Coastal gardening is always a challenge; wind, salt, poor soil. In a spectacular natural setting, there’s the added challenge of creating a garden that doesn’t jar or compete with the view. A gardener in a walled yard creates any mood they choose; in a more natural landscape, an over-fussy garden detracts from the wide-open views.
Landscape designer Rosa Davidson started building her house at Clifford Bay near the mouth of the Awatere in 1999. The views were fantastic, looking out to Cloudy Bay across the grey-white cliffs of Te Parinui o Whiti, from which the property takes its name, Paripuma. But the site was a windswept, bare, gravelly expanse with outcrops of rock-hard clay, unpromising garden material.
In the first winter the Davidsons planted 2,000 ngaio trees to create shelter. “We wouldn’t have a garden if we didn’t have ngaio,” says Rosa. Fourteen years on the trees form natural topiary, clipped by the wind into tidy mounds and wave-like clouds. The ngaio create shelter for other plants such as nikau, Carmichaelea (native broom) and ferns; there are shady, green bushwalks just metres from the pounding surf.
In its mostly green palette, its wind-clipped ngaio, wide terraces and steps, formal vistas and thick-walled limewashed courtyard, Paripuma is reminiscent of traditional Italianate gardens. But it’s a garden that couldn’t be anywhere else but on a wild beach in Aotearoa.
Instead of clipped box and yew there’s muehlenbeckia, coprosma and hebe. Instead of old olives and grape vines in the courtyard there’s a gnarled ngaio with a twisted, ancient-looking trunk; surrounding the weighty wooden doors is Tecomanthe speciosa, a glossy-leaved native climber bearing tubular, creamy flowers. There’s not a deciduous tree in sight – that would just look wrong, says Davidson. “I love oaks, but I would never plant one here.”
Davidson chose predominantly, but not exclusively native plants. She’s planted eucalyptus as shelter and bird habitat. Gums used to live in New Zealand millions of years ago, she says, so they’re like “ghosts of Gondwana.”
What makes Paripuma so special is that it’s almost indistinguishable where beach becomes garden, or garden, beach. The garden moves seamlessly from nature to nurture. “The garden is actually quite formal, but the point was to try and blend formality slowly into the wilderness.”
Tips for coastal gardening:
- Use what grows well. Ngaio is a fantastic tree for coastal situations; Davidson also recommends akeake and muehlenbeckia.
- Don’t get over-fussy; massed specimens of one plant can look both natural and spectacular.
- Establish shelter first.
- Mulch as much as you can to improve the soil and help hold moisture.
Paripuma is open by appointment, or for accommodation, weddings and other events. www.paripuma.com