Pool plans that sparked a landscape renovation for this hilltop Napier garden

The desire for a pool inspired a landscape renovation for this breathtaking hilltop garden in Napier.

As cruise ships glide by or the weather rolls in, this garden high on the Bay View hills of Napier has become a property now befitting its location. But it wasn’t always like that. When Bruce and Kristin Speers bought the home from the original owners in 2014, the original landscaping was, as Bruce described it, “really quite grey” – limited to a concrete wraparound deck, paving slabs and stones. It didn’t quite do the place justice.”

The couple wanted a property that not only suited the way they live and entertain but that complemented the enthralling view, which stretches from Māhia Peninsula across to Cape Kidnappers.

Large pivoting doors open the pool house to the terrace while the edge of the infinity pool visually blends with the waters of Hawke’s Bay, making the most of the magnificent view; Dichondra ‘Emerald Falls’ edges the limestone steps while queen palms are surrounded by the bronze-leafed Canna ‘Tropicanna’, feathery Acacia ‘Limelight’, bird of paradise and agave.

Four years after moving in, the couple embarked on a major relandscaping project. Transforming their outdoor space was highly motivated by the desire for a pool and pool house for entertaining. They began working with Julian Davis of Davcon Construction.

“Julian was our absolute guru and overall project manager throughout this entire project. He was kind of like the sun who pulled all the necessary planets into orbit,” says Kristin.

The house’s original architectural designer, Don Pitt, drew up the concepts for the pool house and the main landscape features such as the entrance, water feature, boardwalk and firepit. Landscape architect Willie Murphy of Pollen Workshop came on board to tackle the hard landscaping and specify plants, while Guy Morris of GB Morris Landscaping did the planting and now maintains the garden.

Bruce and Kristin’s garden wish list included tropical plants in the pool area and an alpine feel for the main entrance. The brief also included incorporating corten steel, which the couple love, as a feature material. It now wraps around the fireplace, forms planter boxes and appears on negative details on the steps.

To allow access for heavy machinery, the entrance and courtyard were completely trashed. Once the heavy work had been done, the spaces were revived. The result is enchanting, with new landscaping features that are eye-catching but don’t compete with the view.

The new entrance includes a boardwalk flanked by flaxes and limestone stepping stones which appear to float over a pond; the circular piwakawaka artwork at the end was reinstated to the same spot after the renovation and holds special significance to Bruce whose childhood home was called Piwakawaka Farm.

Multilevel spaces cater for a variety of occasions and weather conditions and include sunloungers, a dining deck, the pool and spa, and a sunken firepit which is sheltered from cool breezes and is naturally about 5C warmer than the higher areas, says Kristin.

Beside the swimming pool in Bruce and Kristin’s Napier garden, sago palms are interspersed with intriguing oversized globes which are, in fact, Slide lights from Poynters – Kristin was keen on good mood lighting for this area so was delighted to find them; the new pool house sits to the left of the pool.

The courtyard delivers on the promise of a top entertaining space. The couple use it mostly in spring and autumn, when the sun isn’t too fierce, and there’s an excuse to fire up the magnificent fireplace that doubles as an Argentinian barbecue. Located on the western side of the house, it’s the perfect escape from cool easterly breezes and comes with a bonus – an alternative inland view towards Tangoio Bluff.

The pool house was a key part of the project and now functions as an outdoor kitchen and living area with a gas fire, large-screen television, integrated fridges and drinks drawers. But most loved, by Bruce in particular, is the large inbuilt Wolf barbecue.

Allowing an outdoor gas barbecue to be used indoors was a design challenge. Bruce’s ingenuity saw him devise a clever solenoid system, meaning the barbecue can ignite only if the row of pivoting pool house doors are fully open.

Outside the pool house are several spaces for guests to dwell. There’s the heated pool with its inbuilt spa. Or the poolside deck chairs and bar leaner where people can relax and soak in the sun and views. An ideal afternoon spot is the firepit: a built-in seating area sunk below ground level with a central glass-encased fire.

Materials were sourced from around the globe.“We just about feel like we have our own little slice of Europe,” says Kristin, referencing the Italian pool tiles, French limestone paving and Belgian kitchen cabinetry.

A sheltered west-facing courtyard, tucked around this corner, features a fireplace that doubles as a barbecue; a neighbour recently felled large gum trees, fortuitously opening up a new view of Tangoio Bluff.

The tropical planting brief was met with towering queen palms, agave, bird of paradise, sago palms, bromeliads, Canna ‘Tropicanna’ and gardenias. Lush green Dichondra ‘Emerald Falls’ drips down the main steps to the pool and pool house, with Acacia ‘Limelight’ functioning as textural ground cover.

Complementing the tropical plants are masses of natives, dense and bushy in some areas, structured and manicured in others. The use of natives means the property is rich with native bird and bug life.

Between the home and a lower paddock full of grazing alpacas, a retained bank is filled with well-established natives that draw a plethora of tūī, tīeke (saddlebacks) and pīwakawaka (fantails), as well as some endangered native insects like wētā.

The front entrance is another native plant-filled area. To fit the alpine brief, hundreds of big and small river rocks were reused from the original landscaping. The largest of them were lifted and put aside so they weren’t wrecked during the renovation. “When the large rocks were put back into their new positions, a crane was hired. They were weighed as we went, with the largest being 1.8 tonnes,” says Kristin.

The rocks rise majestically from mass plantings of flaxes and lomandra. Small rocks are submerged in a pond where limestone pavers appear to float on the water and act as stepping stones to the front door.

The project, from start to finish, took just over a year, finishing in early 2020. Lockdown scuppered Bruce and Kristin’s plans to celebrate the completion. “We had a huge party for friends and the contractors planned. We had caterers hired for nearly 100 people. The famous pool party that never was is still talked about,” laughs Kristin.

This couple wanted a property that not only suited the way they live and entertain but which complemented their views of Hawke’s Bay and beyond.

Q&A with Kristin Speers

Most significant plant in the garden: We had to trash the place a little bit at the start of this relandscaping process – but we asked that the dragon tree and kōwhai be preserved.

Favourite new plant: The sago palms by the pool and in the courtyard, and the Dichondra ‘Emerald Falls’ to either side of the steps down to the pool area.

Favourite plant combination: The layered look of the front garden with the flaxes and grasses at the lower level, and the double-layered hedge of corokia and griselinia around the periphery.

Plants that grow well here: Everything – our gardening experts knew where to place things so that they would thrive. We are lucky in that the creators of our garden have stayed on to do the maintenance.

Climate: The temperature ranges from 0C (or occasionally a bit less) overnight in winter to 35C during the day at the height of summer. We are in a very high wind zone. Frosts are rare.

Time spent outside: Quite a lot of time is spent in and around the pool in the summer, and we do a lot of entertaining.

Watering the garden: We have an automated irrigation system that we can control from our phones.

Favourite season: Summer – because we have a pool.

Many tropical-style plants wouldn’t survive the exposed conditions of this hilltop site, so the ones used to soften the hard landscaping on the property were carefully chosen; materials include timber decking and French limestone pavers which took several months to arrive from France.

Living through the garden renovation was chaotic but worth it: “While the project seemed long, and slow at times, we couldn’t speak more highly of the team we had onboard to see it through to the end,” says Kristin.

Landscape design by Pollen Workshop.

Photography by Hazel Redmond.