The Eastern Bays Sustainable Garden  Trail 2024

Sustainable gardens of surprise and delight

                     — story and photos by Jan Power


The Eastern Bays Sustainable Garden Trail, held on the weekend of February 24 - 25, was an inspirational event offering beauty, clever design, and a treasure-trove of good ideas and valuable information to the hundreds of garden enthusiasts who came to see as many of the nine gardens as possible.

 Sustainable gardens work with nature to maximise the output and health of the garden whilst minimising negative environmental impacts. The gardens aim to be regenerative, adding more back into the gardens than taking, for example,: building deep sponge soil and soil life; planting trees and shrubs which feed the birds and soak up rain from extreme weather events; allowing a wild area or making bug hotels for bees and butterflies and other insects; recycling materials through composting or building with Urbanite(recycled concrete) and other discarded materials rescued from going into landfill. They always have two or more purposes, as do all the gardens that were part of the trail.

1. Amanda Warren’s Wadhamville Garden for Wellbeing

Vale Rd, St Heliers


St Heliers resident Amanda Warren organised the event after being inspired by the Taranaki Garden Festival. Her own garden, which she describes as a “city lifestyle block” has been emerging over 20 years to be an inspirational example of what a sustainable garden can be. It is a garden of surprises, not least about what can be done on a difficult section that has a relatively small flat area at the front and a steepish hill at the back.


Amanda and husband Tim arrived from England 20 years ago, imbued with the ambition to become Antipodean versions of Tom and Barbara Good in the UK television series The Good Life.  They bought one of three single-level art deco apartments in Vale Rd and realised that instead of needing a five-acre life-style block they could create a sustainable garden on a much smaller piece of land. They eventually bought the whole block and, using regenerative design and sustainable garden techniques, Amanda has made every square centimeter of land highly productive. It’s The Good Life, all right — on a mere quarter-acre just two minutes’ walk from St Heliers Bay Village!


Amanda has designed the garden into zones, each one with its own surprises and delights. Zone one is a narrow strip inside the high front fence, Somehow, this compact  zone hosts an “easy-reach” garden for herbs and salad greens, a fish pond with gold fish for beauty and mosquito control (they eat eggs and larvae), a tortoise garden, where gorgeous little Hermann tortoises dining  daintily  on hibiscus flowers and  cucumber slices, a greenhouse for raising seedlings, a wooden-topped seat above a rock-filled wire cage to nurture lizards, and, at either end, a  “food forest” of bananas, peaches, lemons, feijoas, a coffee plant and an avocado now producing well, having been grown from seed by Tim on the couple’s arrival 20 years ago.


Round the corner to the back of the house and there’s a tranquil decked area where Tim and Amanda can sit and view the terraced gardens extending up the hill. An elegant Flow form series of concrete bowls, designed by Rudolf Steiner and crafted by New Zealand’s own Ian Trousdell of Napier ( energises water to the equivalent of 30 metres of mountain stream (10 metres of stream per 1m of flow form). Next is another water feature and another surprise — Amanda’s solar-heated outdoor bath, on a paved patio nestled among ferns and flowers. It’s no surprise to learn that the after-bath water is used to water the garden — a sustainable alternative to a hot tub or spa!


It’s a steep climb up a winding path to the other terraces. Zone 2 is the “Guinea Pig lawn”, where five rescue guinea pigs make a first-class lawn-mowing team, since their favourite food is kikuyu grass.  Who knew that kikuyu had a use? This terrace is also home to beehives, supplying honey, wax and pollination.


There’s a Bath Terrace Moon Garden, with more solar-heated water and scented flowers to attract moths). Then up more stair to the Vege Terraces. These terraces, with raised beds, grow much of Amanda and Tim’s food. These are managed using the Ruth Stout method explained in her book, Gardening without Work. This is the basis of no-dig gardening, which virtually all of the Trail’s sustainable gardens use, and which have inspired me to find out how it’s done and try it at home!  One clue lies in the hay bales placed at intervals. They make handy seats, but the hay is destined to be an important component as mulch in the no-dig garden, along with compost.


Also, essential - and another surprise (to me, at least is Comfrey, tea, which Amanda uses a lot of, Its large leaves, steeped in water, make a highly nutritious food for the soil life and plants, especially rich in potassium and other minerals, including calcium pulled up by their very deep tap roots. This means it is particularly good for flowering and fruiting plants. Indeed, Monty Don, of BBC/UK’s Gardeners’ World, only uses this free, home-made fertiliser in his garden!


