With the use of tropical plantings, high-quality fixtures and cedar screens, see how a garden can be transformed from concrete jungle to urban oasis.

This Auckland garden feels like a secret holiday resort in the centre of town thanks to tropical planting and the liberal use of cedar screens. 

Instant impact is relatively easy to achieve when designing a blank-canvas garden, but adding the wow factor to an existing garden isn’t always so simple. Fortunately for the owner of this home in Auckland’s Grey Lynn, landscape designer Ben Shearer was more than up for the challenge. “The client wanted to transform her garden so that after a hard day at work, it felt like she was coming home to a resort, and had a sense of being in her own private oasis,” says Ben, owner of Ben Shearer Landscape Design. “We wanted to make the garden feel luxurious and more spacious. To achieve this there was quite a bit to address including an overall lack of privacy, odd spaces left bare and an eclectic mix of retaining walls and boundary fences. We also needed to find a way to unify the original villa at the front of the property with a new contemporary extension at the back.”


The existing garden had two small decks, one shaded and one very sunny, as well as a swimming pool along the rear (western) boundary. The shady deck was between the existing villa and its modern rear extension. “It was a small and dimly lit deck but had been laid to facilitate access to the house and views from the house. The deck was being used to store a barbecue, so it served a purpose, but with the brief in mind I saw the opportunity to create a sanctuary in the middle of the house,” says Ben.

The second deck at the back of the house felt cramped, was exposed to neighbours on the north side and was very hot and sunny. The southern boundary was a mixture of different retaining walls and fences that needed to be disguised.



For the shady deck area Ben suggested installing a hanging seat that he sourced from Ico Traders in Christchurch. A series of pulleys allows the seat to slide through the formerly underused space so the client can find solitude and privacy if desired. “You could use it to slide out of view and read a book or relax with a glass of wine. But it also functions as an extension to the lounge; the client’s son enjoys watching television from the hanging chair. This was a pretty wacky idea, and it was great that the client was so collaborative and open to our ideas,” says Ben.

Cedar screening provides privacy and a backdrop for the seat, and a garden was created along the bottom of the screen for planting. “I wanted to introduce some softness and green into this area, which was previously quite hard-edged, through the use of plants.”

The barbecue area was also small and, like the other deck, a transitional space. To maximise the space Ben opted to cantilever the barbecue off the wall and had a new cedar screen built to give the area more privacy. “It makes the space feel larger and you can walk past easily, but the Electrolux barbecue sitting on a bespoke leathered granite benchtop and the Shade 7 umbrella still create a striking visual impact that speaks to the luxurious ‘retreat’ aesthetic the client sought,” he says.

To offer greater privacy on the northern boundary and make the southern fence line look more attractive (hiding the mish-mash of boundary structures), Ben’s team erected large cedar screens. “Our aim was to use the various cedar screens to link all the different areas together, creating a feeling of continuity throughout the garden.”

Careful consideration was given to ensuring the garden could serve as an extension of the home in the evenings. Lights were installed behind the screens and their glow shines through the gaps in the battens at night.



In the shaded, sliding-chair area, Ben chose the lush native climber Tecomanthe speciosa to be trained up the cedar screens to frame the space. Planted just below deck level are foxtail ferns (Asparagus meyeri) and the native groundcover Coprosma repens ‘Poor Knights’. “These species will thrive with minimal light,” he says. “Light recesses shining through the climber now create the effect of a green room.”

The boardwalk path leading to the pool is planted with Dietes bicolor. “It’s a tough perennial that can cope with the lack of soil there,” Ben explains. “The planting behind the pool is comprised of bamboo, palms and a mixture of sub-tropicals that were already there. They worked well with the overall new look of the garden, so we kept them.”