Urban Flora's Backyard Sanctuary (2024)

In this month’s landscaper profile, we chat with award-winning landscape designer Crystal Connell-Nash from Urban Flora Garden Design.

Urban Flora's Backyard Sanctuary (1)

How did you get started in landscape and garden design?

Landscape design is a second career for me. I actually started out as a corporate recruiter, which couldn’t be more different. I took a break when I had kids and found myself in the garden. Which makes sense as I come from a green-fingered family and my mum in particular is one of the best gardeners I know. When people started complimenting my garden and asking me to help them with their gardens I thought perhaps it was time for a new career path so I headed to Unitec to retrain in Landscape Design.

Urban Flora's Backyard Sanctuary (2)


Urban Flora's Backyard Sanctuary (3)


You recently completed a makeover of a backyard garden in Devonport. Tell us a bit about this project - what was the brief?

Anna and her family wanted to transform the shady underused corner of lawn in their backyard into a lush subtropical courtyard where they could enjoy a private spa and sit in the evenings. It had to tie in with their existing landscaping, be well-connected to the house and look pretty when viewed from above.

Urban Flora's Backyard Sanctuary (4)Urban Flora's Backyard Sanctuary (5)

Views of the existing site

Crystal’s proposed design in a 3D render

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The completed project

I wanted to create a little sanctuary that felt enclosed and intimate. This is achieved by using a pergola over the spa and a low wall that wraps around the space. The built-in seating provides the perfect spot for a fire pit which Anna tells me is well-used, as is the spa.

“Designer Crystal from Urban Flora completely transformed our very boring piece of lawn into something so usable, and aesthetically pleasing, and low maintenance which was a prerequisite! We now spend so much time outside as a result." - Anna.

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Spa placement is important as generally the further away it is from the house the less likely it will be used. Using plants with big glossy leaves and squeezing in lots of layers of planting adds to the lush subtropical feel.

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On this project, you collaborated with Zones Landscaping and the team at Bigfoot Landscapes. How does that process work and what are the benefits of working with others? Any challenges?

Once a design is finished I generally help clients engage a landscape contractor to install the project. In this case, it was Matt & Boyd Gillespie from Zones Landscaping who oversaw the project and the team at Bigfoot Landscapes installed it.

Urban Flora's Backyard Sanctuary (9)

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I normally step back when the work is underway, but I'm always on hand if needed. There are often things that arise such as certain plants or materials that are unavailable and need to be substituted, so it's helpful if the designer and contractor communicate throughout the process to make sure the client gets the best outcome possible. Working with multiple contractors is great as there are always various solutions to any issue that might arise, and I always learn something new!

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We stock a range of garden and landscaping products at Central Landscapes - what materials and products do you enjoy working with and why?

I use a lot of ornamental gravels, particularly Waikato Fleck, either for pathways or mulch. It has a very pretty warm tone that's nice and subtle once it weathers. Jakmat is very handy for stabilising the gravel on areas that will be walked or even driven on.

And mulch is a must of course. A new garden doesn't look done until it's been mulched. It's the icing on the cake. I love black mulch on structured, classic or minimal gardens as it looks polished and high end. But I also really like the more natural look of Forest Floor or Arbor mulch, especially for native or less formal gardens, plus it's easier on your pocket.

What would be your advice to someone thinking about a landscape project - what do you need to know as a garden designer?

There are a few things that are really helpful for a designer. Firstly it's very helpful to have an idea of the budget. There's no point designing something that looks beautiful on paper but is too expensive to build. It's also important to get a really good grasp on the aesthetic you like. Have a look online at gardens and save some images to show your designer so they have a clear idea of the look you'd like to achieve.

Next, how will you use the garden? The more specific the brief the better. And finally, maintenance. A garden is only as good as the time you put into it, no matter how perfect the plan. Most people lead busy lives and want low-maintenance gardens, but what does that mean to you? Knowing how much time you are happy to invest in your garden will help your designer make the best choices to suit your lifestyle.

Crystal’s portfolio is indicative of her natural sense of spatial design, combined with a thorough knowledge of plants and hard landscaping materials.

Here is a selection of recent Urban Flora projects:

Urban Flora's Backyard Sanctuary (12)

Urban Flora's Backyard Sanctuary (13)
Urban Flora's Backyard Sanctuary (14)

Urban Flora's Backyard Sanctuary (2024)


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