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Nz House And Garden


Episode 16

Watch this episode of NZ House & Garden on TVNZ ondemand.

Mexican Living

Creating scenes is a passion for New Zealand born filmmaker and business woman Fran Fisher.  In the sophisticated and cosmopolitan city of San Miquel Mexico she has crafted a very personal set - her home and garden. 

'San Miguel is a mecca for the arts, with two major arts institutes, numerous galleries and too many artists in residence to count.  Attracted by this atmosphere there is a sizable foreign community, lending a cosmopolitan flavour to its activities.  Fran arrived twenty years and knew the moment she'd stepped off the bus she'd found her home. 

Fran's Home
Fran built her home from scratch.  Once she found the right piece of land she contemplated for a year about a concept then approached a Mexican architect Louis Sanchez to take the concept forward.. From thereon it was a collaborative effort and Fran and Louis worked as a team.

The house is made up of two buildings, both cubes offset against each other in a boomerang shape.  One side of the building is the living, kitchen and guest areas with the exterior dominated by large and dramatic arches that span the full height of the building. The building on the right houses the main bedroom and bathroom. The space between these buildings is essentially like a conservatory.  The exterior of the house is plaster painted in contrasting colours; sand and Mexican rose. 

Exposed beams
The rusted exposed beams are a feature in the main living area.  Fran's architect suggested them from the beginning but she wasn't convinced.  However now she now gets the concept and wouldn't be without them

The main bathroom is perhaps the most interesting room in the house.  Fran has used glass artwork as lamps in here.  They create a moody feeling, the perfect setting for a hot tub.  The look in this room is completed with dark green walls and a sink bench made from a slab of stone.

Local furniture
Fran made the most of local artisans and much of the furniture in the house is crafted locally.  For example, the hall table near Fran's bedroom was made by an artist in San Miguel.  The antique shaped chairs near the kitchen were bought locally - as was the cupboard in the lounge which is made of wood and laminated tin.

Over the years this home has been a work in progress for Fran.  Her sense of style and ability to make things happen, make this home the perfect creative retreat from her busy life in a beautiful part of Mexico.

Fran's Garden
It was an easy transition when Fran moved her focus from inside to out.  With a canyon as her backdrop she has crafted a garden and outdoor living area that even includes a touch of home.

From the outset Fran's house was built with a garden in mind.  The mild climate in San Miguel means that indoor outdoor flow is a must and the relaxed way of life lends itself to spending time outside.  And, like the interior of Fran's house, the garden has been a work in progress with development and improvements taking shape over the years.

Getting started
The site was the biggest challenge for Fran; it was full of boulders with almost no soil.  However, Fran didn't want to lose sight of the boulders as she thought they would provide an important transition from the rugged canyon to her personal garden.  Her solution was to truck in topsoil to fill in around the rocks and create places to plant.  She used a mix of soils; lava and sandy soils that are both free draining and then one layer of black earth.  All together they make a good base for planting.

What to plant
Fran's planting philosophy is really quite simple. She has used block planting for impact and desert plants because these cope best with the conditions.  On the bank above the pool she has mass planted red hot pokers (aloe vera) that give a great display when in flower.  She also likes to use plenty of ground cover because it keeps the moisture in.

Over time Fran has found that plants like palms and yuccas grow well in San Miguel and she has lots of varieties of each in her garden.  But there are some surprises too - she even has flaxes and an olive tree!

The bottom edge of the garden leads to the canyon area that provided security challenges for Fran when she first moved in.  She was reluctant to put up a fence and block the dramatic view so instead planted rows of cactus that she says "Would put off anyone wanting to approach the house from that side."

For Fran creating a landscape feels a little bit like putting a film together. It has all the elements, the original idea, the planning and the process, with the desired outcome being a location full of atmosphere.

Bistro is Back

Food trends come and go.  Remember Nouvelle Cuisine? The food was good, the presentation was amazing, but you needed 6 or 7 courses to fill you up. Then there was fusion, which quickly became confusion for diners as chefs tried to blend as many flavours as possible on a single plate.

The good news is, many overseas chefs and industry experts are heralding the revival of simple foods and flavours and casual comfortable bistro style dining will never go out of fashion. In fact recently Bon Appetite magazine named bistro cuisine the year's hot new restaurant trend - so the bistro is officially back!

