Natural Habitats is proud to announce that we have won an impressive 11 Awards in the 2016 Placemakers Riccarton Landscaping New Zealand awards – more awards and in more categories than any other landscaping company.

/projects/Brickworksentrancesmall.JPGIncluding winning the prestigious PGG Wrightson SPECIAL FEATURE OF THE YEAR, our team won three Gold Awards and seven Silver Awards for Landscape Design, Construction, Horticulture and Maintenance. That each project won awards for both design and construction is recognition of the complete value our Design and Build service model provides to our clients.

We’ve profiled the award winning landscapes in a series of blogs and would like to thank all our team involved in these projects as well as our clients who gave us the opportunity to design and build such fabulous gardens. First up is Bricklane – Brickworks (Lynn Mall Shopping Centre) which won one of the top awards - the PGG Wrightson SPECIAL FEATURE OF THE YEAR 2016 AWARD, as well as a Gold award for Landscape Design, and a Silver award for Landscape Construction. Congratulations go to Landscape Designer Lloyd Atherfold, and our Build Team – Nick Blandford and Phil Komene.




Landscape Success on Auckland Motorways

01 October 2013

As both motorists and landscape professionals we have a keen interest in understanding the facts that lead to some motorway landscape projects thriving, while others fail miserably. Those that have failed represent lost opportunities to improve motorway user experience, as well as millions of dollars of wasted tax payer money.

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After running a case study based on seven newer-style Auckland motorway projects we found three of the seven investigated projects failed (42%), due to insufficient coverage. Success was judged on canopy closure and therefore the sustainability of the plantings. Canopy closure minimises weed invasion, lowers maintenance need & cost and allows the planting, rather than weeds, to thrive.

When studying the seven sites we compared:

1. Date completed
2. Planting type
3. Health of planting
4. Soil type
5. Mulch
6. Weed invasion
7. Whether the landscape met with the NZTA base criteria for achieving practical completion, i.e. at least 80% cover

And we considered various contributing factors that may impact on project’s success:

1. Landscape designer / architect (all were ‘Landscape Architects”) and their plant selection
2. Plant supplier / grower
3. Soil / media placed on the job for plants to be planted into
4. Head contractor for the project
5. Landscape contractor

To our surprise, soil did not seem to be a factor of success or failure, as on all sites it was well below what a horticultural or NZTA spec requires. Only one project had the specified topsoil (and the plants are thriving). When topsoil is excluded, our study suggests the two variables that were common in the failures are: Head Contractor and their Installation Landscape Contractor.

The same landscape architects were involved in both successful and failed installations and the bulk of the plants came from the same major supplier.

We cannot comment on project management skills or corporate project philosophy, but do wonder if Head Contractors are forced, or force themselves, into only counting the immediate cost in a tender, rather than the whole life cost. Is this fixation on ‘cheapest is best’ helping to produce the cost of failure we all, as taxpayers, must now bear?

Head Contractors play a role in the success or failure. Their view on value and selection standards controls this, as does their landscape contractor selection and the finished planting standard of acceptance, (often against the NZTA standard).

The Landscape Contractor who installs the landscape seems to be the major variable in success / failure. The recent recession has certainly exaggerated the flight to cheap and the cheapest price cannot include adequate planting practices or maintenance.

Natural Habitats other observation is that NZTA standards are not followed or applied on the of failed projects by the Head Contractor or NZTA. For example, topsoil is not up to standard on most jobs and we suspect it is handled exactly like road aggregates, rather than a living thing. At least for roading aggregates, they have strict standards for supply, placement and performance and it’s tested. Topsoil is usually not. While most plants can survive this, better soil would allow them to flourish.

The 80% cover is often not attained yet this has been accepted. The failure of this standard allows shoddy practices to be accepted and places an unfair burden on the AMA or whoever must take it over, let alone the taxpayer who suffers the waste of money.

Even the ones that get to 80% cover – evolve. The initial “pioneer” plants are exactly that, pioneers. They establish, grow and die. In nature they would be replaced by the next stage of a forest’s development. In the highly modified, usually urban environment, the wild seed source is not available. Secondary planting is not planned or budgeted for, which allows weeds to establish.

Landscape is only ever a mere few percentage points of the total budget, yet it is the most visual experience on any motorway trip. Auckland is one of the world’s “weediest” cities and the result will be eventual loss to weed invasion.

