If Gilly and Fraser Brodie are trying to keep their green fingers under cover, then their home’s frontage is a key player in the subterfuge.
From the roadside, only two plant pots flanking the front door give any indication that green things grow at this Tauranga address. It’s in sharp contrast to what’s behind the fences of this property with its Italianate house.
“The public entry to all of our homes has invariably been on the southern side so no one has any idea what the northern aspect offers in terms of garden. There’s very much an element of surprise,” says Fraser.
The unexpected delights are pure Mediterranean: concrete ponds, one with a lion-head water feature and others with an interconnecting rill; a grapevine-clad gazebo; and an abundance of formal hedging.
* A Tauranga home that celebrates the ’70s
* An abundant Tauranga garden filled with birds, bees and plants
* A perfectly bespoke Tauranga family home
There are cypress and olive trees, red geraniums in terracotta pots atop pillars, kumquat trees with their orange bursts of colour and potager gardens laden with vegetables and herbs… perfect for adding pizzazz to pasta – Fraser loves to cook and Gilly enjoys making pesto and kasundi tomato relish.
Gilly and Fraser have called their garden Piccola Lante. It’s their adaptation of Villa Lante, a “most lovely” Italian garden of the Renaissance period.
Their specific garden idea germinated from a book dedicated to the photographic history of gardens, while the general Italian theme was one they had already played around with in a previous garden.
“We knew that an Italian theme was what would suit us best here. We wanted less of the free-flowing and more of the structured, and less of the ongoing work too,” says Gilly.
Their new suburban site offered a clean slate to work with; it abuts a public reserve with towering trees, which provided an established backdrop. Gilly has since scaled the fence to plant masses of bluebells, as well as wildflowers and swan plants to encourage birds, bees and butterflies, and to delight the humans who use the reserve.
Fraser sketched his ideas for the property, then the couple travelled to Italy to look at gardens. “We came back, didn’t change a thing and couldn’t wait to get going,” Gilly grins.
Fraser, who has an engineering background, transported their plans from paper to reality. Developing terraced areas was an early task.
The home’s main living areas open to the garden’s top terrace where a lion-head fountain spills into a lily pond; the tropical lily Fraser bought Gilly for Christmas is a firm favourite here.
The blue-flowering pontederia thrives in the water alongside the lilies and bog irises while kumquats, lavender and petunias enjoy the surrounding terra firma. Gilly likes the touches of blue in her garden and swaps out the petunias with pansies in winter.
Alongside, a weathered garden shed is smothered in Virginia creeper and a grapevine, with hollyhocks adding to the vintage appeal. The Virginia creeper attires itself in orange and red in autumn while a gleditsia tree drops a carpet of yellow.
A shallow channel or rill starts its journey on this top level, travelling from pond to pond. Concrete stairs flank this descending water feature, which has delighted Fraser and Gilly’s grandchildren over the years. It was a perfect pool for the Barbie dolls, while the downhill rill was great for racing sticks.
Fraser points out the cracked plant pots in this area with their standardised red camellias, and the less-than-perfect concrete.
“The pots have travelled with us from other gardens and are about 30 years old. They’re cracked and we’re not changing them as they look old and original, and that suits the Italian look. I deliberately cracked the concrete tiles underfoot in this area to add to the authenticity,” he explains.
Beyond this, their stone pine tree, “with its beautiful bark”, yields pine nuts and on the garden’s third level are the edible flower beds and a picking garden which includes roses. Fraser also created a gazebo, now wreathed in a Black Hamburg grapevine, which is a lovely spot for an evening meal.
Gilly’s creativity also shines here. She’s a photographer with a fine art printing business and one of her images of a Venetian landscape fills the back wall of the gazebo. Fraser has framed it to give the sense of looking through a window at a magnificent view.
The bird’s-eye view of this Mediterranean garden and its surrounds must also be pleasing.
“We call our garden Highway 56 – our street number – as we are often bombarded by racing tūī, have wood pigeons hurtling through the trees, squadrons of sparrows and waxeyes and a couple of bandits of mynahs passing by, and cacophonic rosellas too,” Fraser says.
Racing pigeons from next door also enjoy daily circuits over the property and the neighbouring reserve. “In the late evening they look incredible as they light up against the glow of the sun,” Gilly says. “It’s just magical.”