auckland climate. Photo / Babiche Martens
Anna-Maria Morris' favourite plants to use in her designs are plants that complement the Auckland climate. Photo / Babiche Martens

ANNA-MARIA MORRIS, LANDSCAPE DESIGNER

Favourite garden memory?

My first memory is planting up the rockery garden at home with my mother at the age of 6. Since the Swedish summers are so short there were mainly annuals, planted for their colours. Apart from a beautiful end result, it was the "hands on" digging and planting together that was the most enjoyable and memorable. One of my favourite flower memories from my childhood was the sea of flowering cloudberries in the wetland areas on the alpine plateau.

Tell us about your garden at home?

There is a Swedish saying that goes "the baker's children eat stale bread". A similar situation seem to exist with our garden - it is still a work in progress. Luckily our garden is divided into different areas: "garden rooms", where some of them are completed and some still in progress. Our courtyard, which is off the kitchen, is one part that is, luckily, completed and used constantly.

It's a great entertaining area for the family with an outdoor fireplace, water feature and outside speakers. Another frequently visited spot in the garden is our vege garden - great for summer salads and winter vegetables.

At this time of the year what's on your priority list?

At the moment we are mulching the garden while the soil is still damp before it gets warmer, feeding the citrus grove and cutting back, once fruiting is finished, dividing herbs and sowing summer vegetables.

Is working in your own garden a bit like a busman's holiday?

Even though it is a relatively "low maintenance" garden, there's still always work to be done - when time permits. I find being in the garden very therapeutic and the hours pass very quickly. There's seldom a weekend when I don't do at least something in it.

Why did you become a landscape designer?

I have always loved design (especially Scandinavian furniture, objects and textiles) and construction involved in hard landscaping. My husband, Philip, started his landscape construction company more than 20 years ago, so it was natural for me to join him, once I graduated from my landscape design course.

Describe your garden design aesthetic?

I try to achive a blend of a well-designed garden, which satisfies the client's taste and needs, while the garden still integrates well into the surrounding landscape, giving it a sense of belonging.

Inspiration?

Previous life experiences. Art and architecture have always inspired me and through lots of travel and moving country, this has allowed me to create a "memory bank" of inspiring images. I have always loved tramping and skiing (both downhill and cross-country) and I often draw knowledge and inspiration from the natural proportions of these landscapes.

What is your starting point with a new job?

I listen carefully to the client's brief, to find out their practical needs as well as their aesthetic preferences. I then like to spend some time on my own on the site, to observe the natural elements (wind, sun angles, views - good and bad ones) and just to spend time there to get "an inner feeling" for the site.

How has garden design developed in recent years?

There's a developing interest in a larger proportion of the general landscaping being hard landscaping (paving and elements of construction) now than 10-15 years ago. The soft landscaping (planting) is used to soften and support the structural elements. There's also been a noticeable increase in growing your own herbs and vegetables, so a vegetable garden/potager is now often included in the brief.

Favourite plants?

My favourite plants to use in my designs are plants that complement the Auckland climate. This hopefully ensures that the plants reach their full potential in the gardens. The form and foliage of the plants are a major consideration, while the flowers are an added attraction in the overall appearance of the garden. A personal favourite has to be peony (Paeonia lactiflora). Unfortunately it can't grow in Auckland, so it's neither in our garden or on any planting plans of mine.

What other materials do you like working with?

I love to include natural stone in my designs, particularly large, smooth, oversized boulders. I think this relates back to my Swedish heritage where there's large, rolling, clean-faced mountains everywhere. Water is another great element to work with in landscape design, because of its inherent properties, like reflection, sound and movement.

Best thing about a garden?

A garden is very therapeutic to both work and relax in. It's exciting to see it develop and mature into its full potential. There's always something for everybody (regardless of age or interest) in a well-designed garden.

* Philip and Anna-Maria Morris own Landscene Landscaping Ltd, ph (09) 623 3158

CATHERINE BELL, GARDEN TO TABLE

Claim to fame?

As a cook and food writer, Catherine founded Dish magazine in 2004 and for many years owned and operated the Epicurean Workshop, a specialist cookware store and cooking school. These days, she imports eco-friendly products for serving and presenting food and traditional Spanish cookware. Catherine also chairs the Garden to Table Trust. GTT is a programme for primary schools where children aged 7-10 grow, harvest, prepare and share good food as part of their learning. She has a square foot vegetable garden in her inner-city courtyard..

Favourite garden memory?

When I was a Brownie we were always growing things for various badges and I remember radishes being the most common thing to grow. To this day I love really sweet young radishes and enjoy eating them the French way, with a smear of butter and a sprinkle of sea salt.

Describe your garden at home?

A small, walled courtyard garden with four - soon to be five - sturdy macrocarpa garden boxes and a standard bay tree in a pot. I am also about to plant some espaliered dwarf fruit trees.

Why did you choose this style of garden?

With such a small space to work with there was not much choice. Garden boxes are neat and smart and are so easy to manage - no sore knees or backs.

At this time of the year what's on your priority list?

I've just managed to get some beans, lettuce and some replacement herbs in. I am excited to see that the lambs lettuce and coriander from last year have self-seeded.