At this point the older projects are almost assisted by less than optimal maintenance. “A stitch in time WILL save nine” in this case and must be programmed to be done, or a high monetary loss faced.

We suggest that given the laudable aspirations of NZTA for their projects and the need to consistently achieve even the basic landscape standards, there needs to be thought given to what is driving a 42% failure rate in this study. It represents millions of dollars of wasted money and countless more in lost opportunity.

Natural Habitats is New Zealand’s largest and leading integrated landscape company. They have been trusted to design, deliver and care for some of Australasia’s most iconic landscapes. In New Zealand, Natural Habitats are at the forefront of the movement towards green technology in architecture.

To find out more visit

Note: The seven projects included in the study were:

1. Manukau Harbour Crossing (successful)
2. Northern Busway (successful)
3. Victoria Park Tunnel (successful)
4. Central Motorway Junction (successful)
5. Grafton Gully to Stanley St (now failing)
6. SH 16 (much failing)
7. SH 1-20 (failing)

Author: Graham Cleary, Director of Natural Habitats

Young Landscaper of the Year groomed and pruned at Natural Habitats

23 September 2013

Blair Chicken, who has been part of the Natural Habitats team for five years, is thrilled to be named 2013 Young Landscaper of the Year.

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During a grueling one day face-off in Cromwell, where competitors were tested on their building,paving, profiling, pruning and plant knowledge, Blair came out in top position.

After completing a sports turf management apprenticeship West-Auckland Blair started at Natural Habitats as a digger driver, but soon developed his landscaping skills to progress further. Natural Habitats also supported Blair in completing his Horticulture and Landscape L4 Advanced Certificates.

"It has been a great experience entering Young Landscaper of the Year, getting to meet and network with all the industry leaders. Natural Habitats have been very supportive with entering Young Landscaper and Young Horticulture of the Year. They have put me through any extra courses needed and are always keen to help me develop my skills further. Natural Habitats provide a great range of work, so I can expand my experience to become a great landscaper,” said Blair Chicken.

Natural Habitats is 60 staff strong who provide the full landscape process from landscape architecture and creative design to a quality plant finish and ongoing garden care.

“We offer a great career path for those interested in growing their landscaping expertise and it’s really rewarding to see talent coming through that we help develop further,” said Darren Barrett, Landscape Site Manager. Darren also entered and won Young Landscaper of the Year in 2008 and encouraged Blair to enter this year.

With the challenge of Young Horticulturalist of the Year in November looming, Blair is currently focused on developing a winning innovative marketing presentation. Watch this space…

Growing Careers: Josephine Clarke

23 August 2013

Developers, Council and consultants understand the significance that Maori philosophies and processes have in our endeavours. We welcome Landscape Architect Josephine Clarke to the Natural Habitats team to strengthen this essential knowledge for our company and clients. Nau mai, Haere mai!

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3 years ago separate to her Landscape Architecture degree, Josephine began working on community restoration projects (e.g. project Twin Streams) and forming relationships with Ngāti Whātua ō Ōrakei. Directly advancing her own understanding of the processes of kaitikitanga for māori, within the urban environment. Josephine presented to the Waitakere City Council, community board and was short listed with her Landscape Concept plan for Pioneer Park (Henderson). 

/blog/jo1.jpgKo Whangatauatea te maunga, Ahipara.


2 years ago while continuing her Landscape Architecture degree, as part of a studio project along the Tamaki River; Josephine advocated knowledge gained through working with iwi and community to explore Māori philosophies in a tangible way. She took her approach to establish a relationship with Ngāi Tūhoe and their pan-tribal urban marae in Panmure, Auckland.  Not only did her design consider the wishes of Ngāi Tūhoe but also respected and reflected the mana whenua (Tainui, Ngāti Paoa, and Ngāti Whātua ō Ōrakei) acknowledging their connection to their whenua (land) by drawing upon her own cultural values. 

/blog/jo2.jpgTakaparawha , Ngāti Whātua ō Ōrakei.


1 year ago Josephine, as part of her undergraduate study, pursued a design research project titled “How to design with Cultural Integrity", exploring the relationship between Tikanga Māori (Māori philosophies) and Landscape Architecture, to further develop her professional methodology. Her main objective was to demystify the relationship between Māori (indigenous) and their environment, forming a kaupapa (philosophy) to initiate novel design. Josephine is also an active member of “The Roots: Creative Entrepreneurs” , a group of young graduate designers and artists, creating opportunities for Māori and Pacific youth through creative community projects, inspiring the next generation. Josephine believes strongly in the empowerment of indigenous young people through meaningful engagement and appropriate acknowledgement, and look to identify ways of integrating traditional indigenous knowledge to provide a deeper understanding of our environment.