At the top of the garden, Zone 3 is transitioning from a traditional lawn to an orchard and eventually a food forest. This terrace is home to one more surprise — the hen house, HQ for a group of very unusual-looking Chinese silkie bantams. On top of the world, they roam free eating bugs and laying eggs. The good life indeed!

Photo captions

1. Amanda Warren in her garden

2. Tortoise nibbles hibiscus flower

3. Flowform water feature

4. Outdoor bath with solar-heated water

5. Chinese silky bantam

2. Pourewa Māra Kai, Nursery and Rongoa

Pourewa Reserve, Kupe Street, Ōrākei


This multi-faceted jewel of a garden on Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei’s whenua keeps going from strength to strength. I was privileged to attend the māra kai’s formal opening in 2019, and on each subsequent visit, there have been new projects to admire and new techniques and wisdom that the leaders and workers are happy to share.

The Māra Rongoa (medicinal garden) is half complete, with the balance of the planting of the medicinal plants to be carried out with volunteer days in June or July of this year. Interpretive signage will follow.

For the Sustainable Garden Trail, there were four main presentations: 1. an update of the latest achievements and plans followed by a tour of the māra with designer Rob Small; 2. an introduction to the māra’s organic innovations by Jude Simpson; 3. a demo of super-composting by “compostologist” Maurice Faiers; 4. a new product, Ōrākei Gold premium quality honey.

Māra kai designer Rob Small updated visitors on recent additions to the garden’s journey towards total sustainability. He spoke of the addition of photovoltaic cells on the roof and using the roof’s water runoff for soil irrigation. “We now have 50 beehives and our own honey for sale,” Rob announced, displaying jars of golden honey.

There is a push to encourage māra kai workers to qualify for a Trade Certificate of Agriculture. And with his community hat on, Rob spoke of the iwi’s ambition to transition its people “from fast food to slow food”. To that end, community leaders had managed to thwart a commercial operation wanting to set up a fast-food business across the road from the māra. “We want to organise cooking demonstrations to show people it’s quicker to cook a healthy stir-fry than to go up the road for fast food,” Rob told visitors. 


Jude Simpson is the māra kai’s organic gardening and composting advisor. She took a group of us down to the garden to see some of the organic practices she’s introduced. Since my previous visit, net covers have been installed over the vege beds. They’re to keep out the pukeko that used to stride around the māra like they owned it, pulling out plants just for the fun of it. “pukeko were the bane of our lives,” Jude says.

Organic practices Jude has introduced include adding all the food scraps to the compost, steeping carrot tops in water that is later added to mulch, companion planting (e.g. zucchini with lettuce), and non-companion planting (don’t plant alliums with beans or peas). Plant herbs and marigolds for pest control; lay pellets of sheep wool around plants to enhance nutrition; use sheep “dag mats” for weed control;  plant nasturtiums to trap aphids.


Having said that, Jude maintains there is very little pest damage if plants are healthy. “Feed the soil, not the plants” is her mantra. She advocates using lots of compost and mulch enriched by her special “teas” made with comfrey and, separately, stinging nettles. Jude says comfrey is a “magic plant” ; there’s a big blue drum labelled “Comfrey tea”. She’s also a fan of the compost aerator she bought cheaply at Bunnings, using it to add a bit of lime to the compost once a week. Poisons and sprays are not used and not needed at the māra. For example, to get rid of slugs, just leave a piece of wood in the garden overnight. Turn it over in the morning and the slugs will be lying there ready to be fed to birds. Finally, use all that good mulch and compost to plant your veges in mounds; it’s easier to garden and good for drainage, Jude advises.


 “Compostologist” Maurice Faiers (his name is courtesy of his French father, he explains in an entertaining introduction), oversees two seriously grunty revolving compost machines. “Waste management is the kaupapa for our iwi and our staff,” he says, and to that end he prides himself that he can turn any organic material into nutritious compost — even the dreaded kikuyu grass. Before the māra got the composters, kikuyu had to be sequestered in black plastic rubbish bags and left outside for months to be de-activated by the sun. This process can be achieved in just hours because of the 60-degree C - plus temperature at which the composters operate. Maurice proudly opens the viewing window to show a kikuyu weed reduced to a shadow of its former self.


