From habitat magazine - issue 36, feature garden
A landscape designer has found her peace in the gentle green space between bush and sea.
Claire’s Mangawhai home was designed by Gerrad Hall and the exterior is stained in Resene Woodsman Pitch Black. The dark colour allows the home to blend into the deep green landscape, without distracting the eye. Claire used a Resene CoolColour variant, which allows the dark colour to stay cooler even in summer.
It’s impossible to count the many different shades of green that appear in Claire Talbot’s garden. It’s a kaleidoscope, the likes of which appear only on Resene colour charts. Painters looking to capture its essence would take their pick of Resene Breeze, Resene Flax, Resene Paddock and Resene Seaweed – with a peeka-boo of Resene Smashing coming from the vibrant leucadendrons.
Claire’s love of small surprises of colour flows from the outdoors in at ‘The Black Box’, her home located in The Sanctuary, an (aptly named) gated community five minutes from Mangawhai. Claire and her family have been visiting the area from Auckland for a decade. The Talbots spent four summers sharing a bach with friends, but after that, and with growing children (now 15, 13 and 10), it was time to find their own space.
“I knew when I first saw the land that it was right. It was a bare grassy patch, but the hills behind felt like a protective embrace.” It was the perfect blank canvas for landscape designer Claire, but first, she needed to choose a fellow artist to help her create her masterpiece. “Luckily, my friend Gerrad Hall is an architect. We didn’t want the home to be a blot on the landscape. We wanted to take the time to make sure the angles and the aspects were right.”
The exterior of The Black Box is board and batten, stained with Resene Woodsman Pitch Black. “Black makes the greens pop, and merges seamlessly with the landscape, which was my key goal. I sat down with the house plans and drew lines off the home to create a grid. From there, it was about creating spaces and working within the rules of the golden ratio [a geometric equation that creates an 'aesthetically pleasing' shape]. I wanted something simple and low-maintenance with a small lawnmowing bill and room to hide the inevitable summer tents.”
The garden’s softness contrasts with the surrounding spiky manukā- and kanuka-covered hills. Grasses drift in the often-prevalent wind, offering a soundtrack not unlike that of the nearby surf. It’s been a labour of love, with a fair amount of physical labour thrown in for good measure. Claire estimates she’s planted upwards of 500 plants in the past four years, at an estimated cost of between $20,000 to $30,000.
Pops of colour peep through the grasses. Hardy South African plants such as proteas and leucadendrons add splashes of red, contrasting with the silvers and greens of reeds and grasses such as oi oi and a lomandra called ‘Lime Tuff’. Claire’s favourite is gaura, a hardy plant with small pink or white flowers that bloom for five to six months. “I’m not a purist. I love natives, but they can lack colour and diversity. I like to add some ‘wow’.”
Cheerful surprises aren’t limited to the garden. Architect Gerrad’s trademark is bright doors, so vivid Resene Ming adorns the interior doors, including the one that divides the teenagers’ rooms from the rest of the home. “Their own soundproof space was a must,” says Claire. The bright doors continue into the garden. Claire painted a second-hand door in Resene Geronimo to separate the practical boat parking and outdoor shower from the whimsical outdoor bath and cottage-style garden with lavender and roses.
She engaged interior designer Peta Tearle as a colour consultant during the design process, and together they created a Resene palette. “We started with Resene Ming for the doors and built from there.” Gentle neutrals allow the splashes of colour to take centre stage; Resene Double Spanish White adorns the walls and trims, with Resene Half Spanish White on the ceiling.
There’s also a colour choice with a charmingly personal touch. Claire’s son was one of many who discovered hobby bee-keeping during the lockdowns, and his manukā-honey-producing hives have grown from one to three in the past year. “When he was young, he created a song called ‘The Caper Song’ and sang it at our wedding. We couldn’t resist painting the hives in Resene Caper!”
While the original plan was for The Black Box to be the family’s summer retreat, the past two years’ events have seen them spend many months in Mangawhai. With bees needing attention and her husband able to work remotely, the family relocated when it was safe to do so.
Claire’s landscaping business, Sculpt Gardens, is based in Takapuna and has grown from a single neighbourhood flyer drop to a thriving business with 15 employees. “When I had my children, my garden became my sanctuary and safe space. It kept me grounded and helped my mental health. I had come from a career in management psychology, which taught me that when you’re relaxed and engaged, creativity flows, so you need to find a career that allows you to get lost in that happy space. Gardening became that for me, so I studied landscape design, then dropped flyers along my street.” Claire’s business ethos includes providing opportunities for women looking to balance work with family. “There were few options for mothers that were well-paid and flexible. I found like-minded women at Playcentre and through social media, and it grew from there.”
When building a house, landscaping is generally left until last. As a consequence, there's often little money in the budget. Starting early is much more seamless and can save money in the long run. Think of it like this – if gardens are a cupcake, the plants are sprinkles. The actual substance lies beneath; your layout should seamlessly accommodate the washing line, rubbish bins or boat parking by creating distinct areas for different activities.
Select plants that have great cover – it will help fill your space, stop weeds sneaking through and keep the budget in check. Grevillea is an excellent choice as it has a large spread of up to four to five metres.
Consider the potential size of your plants and remember they will grow. Also, don’t plant just one or two. Limit your palette and purchase multiple (think 10 to 100) of the same plant to create a garden that allows your eye to relax.
Consider how you use your garden – do you need room for children to run, or should that space be used for decking?
If building a new home, and planting a new garden give young plants a height boost, by planting them in small raised mounds of earth – this will make your garden look more established. Garden banks can also help with drainage.
You should design your garden based on your goals – is this your forever home or will you be selling within a few years? Plant accordingly; dream homes require planning, while short-term properties need to look good quickly.
Choose the right Resene colours and paints for the job.
Hive mind: Resene Lumbersider is a durable Environmental Choice approved exterior paint suitable for beehives. Claire’s son painted his beehives in Resene Caper and Resene Half Spanish White. Paint contrast areas in Resene Fog for a lilac touch.
That’s cool: If painting or staining your home's exterior in a dark colour, opt for a Resene CoolColour which includes special heat-reflective technology. It not only keeps your home's exterior surface cooler in hot weather compared to the standard colour, but it also helps protect the substrate from damage caused by overheating.
Wax lyrical: Protect concrete flooring with Resene Concrete Wax, a waterborne clear satin finish which is ideal for concrete surfaces with lots of foot traffic. Claire's concrete floor pairs well with the Resene Colorwood Pitch Black used on an internal wall panel and the ceiling in Resene Half Spanish White.
an elegant outdoor entertaining space
Landscape designer Bayley LuuTomes suggests an alternative scheme:
To maximise outdoor living I’ve created an extra room for al fresco dining with an open framed wall which allows nature to come in. By painting the two walls in Resene Orchid White, it ties the space to the interior and by wrapping it around one corner it creates an illusion of more space allowing extra light into the covered areas. I’ve highlighted the natural grain of the timber feature wall with warm Resene Woodsman Uluru and contrasted this with the deck stained in the darker colour, Resene Woodsman Tiri. The pergola is stained in Resene Waterborne Woodsman Pickled Bluewood to pick up the blue of the sky, this will also create a great support for the Three King’s Climber (Tecomanthe speciosa). This is the ideal place for this striking native plant as they love to have their roots in a cool spot and to bathe their leaves in the sun.
Top tip Resene Woodsman wood stain enhances and rejuvenates the colour of outdoor timber, allowing the natural wood grain to show through. It also protects the substrate from damage from UV light. It’s also available in Resene CoolColour which contains heat-reflective technology to make dark colours cooler to touch.
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