/blog/jo4.jpgTeTira Hou Marae concept.



4 months ago Josephine provided significant contributions to the “IFLA50 (International Federation of Landscape Architecture) World Congress: Shared Wisdom in an Age of Change” by opening the pōwhiri (welcome ceremony), tutoring on the behalf of Unitec for the student design charrette: project “Whare waka” (a proposal for Ngāti Whātua ō Ōrakei at Okahu bay, Auckland), presented on the Indigenous Panel and published her paper: “How to design with Cultural Integrity”.

/blog/jo3.jpgHow we engage with people.


1 month ago Josephine joined the consultancy branch at Natural Habitats. As a Junior Landscape Architect , Josephine devotes her passion for strengthening an awareness of Tikanga Māori (Māori philosophies/processes) and Mātauranga Māori (traditional Māori knowledge) within the profession of Landscape Architecture. Complimentary to the full spectrum of integrated landscape services already provided at Natural Habitats, Josephine has the opportunity to develop these relationships between culture, ecology, people and community strengthening our Natural Habitat whanau.

Manaaki Whenua - Manaaki Tangata
(care for the land - care for the people)





Growing Careers: Den Aitken

16 August 2013

Our Second 'Growing Careers' installment features Landscape Architect Den Aitken and his academic approach...making some of us feeling a little, bright

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9 years ago Den began his Bachelor of Landscape Architecture Degree at Unitec after a number of years spent in the landscape industry. Graduating with an Honors Pass, Den’s study culminated with an award for innovative sustainability in design research with a project that challenged conventional responses to sea level rise. Den also began lecturing at Unitec during his final year of study, assisting in a construction based design studio.



6 years ago, together with colleagues in the Department of Landscape Architecture at Unitec, Den opened a design studio focusing on the relationships between research and design practice. Within the first year of operations Den was a key member of an award winning team in the 2009 ‘Opening the Red Gates’ design competition. The proposed design was one of five selected proposals for the development of Queens Wharf for the 2010 Rugby World Cup. Den was also invited to join the Department of Landscape Architecture at Unitec where he ran a series of design studios, urban design papers and research supervision.


2 years ago Den ran a study tour of Italy, travelling through a number of large and small cities across the country, exploring context and the role of tourism on identity and culture. The tour included a visit to a number of historic gardens including Villa Lante and Villa D’Este. Shortly following this tour Den accepted the role of Curriculum Leader: Bachelor of Landscape Architecture ultimately leading to the role of Programme Director: Diploma of Landscape Design at Unitec, where he was able to apply his experience in practice to the development of the programme curriculum. 


2 months ago Den joined the Natural Habitats consultancy team bringing with him a diverse spectrum of experience spanning both practice and academia. As a Project Landscape Architect Den sees his role as one grounded in context and the stories of a given site. Den also feels strongly that the landscape profession is tasked with the responsibility of kaitiaki, or guardianship, and as such, connecting with the natural, historical, social or ecological context of a site forms the underpinning values of his professional methodology.

Email Den at for Landscape Architecture services with depth, knowledge and a promise that the council will dig his considered design notions.

Gardens, not buildings

15 August 2013

Seth Godin "America's Greatest Marketer" shares his thoughts on careers and relationships as gardens. Weird?

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"Great projects start out feeling like buildings. There are architects, materials, staff, rigid timelines, permits, engineers, a structure.

It works or it doesn't.

Build something that doesn't fall down. On time.

But in fact, great projects, like great careers and relationships that last, are gardens. They are tended, they shift, they grow. They endure over time, gaining a personality and reflecting their environment. When something dies or fades away, we prune, replant and grow again.

Perfection and polish aren't nearly as important as good light, good drainage and a passionate gardener.

By all means, build. But don't finish. Don't walk away.

Here we grow."

View Seth's original post here. 

Best Awards Finalist 2013

13 August 2013

The big decisions have been made...

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Of the 777 entries, Natural Habitats are proud to be announced as finalists for The Best Design Awards 2013 for our 'EcoPillow'; an innovation in Green Technology that could revolutionise the way we green our cities.