Beekeepers Levi Makoare and Ephraim Morgan proudly show their Ōrākei Gold Honey for sale now that their enterprise conforms with MPI (Ministry for Primary Industries) food safety standards. Levi joined the māra kai in 2017 when it began establishing its bees and hives; Ephraim joined the following year.

They also designed the eye-catching label, which states their honey is “100% natural, 100% native, 100% hearty.” It’s also 100% delicious, as I can testify.

Photo captions:

1.  Rob Small looks pleased with the bean crop

2.  Organic gardening advisor Jude Simpson

3.  Mounded garden beds and “magic” comfrey tea

4.  Pukeko-proof nets cover garden beds

5.  Compostologist Maurice Faiers

6.  “Our own honey” 

7.  Bee keepers Ephraim Morgan (left) and Levi Makoare

3. Tamaki Urban Market Garden

Elstree Avenue, Glen Innes


Talk about a surprise! This was a perfect example of a “hidden treasure” garden.

Its street address was a neat but unremarkable family doctor's clinic.  But walk down the side path and — Surprise! At the back, a gently sloping garden — 130 square metres — packed with vegetables and fruit, including a banana tree boasting a huge bunch. The generous doctors have made the space available free of charge since 2021 to Tamaki Urban Market Garden (TUMG).


Two food farmers — Britta Hamill and Dani Spoeth — are each paid for 10 hours of work a week to produce as much food as possible. Many Friends of the Garden also hold working bees on Mondays from 5-7 pm and on working bee weekends. Customers can sign up for a $20 weekly box of vegetables or a smaller box of salad greens for a full 12-week growing season. This commitment provides the farmers with much-needed income security and reduces administration. Vegetables are also given away through doctor’s surgery, local kindergartens, and schools.


The philosophy behind paying the farmers is acknowledging their skilled work and development as growers and funders. Britta and Dani use regenerative methods, which means putting living systems first. No pesticides or fertilisers are used; there’s no tilling, only developing healthy, diverse ecosystems. They are happy to share their knowledge with volunteers who turn up for working bees.


On the Saturday of the Sustainable Garden Trail, TUMG volunteer Naomi Roberts was stationed under a shady tree cooking delicious vege fritters — using chopped courgettes, leeks, and green peppers in a batter of Bhana vegan flour — to serve to visitors. The visitors could buy a tamarillo seedling to plant at home. They were also encouraged to sign up for WRAP - Waste Reduction Action Programme.


Photo Captions:

1.TUMG farmers Britta Hamill (left) and Dani Spoeth in front of their sustainable  garden

2.TUMG friend and volunteer Naomi Roberts cooks vege fritters for visitors to sample

3. The garden established in the backyard of a Glen Innes family doctors clinic

4. St Johns Food Forest

Ellen Eskildsen, Anson Place, St Johns


Ellen Eskildsen’s large (1400 sq metre) section at the end of a cul-de-sac was a big lawn when her family moved in 12 years ago. Now, every available bit of land has been put to productive use. There’s a variety of vegetables and fruit, including a grape vine draped over a pergola, a large fig tree, and the ubiquitous banana tree. Who knew how easy it is to grow bananas in Auckland?


 A stack of beehives and a “hen party” of six brown hens (the maximum allowed in a suburban garden under Auckland Council’s by-laws) peck happily in their free-range enclosure. Their eggs feed the family, including Ellen’s husband and two teenage boys and lucky neighbours. Food can be traded, bartered or given away. A shallow bowl of water is a resource for birds, bees and butterflies. Ornamental geraniums look pretty and have a dual purpose — their scented leaves can be crushed and used as a mosquito repellent.


Ellen says soil preparation is key. She follows permaculture principles, using lots of compost and mulching.  Comfrey also plays an essential role in making tea to nourish plants and people.


Photo captions:

1. Ellen Eskildsen in her St Johns “food forest”

2. Visitor Ari (2 years 10 months) prepares to feed the hens

5. Native Garden

Julie and Tony Graham, Melanesia Rd, St Heliers

There’s not a lettuce or a tomato to be seen at the Native Garden in Melanesia Rd, St Heliers. It’s purely native — another surprise, hidden around the back of a house with a neat but conventional front garden. Walk down the side path and you are surrounded by a high green wall of native trees enclosing yet more tiers of trees  to make  a magic haven. A rock-edged area features a group of Nikau and other ferns and grasses. It’s green on green, and it’s noticeably cool — especially welcomed and remarked upon by visitors on the Saturday, which was a very warm summer’s day.


