A beautiful Melbourne perennial garden brings joy and tranquillity to a family on the other side of the world
You wouldn’t expect this beautiful perennial garden to be found on the other side of the world. Yet this riverside property, which echoes suburban Melbourne, is located north of the equator in Connecticut, USA.
The homeowners wanted their sprawling 1500sqm landscape to capture the feeling of their Australian home through sweeping lawns and stunning perennials, while also providing a space to entertain guests by the water. To bring this idea to life, they hired Australian company Ian Barker Gardens to design and oversee construction.
“Our client wanted their garden to have the feel of a Melbourne perennial garden rather than the traditional American one,” says Ian. “Sweeping lawns and landscape were important.”
Ian and his team designed and constructed a naturalistic back garden, in contrast with the home’s lush American frontage. It features an entertaining area and spaces to sit and enjoy the water views. The team planted a mix of Australian and native perennials and constructed stacked-stone walls to create relaxing nooks dotted throughout. “The back garden is very architectural,” says Ian. “I love the simplicity, with the river and boat club in the background. Nothing interrupts the views.”
The garden’s focus was not only on the featured perennials and Australian design. The area also needed to be practical and sustainable, with the ability to grow produce such as fruit and vegetables. To obtain this, Ian and his team designed and constructed a kitchen garden close to the home. They also installed an underground water tank and planted flowers that were specifically chosen to encourage fauna such as native bees.
The team’s plant colour palette was chosen based on what they would ideally plant in Australia, but due to the differences in soil and climate in the US, they needed to alter it to suit. They enlisted a contact in the US through Antique Perennials to manipulate this list to suit both the northern climate and be resistant to the local wild deer.
The final plant list included both natives and Australian species, such as Liriope gigantea, Giant Lily Turf; Epimedium x Rubrum ‘Sweetheart’, Sweetheart Barrenwort; Iris sibirica, Siberian Iris; Papaver orientale ‘Princess Victoria Louise’, Oriental Poppy; Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’, Purple Coneflower; Aster macrophyllus ‘Twilight’, Twilight Big Leaf Aster; Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’, Eastern Redbud; Hosta ‘Halcyon’; Camellia tsaii and Betula populifolia ‘Whitespire’, Whitespire Birch.
As Connecticut has distinct seasons compared to Australia, the garden’s plant life developed and changed over the seasonal cycle, from winter’s ice and snow to dramatic spring colour. The Saugatuck River, although calm and tranquil, also presented a challenge for Ian and his team. The river made everything around it permeable and caused a flood overlay. Nothing could be constructed using solid footings as a concrete slab could not be poured, so the team had to create the steps leading down to the garden using rods.
“Because of the river, everything is permeable,” says Ian. “To create the steps, we used steel risers that were fixed to bars belted into the ground.” Rods were placed into the ground and steel uprights were welded to them so the crushed rock used didn’t move. The entertaining space was constructed using Emu flamed granite paving, while a flexible substrate was used for the paving basis under the area.
“The decking steps off the back door are actually tiles laid on a flexible substrate. Nothing is laid on a hard surface,” says Ian.
The garden’s overall design was also very much inclusive of the river, with the design featuring “perpendicular lines” to draw the eye to the water from the home. “It’s important to figure out what it would take to entice someone to go outside,” says Ian. “Functionality is only a small element. A beautiful space is what draws people to immerse themselves in nature.”
With its distinct seasons and stable climate, Connecticut is a surprisingly suitable place for this Melbourne suburban-style garden. Using their knowledge of Australian landscapes and love of perennials, the Ian Barker Gardens team were able to achieve and exceed their nature-loving clients’ brief to create a naturalistic, perennial garden which is not only enjoyable, but practical and sustainable too.
For more great garden and outdoor projects, visit our outdoor project archives.
Written by Kylie Baracz
Originally in Backyard Magazine Volume 15 Issue 6