Universal Homes Hoskins

Our Trusted Partners – Natural Habitats

Close working relationship for over thirty years

Universal Homes are thrilled to celebrate over 30 years of partnering with New Zealand’s leading landscaping company, Natural Habitats, as our trusted major landscaping supplier. We’ve worked with this stalwart Kiwi company across dozens of our new home locations, through the decades. Natural Habitats creates and maintains award-winning landscapes, across the country.

Recently, Natural Habitats was awarded the 2022 Most-Awarded Landscaper, at the Landscapes of Distinction Awards. Whether for our freestanding homes, terrace homes, or apartments, Natural Habitats’ landscapes bring it all together, creating practical, easy-care green environments to a high standard and finish.

Learn more about this long-term trusted working relationship below.

A long history together

Founded in 1978, Natural Habitats initially primarily served private clients for residential homes. Universal Homes was one of their first commercial clients. The two Kiwi-based companies have worked closely together for well over 30 years, across dozens of new home developments of varying sizes. Projects have included locations right across the Auckland region, North of Auckland, and developments elsewhere including The Landing in Tauranga.

“We are proud to have partnered with this award-winning landscape company for over 30 years, with their landscape services providing the perfect finish for our new homes,” comments Grant Coutts, Construction Manager at Universal Homes.

The brief

Brian Spencer, Chief Operations Officer at Natural Habitats, explains how the landscaping company works with Universal Homes. “Our job is to complete each of the new home projects alongside a range of project managers, and to provide a seamless delivery to ensure a great product for Universal Homes’ client – whether that’s for a first home buyer, family, downsizer, group of friends, or investor.”

A leading provider of bespoke garden design, Natural Habitats has the challenging yet satisfying job of tying it all together seamlessly through their work on individual gardens or patio spaces for each property, as well as any common areas, the streetscape, and stormwater ponds. The ornamental and the practical areas are intended to blend into each other: small parks, green spaces, and shared areas flow into the extension of your garden so that the area is unified and not disjointed.

After over fifteen years working for Natural Habitats, Brian is still struck by the effect that a well-delivered landscaping job has in complementing a new home. “The thing with the landscaping that we provide is that the final finish and flourish to the house is incredible.”

The challenge is being able to work with an organisation that can cope with the scale at which Universal Homes builds, and any changes to this each year. Natural Habitats consistently delivers in this regard, providing landscaping services to a quality and standard of which both companies are proud. “Natural Habitats have the breadth of knowledge and the resources to cope with the volume that we have required over the years,” comments Debbie Landale, Chief Financial Officer at Universal Homes.

Curating nature

Natural Habitats carefully selects and creates plantings based on the immediate locality and situation of homes, as well as local ecosystems. Brian says, “We provide a landscape that caters for a broad audience, as we don’t know who will buy it. The landscaping has to be practical and simple, but pleasing. It needs to add a level of softness to the property overall. We’re also aiming to provide for a softening of views when you look out of the house, to take off the hard edges of the buildings around, and add colour, form, texture, and scent.”

Adding the final touch

Whether for those buying off-the-plan, or buying their new home upon completion, Natural Habitats provides the final steps in the completion of their new home. Brian explains, “In essence, Natural Habitats is a finishing trade: you end up with a beautiful welcome as you arrive at your new home. We call ourselves a finishing trade because our 175+ staff add that final touch to a property before moving in time.”

But their work doesn’t just encompass planting out and realising the landscaping. The team also does an element of landscape design work, which varies for each project. Brian says, “We also work on the design to deliver liveable, manageable landscapes. This is not only on the soft landscaping side of things such as planting and fencing, but also the design, including coordinating colours, finishes and accessibility. We take into account the hard finishings of new home exteriors, to ensure there is cohesion for that homeowner in their day-to-day life.”