The Best Design Awards party is Friday, October 11 at the Viaduct Events Centre, Auckland. Click for all the info.


Growing Careers: Sam Parkes

09 August 2013

For the first installment of our 'Growing Careers' series we will be introducing Project Landscape Architect Sam Parkes and his growing career path.

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Twelve years ago Sam began his Bachelor of Landscape Architecture at Unitec, NZ eventually topping the class for his Final Year Project , winning that award, plus a series of others including the ‘Sustainability Award and ‘Progressive Graphics Award’


Seven years ago Sam began his Career at Natural Habitats in Fiji; Managing Implementation and Maintenance teams on the resorts of Denerau Island.  Back in NZ he gained experience working on a variety of commercial and residential projects; some gaining awards further down the track: 

/blog/sam4.jpgBronze at the 2010 NZIA Awards for his first ever residential Design.  

/blog/sam6.jpgNZILA Distinction Award: Maungarei Springs at the 2013 ‘Pride of Place’ Awards

5 years ago Sam was drafted by Unitec to Lecture for the Department of Landscape Architecture where he lead the 2nd Year Studio class in Masterplan Concepts for what is now New Zealand’s largest new suburb at Stonefields, Mt Wellington

4 years ago Sam left for Dubai where he worked for the global Project Management firm Mace Group’ on the highly landscaped ‘Al Barari’ development in the middle of the desert.



2 years ago Sam embarked on his own project, designing and developing a snow chalet that recently won Best house under 150m2 in the Central North Island region


1 year ago Sam returned to Natural Habitats bringing a wealth of experience with him in a multitude of areas.  As our Project Landscape Architect, it’s the above experience that enables him to lead projects from concept to construction in an efficient and enjoyable manner.  

Contact Sam on 027 4949049, or to begin your landscape transformation.



05 February 2013

As a general rule of thumb, if something’s happening in Hawera, it’s probably happening throughout New Zealand. So when the biggest aged care facility in Hawera gets a $1.3m expansion, as stage one of a three-stage development, it’s fairly safe to say there’s a bigger trend afoot.

30 may or may not be the new 20, but grey is definitely the new black. Put another way, as a society, we’re getting older. Yes we’re slowly but surely winning the war on all things that can hurt us, for example, polio, tuberculosis, and pirates are not the killers they once were. However this creates a problem, it’s a good problem, but a problem nonetheless. What do we do with our elderly?

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As a general rule of thumb, if something’s happening in Hawera, it’s probably happening throughout New Zealand. So when the biggest aged care facility in Hawera gets a $1.3m expansion, as stage one of a three-stage development, it’s fairly safe to say there’s a bigger trend afoot. 

30 may or may not be the new 20, but grey is definitely the new black. Put another way, as a society, we’re getting older. Yes we’re slowly but surely winning the war on all things that can hurt us, for example, polio, tuberculosis, and pirates are not the killers they once were. However this creates a problem, it’s a good problem, but a problem nonetheless. What do we do with our elderly?

In eastern societies, looking after the elderly in your family is a very personal matter, whereas in the west, we’ve once again shown our predisposition for outsourcing, and created the ever-popular retirement village. Naturally there are pros and cons of both, but what is important, particularly for a retirement village, is creating the right environment, where elderly people can feel safe, secure and relaxed.

In the previous post, we examined biophilia and the importance of a connection to the living world for our psychological health. As we enter the twilight years of our life, our mobility declines and subsequently, our local environment, and our immediate surrounds take on significant importance. They simply must provide us the connection to nature we so crave.

At Natural Habitats we view designing and building outdoor environments for retirement villages as both a privilege and a responsibility. Our vision is to create spaces that are easily accessible, facilitate social interaction, and bring the vibrancy of life to residents everyday. Such features include:

• Generous open green spaces
• Vibrant seasonal colour
• Shade and fruiting trees
• Easily navigated walking tracks
• Private landscaped gardens
• Seating and picnic areas
• Bowling and pétanque

With the impending retirement of the baby boomers, this work takes on even greater importance and urgency. Currently we’re working on fourteen different retirement village projects, and for each one we apply the same uncompromising design philosophy. It seems only fitting that the baby boomers - a generation who created and experienced such profound change - should be amongst the first to experience it.


21 January 2013

Ask a child what they want to be when they grow up and you’ll typically hear things like a doctor, vet, marine biologist, or a fireman. Common among these popular children’s career choices is an innate connection to life, and in particular, preserving it. To children it seems, other forms of life are more important than balanced spreadsheets. You only have to watch them interact with the family pet to know they find animals infinitely more interesting than lawsuits.

