Spruce Up Your Garden With This Year's Expert-Approved Landscaping Trends

Three leading landscape designers on making your palms and your potagers flourish


There’s a real empathy to the wild and to ecology and to its place, says Xanthe White. Photo / Supplied

XANTHE WHITE
The intuitive landscape designer sets out to empower gardeners to develop the spaces she conceives, from nurseries in the far north to projects in China and wild, floral backyards throughout New Zealand

Why is good landscape design important?
We’re designing not just in three dimensions but in time as well, considering seasons into the future. In terms of wellness and the social side of things — food, health, environment — all of that is there in the land. And it’s this balance between the imaginative, creative dream and the simplicity. It’s a feedback cycle that keeps you digging — because beautiful things erupt from it.

Would you say more people are cottoning on to that concept?
People are saying to me, ‘I didn’t even think I was a gardener and then I started doing it in lockdown and it’s amazing’. There’s always been a lot of talk about low-maintenance gardens but what people are realising too is that the joy of gardening is often in the act of doing and the pleasure of being the activator and seeing this magic come up.

What other trends have you observed in your industry?
There’s the mid-century modernist homes resurgence. It’s interesting because that’s a period where landscape architecture was developed. Landscape artists like Thomas Church believed everybody should have a design space that works for them, it’s not just a rich person or a grand villa thing. Everybody’s saying ‘my space is so precious to me right now’. Even a little space can be amazing with a little thought.

Xanthe White recommends splashing colour across your garden. Photo / Supplied

How hard is it to pull off a modernist garden in New Zealand?
A lot of the cool houses are in places like Titirangi, such as [late architect Ron Sang’s] Brake House, and if you think of [modernist icon] Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater house, it’s got this naturalistic landscape. There’s a real empathy to the wild and to ecology and to its place. There’s a softness and a naturalism in contrast to the crisp architectural elements, a more biomorphic garden-scape, so the plants and the colours and the tones shift.

How do you achieve that look, particularly when using colour?
Pattern and repetition are important, whether natural or formal, and sticking to odd numbers in groupings — with a degree of madness! Avoid dotting. Make sure you splash the colour across the composition, as though you sprayed it through. It’ll hold together as one.

READ: How To Design A Vegetable Garden, According To Two Top Cultivators

What sort of flowers would you recommend?
If you’re starting out, salvias are great — they tend to not go to seed so they’re not invasive. They have a broad range of colours and they tend to flower for long periods of time. Also, make sure you consider structure. Because a flower garden has a temporary state, you need to think of your garden as having a beautiful skeleton, whether that’s through repeated form, with textures throughout the planting, or just making sure you always have tidy edges at the front and back.

AARON BELL-BOOTH
The experienced landscape gardener applies a blend of styles to his work, giving traditional, European-style gardens a more relaxed aesthetic with pared-back contemporary elements

Is there a style of garden your clients are requesting more of?
The majority lean towards a symmetrical approach, a bit of formality but with the contrast of softer plantings such as perennials and grasses. The architecture — and the people — more often than not determine the landscape and planting style.

In what ways has the pandemic and lockdowns influenced garden design?
Being so restricted with travel, people are spending more time within their properties, and naturally this has led to more interest in developing their outdoor spaces. Outdoor entertaining and activity areas have grown in popularity. There’s a lot more emphasis on edible gardens and flower-picking.

You mean flowers people grow in order to bring inside?
Yes. We’re getting requests for all sorts: bird of paradise, ferrea, hibiscus, although they don’t last long. Perennials, roses, foliage. I especially love hydrangeas which have become en vogue again, particularly the Annabelle or paniculata variety rather than the mop-head — it has more of a flower form. They last a long time once they’re picked and create an impact.

The English box hedges in this patio garden by Aaron Bell-Booth are a study in scale and proportion. Photo / Supplied

What other landscape design trends have emerged?
People are wanting outdoor destinations, entertaining areas, not to mention areas to keep children entertained. There’s been a greater request for outdoor items, pools (small and large), outdoor fire areas, potager/edible gardens, usable lawns, petanque courts, basketball hoop locations … We just did a property in Mt Eden with a retractable deck with a sandpit underneath — the trampoline provides shade when the kids play.

What’s behind the potager garden trend?
People are moving towards a more personalised garden. They’re more time-consuming but perhaps people are realising the all-round health benefits of gardening and that it’s hard to beat homegrown. In lockdown it’s another activity to get kids outdoors.

READ: How To Be A Good Plant Parent

What are your top tips for growing one?
Carefully selecting the right location with plenty of sun is essential. Start with quality soil and have water readily available. Raised gardens are easier to manage and kinder on the body. Don’t make the garden spaces too deep that you can’t reach to the middle. Diversify your plant layout and introduce companion plant varieties that can help with pest control.