Long-term benefits for homeowners and communities

Value and aesthetic appeal are added through these landscaping solutions, providing benefits for homeowners and communities alike. Long-term thinking is required when it comes to creating a beautiful outdoor environment for the future. Natural Habitats’ foresight and good landscaping choices help with this, avoiding many of the ongoing issues with maintenance that can crop up. Brian explains, “Quite often we are looking even ten to twenty years in advance, considering the impact the trees will have on the community. It is easy to select a planting position, but important to be careful and considerate of what you plant, where you plant it, and what it will be like in the future.” Northwood in Albany is one location where the considered treescaping including the planting down the centre of the main boulevard has only increased in its aesthetic appeal, even as the years have passed.

Brian adds, “We also take into consideration as much as possible, the demographic who will be living in the homes we are working with. If they are young families, that changes what people need from a landscape; practical, and easy-to-maintain planting solutions are in order. It’s a bit different if the focus is lifestyle, or retirement oriented where they are looking for more colour, form, and aesthetic appeal.”

Shade and privacy are created, and living spaces are extended and developed through the use of outdoor areas to relax or entertain, from courtyards and patios to gardens of varying sizes, streetscape flow, and shared laneway precincts which are often used as play areas for young families. This increase to living spaces through thoughtful indoor-outdoor flow is particularly helpful for smaller homes.

Project highlights

A number of the locations which the landscaping company has worked on have been larger, long-term projects. “We were working with Universal Homes at Hobsonville Point from a very early stage,” says Brian. “Seeing that area grow from greenfield sites to one of the largest subdivision developments in the country over a period of a decade or so, has been incredibly satisfying.”

The crew from Natural Habitats spent in excess of five years at Totara Views in Red Beach. Brian explains, “Along with the landscaping for each of the new homes at Totara Views, we managed the subdivision infrastructure, including stormwater ponds, street-side landscaping, and each of the individual phases of the development.”

Currently, Natural Habitats is working alongside Universal Homes across several sites including West Hills; a contemporary master-planned community in North West Auckland. Optimally positioned, West Hills is planned, designed and built by Universal Homes to meet the needs of an increasingly busy Auckland. With three major stages already completed, approximately 1,400 homes will be built over the next few years, with parks and walkways in development. The rich heritage of market gardens and strawberry fields in the area informs the planning and streetscapes around the architecturally-designed, low-maintenance, quality new homes in this popular community.

Challenges: all in a day’s work

Since Natural Habitats adds the final piece to the puzzle when it comes to the completion of a new home and its surroundings, the challenges can be fairly unique particularly when it comes to compact outdoor spaces. Brian explains, “We have worked on some pretty challenging sites! But it’s all in a day’s work for our team. The top challenges would have to be logistics and accessibility. We often have to work out how to get bulk materials into relatively small areas. One memorable location in North Auckland that we worked on with Universal had tricky access, and meant we needed to have wheelbarrows going up steps to get into rear gardens and patio areas!”

At Hobsonville Point, the Natural Habitats team needed to gain rear courtyard access to complete landscaping for some streets of terrace homes, so they worked to streamline systems and complete the entire row at once. “We have to be quite creative,” comments Brian. “At times we utilise conveyor systems or blow in bulk media as we did at a Universal Homes location in Whangaparaoa. And importantly, we always have to look and consider adequate drainage before we install anything.”

There are also the challenges of work on live construction sites, and the ongoing maintenance and management of the individual gardens, streetscapes, and stormwater landscaping to ensure they are established successfully and are protected throughout all of the activity of deliveries and trades on site. Brian says, “Depending on the market outlook and season, our big challenge is maintaining landscapes and keeping them in good order if we need to wait for some homes to be occupied. This is particularly challenging in drought years, as we need to keep gardens watered and looking their best, even lawns in January! It can be quite challenging.”

Considered plant selection

Universal Homes and Natural Habitats focus on incorporating an edible garden element into the landscape for new homeowners, bringing a productive food element into properties. Fruit trees are planted in properties where possible, adding a unique dimension to the outdoor living spaces. The Natural Habitats team selects smaller options such as compact citrus varieties.

Plants that can be tactile are also ideal choices for the landscaping company, such as rosemary; the herb has an enjoyable scent, is a practical choice and can be used in cooking, and is a fast-growing and hardy choice as well. Natives are also used wherever appropriate. The team also needs to avoid plants with poisonous elements and be mindful of what small children or pets might touch or ingest. Ongoing care required by homeowners as well as colour, form, and aesthetic appeal is also considered.

