Improve your garden design – even in the smallest spaces

It has been almost 10 years since Vivien Papich left Bellevue – the family home with a large garden at Langs Beach in Northland, which she had lovingly developed over decades – with her late husband Daniel.

Vivien’s destination was Jane Mander Retirement Village in Whangarei, a warm and welcoming environment where she was quick to call her new apartment home.

“I feel like I’ve said this many times before, but it’s still the best thing I’ve ever done,” Vivien said, revealing that she recently celebrated a major 80th birthday.

As the daughter of accomplished designers, Vivien used inherited flair to create an elegant and welcoming interior, based on her favorite decorating colours: black, white and green before deftly extending this classic palette to the large outdoor balcony. .

“I didn’t do much last year – for health reasons, but this summer I plan to make it look nice and dramatic again,” she says.

One of Vivien’s favourites, Ligularia reniformis, featured prominently at Bellvue. Sometimes called “the tractor seat plant”, Ligularia reniformis does not like high temperatures and wilts easily, so it had to abandon this particular genus.

Now Vivien is focusing on her old favorites: succulents, euphorbias, sansevierias, as well as bold palms – including varieties of kentia (Howea favoriana).

“As a gardener, you’re always fighting disease or the elements, and you have to be able to adapt to deal with those two things that affect you.”

Vivien thinks that at her age, cutting a few corners is perfectly acceptable and she’s embraced artificial foliage, which keeps the work on her balcony to a minimum, interspersing quality replicas with the real thing.

“Modern artificial plants are often incredibly realistic and these days there are some specially made for the outdoors that can withstand UV rays. They even have torn leaves that look completely natural – and my blanket in plastic Buxus could fool anyone!”

Vivien has a policy that less is more, having noticed that a handful of large, bold plants in large pots tend to be much more effective than lots of small ones.

Jane Mander Village is home to many other plant lovers.


Jane Mander Village is home to many other plant lovers.

She says Jane Mander Village is home to many other plant lovers and the communal gardens are popular meeting spaces.

“They are impeccably maintained and the head gardeners here do a wonderful job,” says Vivien.

“Obviously I also like tending to my own garden, but there are others here who get all the enjoyment out of our shared places – and that’s just lovely.”

Other villagers also grow their own produce, including tomatoes and lettuce or sometimes even herbs like parsley, mint, chives and basil. Vivien says giving and sharing in the garden space is an integral part of the Ryman Villages culture.

Australian landscape guru and co-founder of award-winning company Landart, Matt Leacy, says he definitely agrees with Vivien Papich’s ‘less is more’ approach.

“First, I would suggest that small-space gardeners sit down and make careful plans, taking into account the seasons and the aspect.”

“It is also essential to objectively consider the surrounding landscape, when planning a small garden – for example, if everything around is dry and arid, a subtropical theme is probably not appropriate!

Matt says modern outdoor spaces should be multi-tasking areas and when it comes to maximizing the available area he urges gardeners to think creatively.

“Outdoor rugs can make a balcony feel more like a room, while mirrors can enhance the feeling of space. When designing a slender yard or balcony, don’t reveal not the whole space at once. Tilt the patio, play with paving patterns and position potted plants to draw the eye to different parts of your space right from the entrance.”

Like Vivien, Matt says towering plants can often work best when working with small outdoor spaces.

“It’s important to play with scale and size. Positioning large things in small spaces can create the illusion that a space is larger and feels like drama.”

It also highlights that “leveling is a great way to divide an area into different zones for a larger feel. From planters of different heights to wall climbers and hanging pots”.

Although Vivien Papich has already perfected her balcony design, she eagerly awaits the arrival of summer and the prospect of new garden designs. Best of all, at Jane Mander Village, maintenance and other chores are taken care of, meaning Vivien has more time to spend those foggy summer days doing what she loves most.

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