Paying homage to the local landscape, the design brief at Woodland Retreat centred around a strong indoor/outdoor connection complementing both the treed surrounds and the mid-century modern family home
Creating a seamless connection between the home, garden and broader natural environment sounds ideal in theory, but it’s much harder to execute in reality. The owners of Woodland Retreat were primarily concerned by a feeling of disconnection between the garden and home, which they perceived to result from the varying levels in the backyard.
“The levels on site were a challenge to navigate,” says Alison Watson, landscape designer at Outdoor Designs, who had the job of negotiating myriad challenges to create visual and physical unity on the project. “The engineered slab on which the plunge pool sits had to have a finished height that allowed for the stainless-steel lip of the pool to sit proud of the level of the deck,” she explains.
On top of that, the existing curved stone terrace had to be integrated into the overall design and it took some time to work out how to merge all these elements successfully. In the end, it was careful plant selection that helped solve the problem. We used planting design to soften the levels and also provide a beautiful outlook,” says Alison. “Tall tufting plants such as feather reed grass were positioned at the foot of the plunge pool and deck to provide a vertical, soft and airy view from the plunge pool, deck, terrace and residence.”
In addition to new plants, Alison opted for ribbed walls on either side of the deck, bagged in the same colour as the residence and bluestone crazy paving to match the existing stone terrace and provide a visual connection between the new features and the existing residence.
Selecting natural materials where possible allows the garden to fit into the broader landscape effortlessly, and a subtle colour palette was selected so all the new elements could “sit elegantly in the space”, says Alison. “Like they were always there.”
The owners were keen to keep any existing trees and shrubs, so in addition to softening the abrupt levels, Alison’s planting design also had to incorporate and improve the mature garden with new low-maintenance additions. “The main plants used were Viola hederacea (Native Violet) to underplant the existing Acers on the embankments to create a green feel,” she explains. “Along the mid-terrace gravel and firepit area, seasonal colour was aimed for with Kniphofia (Poco Orange), Orthrosanthus multiflorus (Morning Flag), Chrysocephalum apiculatum (Desert Flame), Scaevola humilis (Purple Fusion) and Anigozanthos (Amber Velvet).”
Although starting from scratch is usually much more straightforward, enhancing the existing garden was a rewarding experience for Alison. “My clients love their garden,” she says. “That feedback brings me great joy.” Native plants create a connection to the local environment and provide an instant, eye-catching effect that only requires minimal maintenance. In order to enjoy the new view fully, cumaru decking was used to extend the footprint of the existing house and create an alfresco dining area from which the new, vibrant outdoor area can be fully appreciated.
Bluestone steppers in granite toppings are interspersed across the lawn, past the pool and through to the firepit area to create a meditative journey-like experience, helping the owners to connect with the landscape deeply. “I love how the new deck and plunge pool integrate naturally into the existing bluestone terrace adjacent to the house,” says Alison. “The fact that the plunge pool can be used all year round is fantastic being in Melbourne.”
Cooler weather notwithstanding, the plunge pool is heated by an energy-efficient heat pump, allowing the owners to use it all year round with family and friends, something that they do regularly.
Alison’s “less is more” approach on this project allows the beautiful curation of plants to shine, while the carefully chosen details, such as the decking, paving and screening, serve to tie everything into the overall property aesthetic.
The sense of accomplishment and the fact that the owners enjoy their new garden with native plants makes it all worthwhile for Alison, who worked tirelessly to create an outdoor space that is as usable as it is beautiful.