The selection of plants by the Natural Habitats team also involves choosing appropriately what is suited to a streetscape. Considered tree variety is crucial, to supply shade in summer while being thoughtful of maximising light during the winter months. Deciduous trees (which lose their leaves each winter) are often more appropriate choices than evergreen trees. As well as the mature tree or plant size, shape, watering, and easy care are also considered. This is especially the case for apartments and townhouses, where space is limited.

Over the years, there’s been a constant need to adapt, both when it comes to site typologies, home and property design, and the products that the landscaping company uses. Brian explains, “As we’ve worked on more townhouses, we have started to use artificial turf more, both for its ease of maintenance and management. The smaller size of some terrace home lawns means this is a more practical choice for homeowners.”

Sustainability focus

Natural Habitats proactively assesses the environment in which they will be working, to ensure plants will suit the area. “We need to think about water too when it comes to plant selection,” adds Brian. “The choice of plants is made so that these don’t require a lot of water and attention. They need to be to easy care for, without adding cost or burden to homeowners.”

The Kiwi company uses organic fertilisers and pesticides for maintenance and focuses on native plants as much as is feasible. Brian explains that they are currently looking to work with nurseries to do biodegradable pots, eliminating all plastic pots.

Most-awarded landscaper

Natural Habitats recently won the “2022 most-awarded landscaper” at the Landscapes of Distinction Awards, among 23 awards the team won all up. This was bestowed by the nationwide Registered Master Landscapers Association. Natural Habitats have been one of the most awarded winners each year at these awards, scooping awards across several categories including the Supreme Award in 2019. Additionally, Natural Habitat’s own Guillaume Chabbert won the coveted the Young Landscaper of the Year for 2022. The team is proud of their company’s emphasis on training the next generation. Gavin Riddle, Natural Habitats CEO says Guillaume’s win is the crowning accomplishment from the awards. “Nurturing young talent is really important to us and we are thrilled to have had Guillaume recognised with the national title.”

Tips for homeowners

Brian offers a few tips for homeowners when it comes to looking after their new outdoor environment. “The key for gardens and trees is to maintain a good consistent depth of mulch, trapping moisture, and preventing weed growth.”

The secret of success? Consistent and deep watering! Maintenance watering is essential, but only if this can be done regularly. “Sporadic watering does more harm than good – that goes for both gardens and lawns. You’re better off leaving plants with a good mulch covering of about 50mm to help suppress weeds and so they keep their roots deep, than watering sporadically to a shallow depth which only serves to encourage roots to come up and then become more susceptible to drought. If you choose to water, about 50mm of water needs to be applied to the lawn or garden to encourage roots to go down. We suggest leaving a cup in the middle of the lawn or garden bed, and watering until it is filled, to ensure you’ve watered well.”

If you have a lawn, Auckland weather conditions can make things tricky. Brian explains, “The biggest mistake is cutting them too short! Lawns should always be mown to no less than 30mm in length to maintain that lovely deep green. By doing this, you’ll encourage a healthier and stronger lawn that’s more resilient to drought. Scalping it too short not only dries it out but encourages weeds, as they are stronger in times of drought than the grass itself is.” Lawn prep is a big help, adds Brian. “Feeding that lawn in the early spring while ground conditions are still moist will serve to strengthen the lawn going into summer.”

Aftercare services offered

The team has more on offer when it comes to maintenance and aftercare landscaping services, so our clients are sorted well past move-in day. “We have over 30 maintenance staff in Auckland alone, looking after a range of private homes, large residential homes and commercial properties,” says Brian. Natural Habitats can assist with lawn installation, maintenance and renovation, planting and plant health plans, irrigation installation and maintenance, and trees and hedges.

Universal Homes are proud of our long-standing relationship with Natural Habitats for over 30 years now, and our working relationship spanning almost every single one of the dozens of locations we have worked on for the past decades across Auckland and beyond.

Select images courtesy of Natural Habitats.

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