Clare Buchanan | Creative Planner

Birkenhead, Auckland | February 2014

"My gardening philosophy is to keep trying new things and learning every season. See the beauty in nature’s careful chaos, don’t fuss too much." ....more words below images


Clare Buchanan Creative Planner | Birkenhead, Auckland | February 2014



When we bought our place the garden was very overgrown and filled with shrubs pressed up against our  house. We spent a year clearing, which was hard work and maintaining our vision was tough. Then finally we bought in the digger. We were surrounded by mud for weeks – but it helped us create a flat area at the back of the section for the vege garden (60m2), a retaining strip for the orchard, and some stairs to the front level where there’s also another big flat area for the kids to play that opens out to sloping bush.

We are perfectly north facing and there’s very little of the property site that doesn’t get a good dose of sun.  The garden is at the back in an elevated spot, protected by wind from retaining walls and the house itself to the east.

We have a ½ acre section, roughly half of which is bush. We have 6 raised beds (2.5m x1.4m each). We also have a small herb garden closer to the kitchen and an orchard of 10 fruit trees. Dotted around the front garden we also have 4 half-wine barrels with citrus.

We have clay soil! It’s dreadful! Hence the raised beds…we have worked very hard elsewhere to develop better soil health.

I try and ‘tinker’ an hour or two during the week, especially when the kids are playing outside after school. But the majority of the garden work is done on weekends. Sometimes I get a full day, but usually just a morning per weekend. I always have a list of things to do and seldom feel on top of it. But that’s just this phase of being a busy working Mum with quite a large garden. Planning my retirement…

I have very happy memories of being in my Grandfather’s garden, picking strawberries and snap peas. It was a real treat as we lived in an apartment in Hong Kong at the time, everything tasted so incredible in NZ. I always hoped I would have a garden when I had kids and feel so fortunate I do. I also feel especially fortunate that my Mum lives nearby. She’s a fantastic gardener, very knowledgable and has helped me learn so much. She has also shared numerous plants (from she and her friends) to help me fill in spots and develop the garden. Locally, Kay Baxter is amazing and such a source of knowledge. Abroad, garden designers Piet Oudolf (whose ‘Highline’ garden in NYC I adore) and Dan Pearson are favourites.



My friend Emma Johnston is a landscape architect and helped us position the garden and sort out the plan. We really needed her sound advice for the hard landscaping. Xanthe White helped us with some expert tips also. Beyond that, my husband and I have done the hard yards.

I usually garden alone, but my husband Heath is super helpful, willing and interested. The kids are good company but need to learn to pick not just the flowers but also the stems!

We always have plenty of tomatoes, tomatillos and cucumbers in summer. We make huge batches of tomato kasaundi as well as salsa (tomato and also tomatillo) which I use all winter. I also grow a range of chilis and peppers that thrive in the heat. We make home made bread and butter pickles which  my son Lucien loves. Coriander is a favourite and grows well, which is good for all our Mexican cooking. We have cavalo nero year round. I love beans and always plant too many…and citrus is very reliable.

Eggplants struggle to grow – for some reason I only get one or two. Carrots – people say they’re easy but not for me!

White fly is my number one pest. I’m still trying to figure out a way to deal with it!

Our biggest gardening chore is mowing the lawns. It is tedious – thankfully Heath does it usually. Weeding the orchard is not so much fun, hence I seldom do it and rely on the ajuga to spread. We also have a long driveway which is frequently (and presently) overcome with weeds.

I love the constant changes of the garden. The pride from growing things from seed and providing nourishing food for my family. The quiet solace and calm, thinking time when I’m outside in nature. I also love the physical aspect – going to bed a bit sore from a good days work.

Early morning in the garden is so beautiful, fresh dew about and seeing the sun first hit the leaves.

I love late spring – blossoms, bulbs, longer, warmer days - and having seedlings growing on the kitchen table, preparing for summer. And who can beat summer in full flight, with multiple meals cooked minutes from being picked from the garden?

My favourite tool is my Niwashi, without a doubt. I’m lost without it.

I work in a creative industry which revolves around aesthetics. Along with the time to myself, I relish the creative freedom in the garden. There’s no right or wrong. No one can say they don’t like this colour next to that colour. Ultimatetely, I get to do what I want and work with Mother Nature – and she is the world’s best designer.

My gardening philosophy is to keep trying new things and learning every season. See the beauty in nature’s careful chaos, don’t fuss too much.

My friends always love to go for a walk with a glass of wine and help me harvest or just chat as we look about. The raised beds are perfect little benches and when friends come over we often find ourselves perched there, chatting away.

My highest gardening moment so far is getting our first harvest of honey from our beehive, the same week as we picked our first plums. Knowing that our garden is a beautiful, natural collaboration between people, plants and insects.

My number one gardening tip? Don’t be afraid to let things go to seed! Bees love the flowers, keep the seed for yourself or friends and you might not need to replant next season…it’s lovely to see plants through the full cycle of life.