A nature-loving couple created their own private Eden out of a 1940s bungalow and bountiful garden in Hawke’s Bay.
Finding a house with good bones is the ambition of many a property hunter. But when Georgina Langdale and husband Al Morrison were searching for a home in Havelock North, it was the outdoor spaces of a traditional 1940s bungalow that caught their attention.
“It was the garden that had the good bones,” says Georgina, settled into a well-worn sofa with a mug of mint and rose petal tea at her side. “We were drawn to the silver birch, the tōtara and the ash tree.”
Georgina and Al’s plant pedigrees are well established. Georgina is a medical herbalist, end of life educator, and founder of NatFem Botanics, a range of natural products for menopausal women, which she makes in her home studio. Al was once the director-general of the Department of Conservation. The expansive garden – a riot of colour, a wilderness of edible leaves, buds and seeds – is both their mutual passion and their battleground.
“Al has his vegetable empire and faces the same conundrum that every vege gardener does – namely, how do you stop having a million courgettes ripen at one time?” says Georgina, laughing. “Then there’s my bit out the front, which is full of lavender, salvia, rosemary, and all the organics I use in my essences and tinctures. And the house is in between. We do have vastly different approaches – Al is very orderly and systematic whereas I’m rather like the Jackson Pollock of gardening. But I do genuinely think that being in the garden brings out the best in us both.”
British-born Georgina spends most of her day working in her studio at the rear of the bungalow, which the couple moved into in 2019 with their fur babies, Bonnie and Puffle. Here she’s surrounded by many of her favourite things – a huge collection of dog-eared books, restored furniture, and paintings she’s produced herself or collected over her many years based in London, and in Bonn, where she once worked in communications for the United Nations ecosystems and biodiversity team.
“My surroundings have always been important to me,” explains Georgina. “My creativity, whether I’m painting, or mixing a tincture, or supporting a woman going through menopause or someone at the end of their life, comes from my home space.”
Much of her inspiration stems from the work of Marsilio Ficino, a 15th-century early-Renaissance philosopher and priest. “He talked a lot about material things having a sort of spiritual essence, and that includes what you have on your wall, the colour of your books, the flowers in the vase. They each give a home soul.”
Inside the house, that soul is evident every which way you turn. There’s a collection of bright ceramic plates, bought from a small store in Valencia. There are cabinets and trunks that Georgina has painstakingly hand-painted and restored. There’s a ragged letter that writer Janet Frame wrote to the Otago Daily Times while Al was a reporter there in the 1980s, discovered in a box of his papers during the move and mounted by Georgina for his birthday. Another piece of ephemera is a hilarious to-do list scribbled on scrap paper, which Georgina found tucked inside a book she bought from a London second-hand market. “Money laundering. Bag of cookies. Massage. Vodka,” it reads.
“Sounds like an interesting afternoon,” quips Georgina.
Elsewhere, a huge oil painting by one Marmaduke Langdale, a 19th-century British painter and Georgina’s ancestor – “he used to hang out with poets and probably smoked a tonne of opium” – hovers above a glass case containing a model ship. “It’s a replica of the boat my mother was born on,” Georgina says. “Her father was a naval architect, but the boat got requisitioned during World War II, and apparently Winston Churchill used it for secret meetings.”
Connecting the home and studio, a brick compass garden contains an astrolabe, traditionally used to chart the transit of planets in the solar system. “It’s there to remind us to pay attention to what’s above us in the sky, because it can have a real impact on our wellbeing. So I wanted to draw the sky into the space in a Renaissance way and plonk an astrolabe right here.”
For foodies Georgina and Al, however, it’s the kitchen that’s the hub of the home. “Not white” was the instruction they gave to Napier cabinetmakers Sunshine Joinery. Instead, they wanted blue. “I’m sure they thought we were a little bit mad. But it costs a fortune to renovate, and you really only want to be doing it once, so it needs to be a colour you truly love.”
In a nod to Georgina’s English heritage, there’s a huge four-oven Richmond range that’s a godsend for dinner parties. “Although, if you turned everything on at once, it would consume more power than the rest of the house put together! It’s like the Glastonbury main stage of ovens, as opposed to the village concert hall.”
If it’s just the two of them in the evening, one might supervise from the sofa with a glass of wine while the other cooks, and Georgina might also spend some time in the quiet of the garden, tending her motherwort – the mainstay of many of her products and tinctures. “She’s not a big, showy beauty but she’s great medicine to help women counter hot flushes and emotional spikes and insomnia.” Georgina might also dry flowers and leaves for her homemade teas, or sit with the dogs on the porch, or read in her book-lined workspace.
“Ficino talked about being conscious with the images you surround yourself with, because they will impact your sense of wellbeing. He’d have a fit if he saw what we watch on television these days!” says Georgina. “If he was alive, I’m sure he’d be telling us to change out the pictures on our walls, or to take a walk in nature – to find a landscape that you love, or to get out into the garden and literally smell the flowers. I think that’s very good advice for contemporary life.”