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Ask a child what they want to be when they grow up and you’ll typically hear things like a doctor, vet, marine biologist, or a fireman. Common among these popular children’s career choices is an innate connection to life, and in particular, preserving it. To children it seems, other forms of life are more important than balanced spreadsheets. You only have to watch them interact with the family pet to know they find animals infinitely more interesting than lawsuits.

Yet somehow as we grow up, we become disconnected from nature. Rather than surrounding us everyday, nature becomes something that exists over there, think about the phrase ‘Get back to nature’ - exactly how and when did we leave it in the first place? Nature shouldn’t be asked to wait patiently for us to visit when we get a long weekend. Nature and the biodiversity it provides should be within our grasp, and in our face, every single day. 

This idea is growing in popularity, and like every good movement, it’s got a hybrid name – Biophilia. Bio meaning life, and philia meaning a positive feeling or liking. It was first used by Erich Fromm to describe a psychological orientation of being attracted to all that is alive and vital. Biophilia is becoming the driving force in the future direction of our cities. Around the world, cities like Seoul, Oslo and San Francisco are weaving living systems into the very fabric of their construction.

These biophilic cities do more than simply provide access to a patch of mowed grass, they provide rich, multisensory, natural experiences. As a result, their citizens are experiencing less stress and anxiety, lower crime rates, and an increase in productivity. Biophilic cities also promote a greater conscious understanding about the importance of nature to our long-term prosperity. Globally, Wellington is held as an example of such biophilic awareness. Not only does the city have over 4000 hectares of nature preserve, it boasts over 60 environmental volunteer groups, who together contributed 28,000 hours of service in a single year.

As a species, we crave interaction and connection with other living things. It’s part of our genetic make-up, and when we’re devoid of such a connection, our psychological health is jeopardised. The cities that prosper in the future will be the ones that do right by their people, their natural environment, and their economy. When you evaluate the case for introducing nature, in the form of green walls, roofs, parks and reserves, within this framework, it’s hard to find a downside. Biophilic planning is an investment in our collective future. But as with all investments, it requires the patience, confidence and foresight to be able to act today and be rewarded tomorrow.

Green Buildings, Do They Add Up?

16 November 2012

Read an article or two about green building technology, and you’ll quickly notice the dominance of words like enhance, improve, and increase...

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Read an article or two about green building technology, and you’ll quickly notice the dominance of words like enhance, improve, and increase...

While these terms are accurate, they’re inherently subjective, and that means they’re probably not going to get you far when it comes time to make an appointment with the bank manager. People who prefer their paper with rows and columns like to see some numbers, and now, courtesy of a report published this month by Jones Lang LaSalle, we have some.

To start with, the construction of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified buildings was examined. A study by construction company Davis Langdon concluded that LEED Buildings cost just below 2% more than the average non-LEED building – in monetary terms, slightly over $20,000 per $1 million of construction cost. However The Design-Build Institute of America proved that any additional costs can be offset by employing integrated project delivery methods, rather than the traditional design-bid-build model.

One of the most compelling advantages of green buildings is their reduced utility expense. In a study conducted by the U.S department of Energy, researchers found that the 150 buildings studied saved a combined 18% in utilities. The economic savings meant incremental green building costs were paid back in just over eight months. After that, annual savings ranging from $45,000 to $1.8 million would appear on directly on the bottom line.

For owners and investors, green buildings can generate higher ROI through rent premiums and vacancy reductions. The 2011 Green Building Market and Impact report cites 5 studies where LEED buildings were found to command between 5% and 17% higher average rents than non-LEED buildings. In addition, the Jones Lang LaSalle’s Green Gauge found an average vacancy drop of over 3%, as well as a much faster absorption into the market. The five reported studies also suggested that LEED certified buildings achieved a price premium of 8.5% - 25% over non-LEED buildings.

These studies show us that green buildings - like most things that are good for us - require an initial investment, but for those who are willing, the benefits over the long term are overwhelmingly positive. As the green building market matures, there is an emergence of first hand data to categorically prove what has long been suspected. The studies cited here, and many more being done are critical to the advancement of the field. They provide the kind of tangible evidence that can move green buildings from a new age fringe, to mainstream building practice. Not a moment to soon.