Here in Auckland the bistro formula is proving to be a recipe for success for restaurant duo Natalie Schamroth and Carl Koppenhagen, whose neighbourhood eatery The Engine Room on Auckland's North Shore has been humming from day one.

Natalia and Carl kindly shared the recipe of their most popular dish:

Churros Con Chocolate

For the chocolate:

500ml milk
2 cinnamon sticks, roughly broken
450 grams 65% dark chocolate
400g condensed milk

1 and a half cups whipped cream, to serve

Heat the milk with the cinnamon over a low heat until the milk reaches boiling point. Set aside. Melt the chocolate over a bain marie. Strain the milk ove r the chocolate and whisk well. Whisk in the condensed milk. Divide the chocolate between 6 glasses and chill.
To serve, dollop with a cloud of whipped cream, grate over fresh nutmeg and serve with the hot churros.

For the churros:

1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon melted butter
freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 cup milk
1 cup flour + more if required
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teapoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Canola oil for deep frying

2 cups granulated sugar, flavoured with ground cinnamon and nutmeg to serve.

Combine the sugar, egg, butter and milk, whisk well. Combine the dry ingredient and add to the wet mixture. Stir until smooth. Add enough flour to form a thick batter. Allow to rest for 1 hour.

Drop teaspoonfuls of churros batter into hot oil (180'C) and fry until golden. Drain well and toss in the cinnamon sugar.

Serves 6.

The Authentic Courtyard

Designer of the first Courtyard Look featuring Punga Trees -  Norma de Langen (09) 846 1083 or (027) 679 0211

The second and third looks were created by Presenter and Landscape Designer Tony Murrell.

The courtyard has long been the most private of garden spaces, an oasis or retreat. The Islamic courtyard gardens of the 10th - 17th centuries are widely recognised as the pinnacle of courtyard design; designs which have been copied and reworked over the centuries.

Taking our cue from the structure of Islamic gardens, we show you two looks to apply the core principles to a typical New Zealand courtyard, or indeed any symmetrical, rectangular space.

When planning a courtyard there few steps to consider:

Step One:

  • Address the "walls" in your space.  They should create a sense of being in a room and providing privacy, but not a feeling of being hemmed in.
  • Walls are not, traditionally, painted in bright colours in Islamic gardens but rather, whites and natural colours, with mosaic tiles used to bring colour.  In New Zealand however, where our courtyards are more open, we have a wider choice of colours as we are less constrained by our architecture and climate.  For our courtyard, we've chosen a dark charcoal-coloured stain, which makes the walls recede away from the eye, and increases the sense of space.

Step Two:

  • Divide your 'courtyard' equally into four smaller spaces. If you have a square shaped space, your smaller spaces should be square.  If it's rectangular in shape - like our example - use smaller rectangles.  This creates balance in your garden, which will enhance the sense of harmony and tranquillity - important components of Islamic courtyards. It also means, you have a good, basic structure for your courtyard that will allow you to create many looks.

Step three:

  •  The centrepiece of your garden should be a focal water feature.  Water serves both practical and symbolic purposes in Islamic gardens.  And it helps to create a cool, contemplative environment, away from the bustle of the outside world.
  •  In New Zealand, water is more of an aesthetic consideration.  It does bring a soothing element to the garden, but its prime function is as a focal point for our design.

Mulch, white stone chip, paving sand, compost and Canna 'Rangitoto' supplied by Pierce Landscape Supplies, Marua Road, Auckland
Tel (09) 579 3750

'Waterwerx' Water Feature supplied by:
Available from leading garden centres

Water pumps and expertise supplied by: Water Dynamics
84-86 Franklin Road
Freemans Bay
Tel: 09 378 0383
For further locations across New Zealand:

Persian rug supplied by:
Abianee Persian Rugs
1 Kingdon Street
Newmarket, Auckland
Tel: 0-9-522 5040

Rumbled glass supplied by:
Urban glass
Tel: 0800 008 866

Paving supplied by:
Jagas Outdoor Paving

Stone bench seat supplied by:
Peter Fell

Water Bowl supplied by Landscape Designer and Artist Nigel Cameron
Tel: 027 475 4431