The garden is the fulfilment of owners Julie and Tony Graham’s dream of looking out on a landscape of “timeless Aotearoa”.  In  just a few short years they have achieved that by removing invasive exotics and replacing them with natives. These included a number of mature trees that were  lifted into place, including Titoki, Kahikatea, Lancewood/Horoeka and Nikau. There’s lots of food in this garden, but it’s for native birds, not people, though there is some Rongoa (Māori medicine planting) such as kawakawa. Tūī and Kererū play in the trees by day, and there’s a resident Ruru, whose haunting “Morepork” call is heard at night. At the bottom of the garden, a tributary runs into Madills Park Stream, where restoration work is improving the water quality for inanga and other native species.


Photo captions

1. Julie and Tony Graham’s garden (photo credit Amanda Warren)

2. A visitor admires a central grove of Nikau, ferns and grasses

3. Ponga ferns epitomise coolness

6. Retirement Eden - Anne Carpenter’s cottage at Bupa Retirement Village, Gerard Way, Remuera


Anne Carpenter’s cottage is almost invisible behind a gorgeous profusion of brightly-coloured flowers. A retired professional photographer, Anne (81) has an eye for colour and beauty, and a love of birds and butterflies. “Weeds?” she responds to my query. “I don’t have weeds — I over-plant so there’s no room for weeds.” There’s also no room for the village’s staff gardener; she’s been told to leave Anne to it.


Her front garden demonstrates Anne’s eye for colour and design, but most of the action happens in the small back garden. Over five years, Anne has created a haven for birds, both native and exotic. Anne has feeding stations for the birds to supplement the natural food sources of her shrubs and trees. There’s sugar water for two “resident Tūī” and dripping for Tauhou/Silvereyes. Blackbirds are on a fuss; they get bananas, apples, raisins and snails.  Anne has a special friend in Mr Blackbird, who visits every day, including on the garden trail weekend, where he is undeterred by a crowd of visitors.


Photo captions:

1. The front of Anne’s retirement village cottage is almost obscured by a profusion of flowers.

2. Anne puts out food for her special friend Mr Blackbird, perched expectantly on the fence near his feeding platform.

3. Mr Blackbird at his daily feast, undeterred by visitors.

7. The Gift

Ruth Donde’s garden, Silverton Avenue, Wai-o-Taiki Bay, Glen Innes


Ruth Donde’s sustainable gardening efforts have transformed a dead lawn into a vibrant space that nourishes plants and people.


Ruth’s imagination was sparked by visiting Amanda Warren’s garden in November 2021, and doing her workshop. Among the techniques she learnt was how to shape and add interest to her 500sq metre garden using hard landscaping.


So when she heard that a building site down the street wanted to off-load a lot of concrete, she acquired 18 tonnes of it. Broken into interesting pieces, they were placed on the lawn on top of a weed-suppressing layer of cardboard to form a gently rising front garden. Randomly shaped concrete pieces form a winding path which, when the gaps were filled with lots of leaf mulch, holds moisture. The spiral herb garden that is the focus of interest in the front garden has drought-tolerant herbs like sage at the top with those that need more water planted in the lower levels.


Round the back, there is a cornucopia of trees ranging from almonds to olives, a giant fig, along with tamarillos, mountain paw paw, lots of citrus, a grape vine along the deck —  and what I’m beginning to think is the obligatory banana tree showing off with a giant bunch of bananas. Who knew bananas can grow so prolifically in Auckland’s eastern bays?


At ground level there are blueberries, currants and lots of vegetables, along with a Wētä house made by Men’s Shed, and a fish pond. As in all the sustainable gardens, the hard work goes into establishing it at the beginning. After that, it’s a no-dig garden, with layers of straw, leaf litter, compost and all sorts of natural material added layer by layer. And, like all the other sustainable gardens, this one has lots of the wonder-plant, comfrey, with upper leaves used to make tea and lower leaves put into the compost.