TRACY CHALMERS
Through her work with renowned landscape designer Robin Shafer, this personable creative has worked on everything from petite urban courtyards to large-scale, resort-style homes

What have clients been requesting since the pandemic?
Almost every other job or inquiry is someone after a swimming pool. People are stuck at home, they know they’re not going to be travelling, so they want to make the most of their spaces at home. The lowering of interest rates has probably helped as well.

What sort of planting looks good around a pool?
Tropical trees such as large palms create a nice holiday feel. You’d want your planting to be evergreen rather than deciduous because of leaf drop. Ficus tuffi is great for hedging because it has that shiny, fresh look and looks good year-round. Think of a hot climate — you’re out there in a bright light, so look for brighter colours and lots of shiny green foliage — like bromeliads and Clivia miniata (bush lily) which has an orange flower. Star jasmine or coprosma Poor Knights as a ground cover; ligularia, gardenias and mondo grass all look great together and are hardy. Pools can also look fantastic with a formal, clipped French- or Italian-style garden — more of a white and green look. We do whatever we can to hide pool fencing by using hedging or other planting.

Tropical trees and palms create a holiday feel around a swimming pool, says Tracy Chalmers. Photo / Supplied

What other landscape design trends are you seeing?
We get a lot of people inquiring about vegetable gardens and orchards. If you really did have to batten down the hatches, you could live off your garden for a short time. Herb boxes are always popular, which is probably more of a culinary thing. People like cooking and barbecuing and being able to go out and snip their own herbs out of the garden. We do a lot of vegetable boxes to grow lettuces and easy vegetables. And everyone wants a lemon tree — for summer gins!

What other fruit trees do you recommend?
There are so many modern varieties of fruit tree now. Pole or ballerina apple trees grow up in a column like a topiary, and are interesting features to have in your garden, along with limes and mandarins. And people love growing figs, which are easy-care. Everybody wants an avocado but they can be a bit tricky with our clay soils, so we tend to put them in a raised vegetable garden.

READ: How To Set Up Your Own Home Composting System

Triple-grafted specimens (plum trees, for example) are great as they’ll give you two or three varieties on the one plant. In a smaller garden, I’d also recommend espalier (fruit trees trained to grow on wires). That’s a nice way of getting walls covered. There are a lot of dwarf nectarines and peaches and they can be worked into the overall planting plan, even if you don’t have a lot of room. Pick a sunny spot for most of your fruiting trees.

TOP TIPS FOR PLANTING DECKS AND PATIOS

Aaron Bell-Booth 

1. The most common mistake people make is that they go too small and twee and bitsy. If you go for a few statement pieces with a nice sculptural tree in good strong form, you can keep it simplistic elsewhere. Grasses will create a more relaxed appearance, or you could add a flowering perennial for a prairie-style look. Soften and layer the sculptural forms with low bowls of succulents or spilling plants.

2. Be careful not to put anything too big or high in a high-wind zone. Select plants depending on the roofline over them to ensure they can cope with less airflow or natural rainfall, and consider the watering, and where the water runs off to. On elevated patios be mindful of the weight on structures and the safety element with kids climbing.

Xanthe White 

3. Always start with function over form. If you break it down to a logical process — where is the sun and the views? Where do I want to sit? Where do I need to walk and where do I need access? — you start to create limitations. These help because lots of decisions can be overwhelming.

4. The types of plants I like to go to for exposed sites often need high light as well. Fine plants like Mueller grasses can look quite sparse in a normal garden setting but when you silhouette them you get that translucent light coming through them; they suddenly glow. They throw the light around and move with the wind.

5. If you’re looking at a covered space, it’s important you understand the impact of the sun at different times of the year. It’s a real opportunity to create green walls with climbers. If you can get it in the ground, rather than a pot, the roots will have more room to develop.

Tracy Chalmers 

6. You might want to look at drought-tolerant plants because of the exposure they can cope with, although you wouldn’t want them to be too spiky.

7. If you do go for quite a dramatic fixture and you’re going for a tropical look, a Strelitzia nicolai (bird of paradise) is a beautiful choice.

8. If you’re creating a focal point by doing one pot, it needs to be of a decent size, or it’s just not going to have the drama. Otherwise, a group of three pots will look good together. They don’t have to be exactly the same but there needs to be communion between them. If you have too many different pots around the property and they’re all different, it can look cluttered and messy.

9. A lot of plants don’t like having their roots restricted in a pot. Others, like the jade plant and the xeronema, don’t mind at all. They’re great for holiday homes because they just look after themselves.

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