Every morning Chris and Kevin Edmonds, wake up to nature. They don’t even have to get out of bed to enjoy the sight and sound of tui and bellbirds preening themselves in the trees and the dew glistening on the leaves. Their floor-to-ceiling bedroom window frames a garden designed precisely for the early morning theatre.
The spectacle continues from the kitchen and living room with tui and blackbirds taking turns splashing about in the water feature. Lately, the resident quail family has been out and about for early morning walks across the lawn. At the edge of the garden, where lawn meets gully, tui swoop back and forth from the kanuka tree to the bird feeders, which Kevin keeps topped up with sugar water. Cheeky little wax eyes add another layer of drama to the daily antics.
It’s the kind of paradise you might expect if you hired a lodge in the wilderness, but the setting for this open air theatre was purpose-built from scratch by its two energetic owners, remarkably in just two years.
They started in winter 2019. “We designed and planted as we went,” says Chris. “We started with the lower native walk and outdoor living area and then progressed up the driveway.” Except for a handful of trees and some exisitng rhododendrons and camellias, they began with a blank canvas.
“We wanted to create a long term, low maintenance garden,” says Chris. With its massed tree and shrub plantings under generously mulched beds, the garden is already well on its way to being very easy care, rewarding them for what’s been a labour of love. To achieve the impressive growth rate, Kevin says he is fastidious about watering and feeding, using lots of sheep pellets and slow release fertiliser.
Sheep pellets are particularly good for their prized Chatham Island forget-me-nots. With huge shiny leaves looking lush and green in early September, these blue flowered beauties feature as ground cover along with ferns on the shady side of the house between the nature walk and the bedroom window. The other stars of the show here are the mature ponga ferns, which they planted to screen the bedroom from the walkway.
Chris and Kevin have learned a lot about what they want in a garden from their previous gardens. “We love natives, especially because of the birdlife they attract,” says Chris. She especially enjoys her lancewood (Pseudopanax) and ribbonwood (Plagianthus) trees with their contrasting fine and course textured leaves. The nectar seeking birds flock to lacebarks, pittosporums and cabbage trees. Corokia provide extra nesting places plus food for berry and insect feeders. Wineberry (Aristotelia) is also great for native birds, she says, but she avoids planting this tree near pathways because the berries make a mess when they drop.
As well as providing a habitat for wildlife, the native plantings set the stage for the couple’s collection of garden sculptures. Grasses and ground carpeting coprosmas flank the pathways, adding more colour and texture. Attractive dark green Coprosma 'Hawera' is a tough weed blocking groundcover great for planting next to walkways and driveways. The grasses move gracefully in the wind and thrive in Taupo’s free draining soil. To keep the grasses looking good, Chris combs out the dead leaves every using gloved hands and then a garden rake.
Exotic plants are seamlessly woven throughout the mainly native garden. Yucca trees echo the spiky forms of cabbage trees. In the bush walk a climbing hydrangea clambering up a tree trunk makes an excellent imitation of the native liane vines common in NZ forests.
Tree lucerne (Chamaecytisus palmensis) blooms in late winter, an early treat for nectar seeking birds. “They are super quick growing and inexpensive,” says Chris. They have used them successfully in past gardens as temporary shelter and screening while they wait for slower native trees grow. Tree lucerne thrives in cooler gardens with good rainfall but it won’t tolerate wet feet. Though short lived, tree lucern is easy to take out once it has passed its best. As a legume, it brings nitrogen to the soil, but best of all says Kevin, “The bellbirds absolutely love it.”
Flowering trees chosen for seasonal interest include stunning claret Magnolia ‘Genie’ and Cercis ‘Spring Snow’ which they have planted as a trio at their front entrance. The white spring flowers make a stunning show against the black painted house, followed by bright green heart shaped leaves.
The architectural lines of clipped hedges, both native and exotic, add structure and contrast. Kevin is particularly proud of the now 2m tall akeake hedge, which he has cultivated as a screen around the vegetable garden. At the top of the driveway, a mature Buxus hedge, transplanted from a friends garden, is settling in well under Kevin’s careful administering of fertiliser and water.
Kevin says, “We’ve always thought of our gardens as being another room of our home and have invested in them as such. That being said, you should never skimp on landscaping as you will recoup it back if you ever sell your property.”
Kevin and Chris are looking forward to welcoming visiters to their garden during the Taupo Garden and Art Trail.
An akeake hedge screens the vegetable garden and creates a sheltered spot for a morning snack. Waxeyes love the fresh fruit.
The nature walk connecting front and back gardens is alive with birdsong.
Ferns and Chatham Island forget-me-nots feature on the shady side of the house. White tree lucerne flowers are a magnet for bellbirds and kereru.
Cercis 'Spring Snow' in flower.