If all this looks like a lot of heavy lifting for the petite Ruth, she didn’t do it alone. Her garden was the first “Gift” garden created with help from some of a previous trail’s gold coin donations. Amanda Warren gave advice and Olivia Bailey, of Lush Gardens, did a planting plan. Then, in an intensive effort over three days, 15 friends turned up to turn the plans into reality.


Photo captions:

1.Ruth Donde in her “Gift” garden, its footprint established over a three-day working bee by 15 friends and 18 tonnes of concrete.

2.  Close-up of huge bunch of bananas.

3. Spiral herb garden shaped with pieces of broken concrete

8. Nourishing tranquility

Penny Stevens, Riddell Rd, Glendowie


Penny Stevens’ garden is another back-yard revelation. It’s large and gently sloping — a desirable site for subdivision, one might think. But Penny and her husband Lee were never tempted. They loved the garden from when they bought the property in July, 2018, It was already planted with mature trees, including  a bay tree, kõwhai, bottlebrush, large old feijoa, camellias and citrus trees.


Penny did Amanda Warren’s sustainable gardening workshop in November the same year, and the couple decided to turn the back yard into an even more beautiful and sustainable place. Amanda came over and connected with the garden over afternoon tea under the regal spreading branches of the ash tree.


Then, in 2022, Lee became ill, and sub-dividing became even more unthinkable. He loved to sit in the garden and enjoy the sun, the trees and flowers, and the birds. The couple’s priority became making their garden into a garden of tranquillity.   Unfortunately, Lee died in October 2022, before the garden transformation could happen, but Penny told him: “I’m going to complete the garden just like we talked about.” Lee said: “Go for it!”, Penny remembers. “That’s why his presence is here.”


Amanda decided to make the Stevens’ garden another “gift the garden” project. There was a lot of planning and preparation and then, in July 2023 - Lee’s birthday month -  the big push happened. Over three days, 30  assorted friends and “gift the garden” volunteers put in a huge amount of work to transform the garden, adding many special features.


Now it is both a garden of tranquillity and a memorial to Lee. The giant ash tree’s presence is emphasised by a surrounding bed of colourful flowers inside a circle of smooth river stones. River stones also define the edge of a wide, sweeping perimeter bed with extensive planting of beautiful shrubs, fruit trees and flowers.


In a sunny spot a solar-powered bird bath playfully spouts a plume of water that goes higher as the sun shines brighter. There’s a wooden “tranquillity triangle” that relieves stress for anyone lying on the grass inside it. There are moon gates, including one in the corner over Lee’s favourite garden seat. There’s a wooden planter pyramid of veges and herbs in addition to a raised vege garden, bales of hay for sitting on or adding to the no-dig garden, and an octagonal glass house for raising seedlings. And yes, there are four banana trees!  The beautiful garden scene even co-opts a majestic oak tree in a neighbour’s garden but leans over the fence to enhance Penny’s garden more than its own.


How does Penny now feel about her tranquillity garden? “I just love it,” she says. It’s my happy place, and I connect to Lee here.”


Over the Sustainable Garden Trail weekend, 106 adults and six children visited. “Everyone enjoyed it, asked questions and complimented me,” Penny said. “I can’t tell you what that did for me in Lee’s memory. It’s given me a new focus.”


Photo captions

1. Penny in front of the wooden pyramid vege garden and (right) the octagonal greenhouse

2. Tranquility triangle with a solar-powered bird  bath in the lower right corner

3. The regal ash tree , centrepiece of the garden

9. Flowers from Felix - Purewa Cemetery

100/102 St Johns Rd, Meadowbank


This community garden in E Block, Purewa Cemetery, began after Miriama Toms’ 16-year-old son Felix was buried there in 2019.  To help ease her grief, Miriama started planting cottage garden flowers around the grave. Miriama’s mother and friends help with planting, as do volunteers and community groups, including Hobson Brownies. The Purewa Cemetery Trust and the owners of Sunhill Garden Centre give plants and help with some other expenses. As flowers mature and shed seeds, Miriama collects them — flowers from Felix — and gives them away in envelopes, sometimes even posting them to more distant supporters.


The garden is sustainable because it helps sequester carbon from the atmosphere and is a haven for wildlife, including bees and a pair of plovers, who nest in one of the plots. Visitors are welcome to harvest some seeds.


Photo caption:

1. Felix Jack Murray’s flower-covered grave at Purewa Cemetery.

2. Bees love the cottage garden flowers.