In a Remuera city garden

At the heart of Auckland is its leafy green suburbs and, at the heart of those JON RAWLINSON found Keren McDonnell.

Left: Keren Mcdonnell, Photo Wayne Martin. Right: photos Keren McDonnell

When spring finally deems to put in an appearance, keen gardeners will find plenty of rambles on which to ramble.

And, while these may offer numerous garden gates to peer over, the Auckland Garden DesignFest is perhaps without peer when it comes to the splendid nature of properties on display.

“It’s a great cause and a bit of fun. I love talking to people about gardens so I’m really looking forward to it,” says designer, Keren McDonnell of M&M Landscape Design. “It’s a win-win, really, being able to show people what you’re passionate about while helping some good causes in the process.”

During the fest’ (November 25-26) Keren – an experienced landscape designer – will present her own home garden in Remuera for the first time.

“Our garden was such a big project that it’s just nice to show. Any garden design is a collaboration between designer and client. I would have been happy to show a client’s garden but the beauty of this one is that we’ve handled the entire project all at once.”

Drawing on inspiration from gardens she visited at the Chelsea Flower Show during her years in London, Keren has used planting to ensure privacy, developing an oasis in suburbia with views of Rangitoto. She has also maximised space to make this a most useable area, complete with split level lawns, entertaining area, and a pool and spa.

“Proportion and scale were very important to me and I wanted to design something that was contemporary but also suited the style of the house [a 1920s arts and crafts home],” she explains.

“We really wanted a family-friendly garden but one where children’s things didn’t take over. It’s quintessentially a family garden with European influences – strong lines and structure – which fits in with the house while having just a touch of whimsy.”

Originally from Manawatu and Taranaki, Keren and her husband (Paul) lived in London for 10 years prior to settling in Remuera in 2011.

“My parents are both avid gardeners and horticulturalists and we lived on a fruit and flower farm when I was young, so gardening is in my blood.

“Paul and I lived in Battersea close to where they hold the Chelsea Flower Show, so I went along and found plenty of inspiration.”

A generous slice of that English country garden inspiration, it appears, has been transferred to her Remuera backyard, albeit with decidedly Kiwi additions.

“I like using perennial planting, which people don’t use that often, as well as native plants, but not in a traditional way. Rather than in their wild state, I tend to trim natives to make them more sculptural, or I use different combinations,” Keren says.

“I look to design a garden as if I was painting a picture – thinking about what plants work best for the climate or environment. It’s all about shape, texture and colour of the overall garden. I enjoy creating beautiful things; it just gives me tremendous satisfaction.”

Preserving Auckland’s leafy greens

Despite a growing demand for housing in Auckland, landscape designer, Keren McDonnell, believes our city’s green spaces must be retained.

“From a holistic point of view, I think it’s very important. We need space where kids can run around and where we can grow a few veggies. I think Auckland Council should be more acutely aware of that,” she says.

“I’m quite a fan of English writer and designer, Monty Don. He advocates the benefits of growing and getting your hands into the soil as a way of connecting to nature as well as simply for our own personal satisfaction and mental stability.”

Although Keren has trained as a town planner, these days she is kept busy helping her clients create beautiful, functional outdoor spaces, often where space is at a premium.

“With urbanisation, I think people want to make the most of the space they have. Larger gardens in the city are a luxury, but you can still get a lot from smaller spaces,” she says.

“It comes down to clever planning and placement. And, to ensure privacy, strategically-placed planting is a wonderful thing.”