Outside the box. Landscape designer started work on the garden first


Michelle McDonnell

Landscape designer (Michelle McDonnell Landscape Design Ltd)



How long lived here:
Eight months

Outdoors enthusiast Michelle McDonnell has done things "back to front" on her Matua property.

She has totally revamped the gardens and grounds first, after having lived at their new home for just eight months, and is putting the finishing touches on all the exterior features before she and husband David even look at the house.

"One day we will change the house - a major renovation or rebuild? We're not sure yet. We haven't done anything to the house as that is a major undertaking, so doing the garden has been very exciting and rewarding.

"Most of the garden, after the house changes, will remain or be reused in the new design. I guess we've done things the opposite way around than most people would do it."

But that's no surprise really - the outdoors is Michelle's passion. She is a landscape designer with her own business and creating the perfect outdoor space was important to her.

The project was vast - they fenced off the driveway and utilised the front area with a raised garden, fruit trees, a pergola, herb garden and pebble instead of lawn.


"There was a lot of lawn but no surfaces to put furniture on - now there is a paved area to sit a dining table on and a covered area for lounge furniture. There was also no gardens to frame the view, now there's low hedging."

The section had no access to the harbour so Michelle renovated the steps down to the water. Much planting took place along the path. Michelle's favourite spot is the wine deck on the path to the water. "It has great sunsets, complete privacy and it feels like you are on holiday at the beach. We drink tea or wine depending on the time of the day/evening.

We chat and have friends over for a wine - it's always 'wine o'clock' somewhere in the world."

She loves the area, its complete privacy and that feeling of being on holiday.

Michelle McDonnell in her garden. Photo/George Novak
Michelle McDonnell in her garden. Photo/George Novak

"I feel so in touch with nature with the sunsets, the change of tides, the bird life and the fantastic views out to Omokoroa and the islands within the harbour. The view is always changing and the light is fantastic.

"I work from home and have a fantastic view of the harbour plus this is our holiday home - we don't need a beach house. With a good coffee machine and a garden to potter in, it is perfect."

She is currently putting the finishing touches outdoors, before they start thinking about their next project - the house. -As told to Rebecca Mauger