Delightfully quirky

Delightfully quirky


garden designs

Boasting an abundance of plants, both front and back gardens exude personality and charm

By Georgina Martyn
Photography Sarah Mackie

The front and rear gardens of this period home in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick are now delightful, quirky, plant-filled spaces that thrive in the difficult site conditions. Yet they were not so successful to start with. The existing plantings were failing in the deep shade of the tree, the lawns were struggling to survive and the space offered little interest or appeal. The pool was already in place in the rear garden and with clever thought and planning the garden was brought back to life through a practical, inviting design that complements the heritage home and evokes a sense of peace and tranquillity.

The back garden is graced with a very large peppercorn tree stretching over the entire garden, casting deep shadows over the plantings below. In spring and summer, when the tree releases its delicate cream flowers and fine leaves, it looks like it is snowing. It is a lovely feeling to be standing under the tree when this is happening yet, however beautiful the flower fall, it also creates one of the greatest challenges in the garden as the spent flowers smother the under-plantings with a thick layer of organic litter.

The rear garden was initially designed as a square lawn surrounded by pavers interspersed with loose pebbles. The space was uninviting and uninteresting. There were sun-tolerant plants in the shade struggling to grow under the tree and the lawn was patchy due to stress in the low light conditions.

To bring life, interest and drama to the garden, the plantings had to be renewed, the lawn removed and the garden reshaped. The answer to making this garden work was to recognise and accept the challenging site conditions, while choosing plant species that thrive in the dry soil and deep shade caused by the tree.

The new plantings had to be able to cope with the trees incessant leaf and flower fall. The solution was to use a number of plants with strap-type leaves. This allows the leaf litter to run down the leaf sheath and off onto the ground, rather than remain on the plant. Care was taken to avoid using ground covers that would only become smothered in time.

One of the plants growing successfully in the garden is Liriope giganteum which now surrounds the new circular gravel area. Patches of this liriope were already present in the garden but their placement made little sense. To better define and strengthen the plantings, the liriope was transplanted in a semi-circle as a double row around the gravel area for a much fuller effect. Taller foliage plants behind the liriope create textured layers. These plants include Ruscus hypoglossum, Beschorneria yuccoides, Setaria palmifolia and Senecio petasites, which are all tough, shade-tolerant species.

A circular area under the tree is made from Dromana Gravel and Castlemaine slate stepping stones. It creates a clearing that allows the striking tree trunk to be appreciated from all angles. Leaf litter is easily swept from the gravel surface and because it is also permeable, water and air can still reach the tree roots.

A red metal sculpture tree added to the existing pond brings colour to the garden and acts as a focal point, drawing the view out from inside the house. The tussock grass Poa sieberiana creates a soft edge to the pool in front of the existing pleached ficus hedge. Water tanks line the boundary fence and are screened with the deciduous climber Parthenocissus quinquefolia over a metal frame.

The rear garden is now a successful space where the right plants are used in the right place.

In the front garden, the lawn there too was looking tired. It was removed and replaced with a timber boardwalk that winds its way beside the trunk of an existing standard cherry tree. The boardwalk terminates in a circular decking area that provides the perfect place to sit and appreciate the garden.

Behind the deck is another pleached ficus hedge, the plants of which were transplanted from the rear garden where they were growing poorly in the shade of the tree. Foliage plants in the front garden that add density and depth to the landscape include Arthropodium cirrhatum, Euphorbia wulfenii, and the peppermint geranium Pelargonium tomentosum with its strongly scented leaves that can also be used to flavour dishes.

Both front and back gardens of this lovely home now have order, balance and scale, using plants that grow successfully in the demanding site conditions. The overall feeling in the garden is one of harmony and lush abundance with a sense of being embraced by the plantings.

Georgina Martyn is a Melbourne-based landscape designer and founder of BoldSimplicity, which focuses on sustainable design.