What are your favourite plants?

I love hellebores - especially the green ones - to me they are one of the prettiest flowers. I also love fig trees for their glossy green finger leaves and of course for the fruit.

How has your approach to gardening changed over the years?

I tried really hard for years to have a beautiful herbaceous garden but I am not a natural gardener (I hate digging) - far more comfortable in the kitchen. I miss not having flowers to pick but don't miss the hard work. I am happy with my small vege plot.

Do you find gardening therapeutic or hard work?

A bit of both. When things go well it is therapeutic but when the anticipated results aren't forthcoming then it is definitely hard work. Last year the cabbages and broccoli and caulis did not set and the zucchini had great flowers but no fruit - I got a bit despondent about that even though other things did really well - I had great broad beans, rainbow chard, fennel and cavolo nero.

What's the best thing about having a garden?

Instant and very fresh food - love being able to harvest my own veges and get a real sense of pleasure from it.

What is your favourite season?

Late summer. Everything is ripe and full of flavour.

When it comes to gardening who/what inspires you?

My mother was a keen gardener and we spent lots of time in the garden with her as children. My father grew magnificent sweetcorn and enjoyed dabbling in the garden. I love the great edible gardens of the world such as those at Chateau Villandry in the Loire but am sensible enough to know I could never have anything remotely similar.

Top tip for starting a vegetable garden?

Don't be too ambitious. Start small and grow slowly.

Tell us about your involvement with the Garden to Table Trust?

I have known Stephanie Alexander for 25 years and followed her work with the Kitchen Garden Programme closely. In 2008 there was a symposium on the importance of teaching children about growing, harvesting, cooking and sharing food (the four elements of the programme) called Teach Your Children Well. We now have seven schools and some exciting new projects under way for more. I am the chairperson of the trust, which provides governance and support to the schools while raising funds for new schools to start and developing our own infrastructure.

How can others be involved?

In lots of ways. The schools need volunteers to work with the children in the garden and kitchen classes. The trust needs partners and supporters for funding, services and materials.

Garden to Table has very positive outcomes in the areas of health, education, environment and social development. No other programme offers children the opportunity to learn outside the classroom in this way, a curriculum-linked programme that will give them such valuable skills for life. We will shortly be releasing details of this year's fundraiser. To be held on November 12, it is called Feast For The Future and will involve many of Auckland's best restaurants and chefs.

* Learn more about the programme here

MELANIE-JANE SMITH, THE POI ROOM

Melanie-Jane Smith left behind a career as a successful trademark lawyer to open The Poi Room with her husband Clayton - a design store stocking works by New Zealand artists. Her passion for creative expression can be found in the tropical garden of the couple's home of 12 years, which they share with their two daughters, Frankie and Milana.

Favourite garden memories?

Being at my grandparents' place in Raumati ... Having the special job of pouring tea leaves over the lemon tree; picking the plums off the ground, rubbing them on my jeans and sinking my teeth into their juicy sweetness; planting apple seeds and watering them with love.

Describe your garden?

A yummy, lush array of natives and subtropicals. We had a blank canvas to start with, fenced in with chicken wire. We wanted ease down the track ... a lush garden that would be happy to fend for itself from time to time. So, we spent many weekends initially getting the soil scrummy, building a ponga fence and planting young beautiful plants.

At this time of the year what's on your priority list?

Spending more time sitting, relaxing, in the garden with daylight saving. Under the brolly with a brilliant book. The reality is feeding, pruning and weeding. I have just bought some blood and bone. I have also heard that ground coffee beans are amazing for your herb or vege garden - and I love coffee.

Favourite plants?

Mamaku (black tree fern) was our first fern for our garden, we were so chuffed. Dicksonia fibrosa was a wonderful present from my hubbie, Clayton. Bromeliads - a trip up north in our then wee car with two mates and a boot full of bromeliads. Potted colour - I love a bit of colour to brighten up the day. Fresh herbs - the girls pick herbs for our salads ... the more, the merrier.

Gardening - therapeutic or hard work?

Therapeutic - when I can be alone with my thoughts. Therapeutic with the girls - I love delegating. Hard work with digging and getting into tricky places ...

Favourite season?

Summer ... basil, wine, friends, barbecues. Picnics on the lawn.

Who inspires you?

My nana and my mother are keen gardeners. When I was at college in Wellington we had a house and section in the rural area of Karori. Every Sunday nana would come over and we would all get out into the garden. It was a time to get together ... the three generations. For lunch we'd have freshly baked cheese-topped rolls from the dairy with yummy egg and salad and a cuppa ... Then back out again for another go. Nowadays when I ring Mum at night in the summer she is invariably out watering the garden. Nana is in her 90s, in Surfers Paradise. Her balcony is chocka with foliage.

Where to now with your garden?

We will plant some salad bits for summer and some veges. We also need to prune the frangipani.

What is your favourite thing to do in the garden?

We love eating outside, getting the candles burning and breathing in life.

* The Poi Room, 17 Osborne St, Newmarket, ph (09) 520 0399

- NZ Herald

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