Growing a social heart
Landscape architects Boffa Miskell have designed many of the outdoor spaces at Metlifecare villages. Their aim? Creating beautiful, practical spaces for residents to own and enjoy.
“Senior living communities used to have formal hedges and structured flower beds, and a vibe that was very much ‘look-but-don’t touch’. Now, outdoor spaces are treated as community assets — they’re there to be used, and residents are encouraged to be involved.” Peter Whiting.
Creating a community is about building connections. Along with residential facilities and a network of streets, paths and lanes, thoughtful planting and considered outdoor amenities create a chain of inviting spaces with a social heart.
In addition to colourful flower beds and shaded outdoor seating areas, spaces for entertaining, sports and hands-on gardening are all an integral part of a vibrant retirement village.
“Gardens and outdoor spaces are very important,” says Jarrod Shearer, village manager at Gulf Rise on Auckland’s North Shore. “How the village looks is important to residents, because this is their new home, and everyone wants to feel proud of their home. And opportunities for activity, and socialising, and just the overall sense of wellbeing that being outdoors provides makes a real difference in residents’ day-to-day lives.”
At Gulf Rise, the landscape design provides for numerous connected outdoor spaces including a social garden, butterfly walk, production gardens, glass house and pavilions and outdoor dining areas. Active recreation includes a bowling green and petanque court; there are also sensory gardens, and private garden spaces attached to residences.
“Senior living communities used to have formal hedges and structured flower beds, and a vibe that was very much ‘look-but-don’t touch’. Now, outdoor spaces are treated as community assets — they’re there to be used, and residents are encouraged to be involved,” says Peter Whiting.
A landscape architect with Boffa Miskell, Peter has been on the design team for several Metlifecare communities, including Gulf Rise and Fairway Gardens, Metlifecare’s newest village in East Auckland, which is currently under construction.
“There’s a huge variety of plant species used throughout any community,” he continues “At Gulf Rise, for example, there are more than ten distinct planting schemes – because what’s appropriate for a shady, low-maintenance terrace garden isn’t what you’d want in the cut flower garden, or to attract bees and butterflies in the water garden and spring walk features.”
Thanks to an appropriate mix of native trees and flowering plants, bees and butterflies abound at Gulf Rise, both along the internal walkways and on a perimeter slope. In fact, Jarrod says that he’d like to investigate whether beehives could be installed under the trees. “Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could make our own organic honey for use in the kitchen, and for residents?”
Senior living communities used to have formal hedges and structured flower beds, and a vibe that was very much ‘look-but-don’t touch’. Now, outdoor spaces are treated as community assets — they’re there to be used, and residents are encouraged to be involved.”
Landscape architect with Boffa Miskell, Peter Whiting
With an eye toward sustainability and organic produce, vegetable gardens are a popular feature, as they enable residents to continue their passion for hands-on gardening.
Katie Worthy, village manager at The Poynton in Takapuna, says, “We have allotted vegetable patches for the residents’ own use, and many donate any surplus produce to the community chef.”
At Gulf Rise, raised garden beds are centred around a glass house and outdoor dining pavilion. Jarrod says “The area around the pavilion has the most social activity these days. We hold many of our community events there, and it’s a popular spot with visitors, too.”
Peter Whiting says incorporating ways to get outdoors and enjoy nature, especially with young visitors, is one of the main considerations in putting together the overall landscape design for a new community. Pre-schoolers love butterfly walks and fishponds; while a bowling lawn or a putting green can be used by multiple generations.
The fish pond at The Poynton is a very popular attraction.
“Children know that when they visit Nana and Poppa’s they can come to reception and ask for fish food,” says Katie. “The fish pond is within the rose garden, so there’s lots of seating and it’s a really lovely place to be.”
Lawn bowls and croquet encourage physical activity and bring residents together, whether playing or spectating. The Poynton has resident convenors for the various sports. The volunteers organise friendly casual games, in-house competitions, and a ‘travelling league’ who compete against other retirement communities.
“You’ll see people playing petanque or on the putting green early in the morning, and the activity continues throughout the day and well into the evening,” says Katie. “Croquet and lawn bowls competitions are a lot of fun for everyone.”
“Retirement villages are so rewarding to design, because we’re creating spaces for people to enjoy, and take ownership of,” says Peter. “We’re continually learning from the feedback we get from residents and staff; and it’s an ongoing evolution.”
Jarrod Shearer agrees. “I’ve managed a few retirement villages, and this one actually lives up to the brochure… in fact, I think it’s even better. It’s obvious that there’s been a great deal of thought behind the design, and care taken to accommodate and anticipate what residents want. It looks beautiful; but living in it is just fantastic.”