A few weeks ago, we decided that the garden in front of the house, which is the first thing people see when they come down the driveway, had been a work in progress for far too long.
This area has had a number of makeovers over time, occasioned not just by my constant need to update but also by three major floods in seven years. Our property has a stream around three sides, and in the 100-year floods we get every couple of years, anything that’s not bolted down gets washed away.
Our front garden had been a makeshift affair since the last flood in 2011, waiting for the garden fairy to wave a magic wand. Sadly, the fairy did not provide access to any spare money and we had to pull together a design that could be constructed mainly from materials already lying around the property.
Nor did the fairy offer a decision on colours for the new garden, so the first argument the Partner and I had was about what shade we should paint the wall. I was flirting with the purple palette at the time and was committed to the iridescent violet/blue of the flowers on a Lavender Sidonie we’d just bought. He wanted to stick with a taupe colour we’d used elsewhere. I vetoed the taupe, he rejected the violet, and we settled on his second choice – a rather odd bricky-orange about which I had serious misgivings.
But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the course of three long-term relationships, it’s that sometimes you have to let them have their way and if you’re going to, it might as well be over something that doesn’t cost a bomb.
The wall only required four litres of paint so I didn’t have a lot to lose. As it turned out, it looked amazing and set the scene for the rest of the project.
The second job was to replace the wooden surround with a low masonry wall. We liberated some old Hebel (lightweight concrete) blocks from behind the shed and the Partner chain-sawed them into rough slices with lots of chips, holes and imperfections in them. Very Greek ruin.
Because we didn’t want wall-to-wall plants (too labour-intensive, too expensive), we placed a couple of pavers between the trunks of the palm trees and set some ceramic pots on them. I planted the larger ones with thyme and oregano. Of the existing plants in the garden, we kept the palms, the astelias and the lomandra seascape grasses.
I splashed out and bought a couple of heucheras for $20 because they had the right coloured foliage, and decided to leave any further planting until spring.
However, the two square tubs marking the entrance to the courtyard needed a spruce-up so they got a couple of orange impatiens, which a few weeks ago I wouldn’t have thanked you for. Now, though, alongside the orange wall, they look amazing.
Once all that was done, the path running adjacent to the front garden looked like a neglected, droopy-lipped child begging for some attention. We set a dozen pavers into it to give it a bit of definition and then dragged a big faux concrete pond to one side of it, filled it with water and added two goldfish. All the paths needed refreshing so a few very heavy bags of crushed shell later, we decided to call it a day.
As we do with all of our completed projects, we grabbed a glass of wine each and walked 15 paces away from the new garden, closed our eyes, turned around and slowly opened them. We clinked.
It’s funny how you can ignore a particular plant for years, and then one day find you really need it.
Heucheras have never been a favourite of mine, mainly because they’re often variegated, which I don’t like, or those weird, dark red colours which never really seem to go with anything.
However, I have come to see that when you need a shade lover that will perfectly match your dark, blue/green grasses and silver astelias, heuchera is your go-to plant.
Thanks to the revolution in coloured foliage breeding, they come in limes, oranges, greens, pinks, apricots, burgundies, purples and even black. Not only that, but they will sometimes change colour in response to the changing seasons.
They like moist, well-drained soil, and the amount of sun and shade depends on the colour. The blacks will tolerate full sun but the limes like shade. Some will tolerate humidity, so even if you’re in the north, you can enjoy them. Now that I’ve learned to love my blue/green ones, I’m toying with the idea of an orange.
Take a look at how to grow your own nuts here.
About Lee Ann McKenzie
Lee Ann wasn’t always a gardener - she lead what she terms ‘a normal life’ as a newspaper journalist and then television producer in Dunedin until the nineties, when she started moving north. Working on various lifestyle magazines in Auckland, Lee Ann eventually published her own garden design magazine, Alfresco, for 10 years.more of this author