A single tree stood in the yard when David moved into his Kāinga Ora home 25 years ago.

“Everywhere else was just grass,” he says.

But it didn’t stay that way for long. Using only hand tools and the guidance of “a few good books”, over the decades he transformed that lawn into a paradise of native trees and palms, upcycled ornaments and birdsong.

And it’s in those details you’ll find the secret to creating a sanctuary of your own – and how to do it on a budget, he says.

“With this garden, I got a lot of bright ideas because I don’t have a lot of money. So you put your thinking cap on.”

“I like attracting wildlife with some of the plants I have in my garden – the palms are all self-sown because birds are attracted to plants with red berries.”

So planting red-fruiting plants brought the birds, which eat the seeds and, well, “they’ve got to do their business somewhere,” David says.

“I get seedlings pop up all over the place.”

And if he doesn’t need those seedlings himself, they’re still an opportunity. At times, David has donated seedlings to a teacher friend whose schoolchildren have been able to sell them at a fundraiser. Otherwise, he’ll trade them with friends and neighbours, and everyone gets something they’ve been looking for.

“It’s all about being people-friendly and talking to your neighbours … it costs you nothing to be kind and give,” he says.

David estimates his garden is now home to 50 or 60 different species, and hundreds of individual plants and trees. Palms, succulents and natives are mostly what he goes for as they do well in his local environment – another of David’s tips.

“You’ve got to know what your weather does – how the wind blows, what gets wet when it rains and what doesn’t … a little bit of knowledge goes a long way.”

And with another friend occasionally supplying free mulch and a few good hand tools looked after over three or four decades, the cost to create his oasis was minimal.

So when he won the top award in this year’s Great Gardens of Kāinga Ora competition and was awarded a $250 Give a Garden gift card, he knew he could make it go far. But what did he have in mind for his first purchase?

“Chilli plants and pumpkin seeds,” he says.

They’ll join the tomatoes, beans, zucchini, gem squash and strawberries in his veggie patch.


Supreme garden – David, Greenlane, Auckland
We were thoroughly impressed with how David managed to create such a beautiful and lush oasis of wonderful trees, shrubs and plants. Fellow Kāinga Ora customer Darryn says David’s garden is a stand-out in their neighbourhood.

Best small space – Mark, Grey Lynn, Auckland
We were completely blown away by how Mark transformed a small outdoor area at his apartment complex into a lush paradise. Mark sits proudly in his garden of shrubs, succulents and other plants; we would too if we’d achieved such a feat!

Best edible garden – Gaylene, Christchurch
Gaylene was nominated by her son Zane as he wanted to recognise the hard work she’s put into her garden. Having only lived in her current home for three years, she’s turned a minimal yard into a lush garden full of summer stone fruits, berries, seasonal vegetables and gorgeous florals.

Best Junior Gardener – Taylor, Taupo
Young Taylor is just 10 years old and managed to create this impressive edible garden, which has been supplying a stream of vegetables for the family table.

Best community gardener – Leana, Palmerston North
We featured Leana’s story in our Spring issue of Close to Home, and with good reason – we’ve awarded her the best community gardener award. Not only is she passionate about growing and gathering kai, but she also contributes her knowledge to help others. Among those she’s helped are fellow Kāinga Ora customers at the Palmerston North community centre, where she educates about planting, growing and harvesting.

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Page updated: 6 December 2023