Garden DesignA multi-level garden has been given a fresh, new face and a renewed lease on life
Story: Karen Booth
Photos: Ron Tan

Most new homes are surrounded by little more than bare ground, presenting the garden designer with a blank canvas on which to work. The ability to start from scratch presents a multitude of possibilities that just aren’t available when tackling the makeover of an existing garden. Typically, there will be built structures in place, such as patios and pools, but not necessarily the budget to remove, relocate or extensively remodel them.

This backyard in the suburbs of Perth presented just such a challenge for garden designer Denise Staffa of Outside In Landscape Management. While there was the budget to update the garden and entertaining areas, funds wouldn’t stretch to modernising the pool and its immediate surrounds. And the position of the patio was set.

With these limitations in mind, Denise set about working out what could be easily and affordably changed to give the family the easy-flowing, modern indoor-outdoor lifestyle they so desired.

“The first thing I noticed was that the existing garden seemed disconnected from the house due to the balustrading along the patio. The extensive and outdated brick paving didn’t help the appearance and the small brick steps to each level were very uninviting and created a closed-in feeling,” recalls Denise.

“The owners wanted to open up the rear garden and create usable and much more functional outdoor living areas. To achieve this, they were prepared to replace the windows in their kitchen-dining area with double doors to enable an easy flow from inside to out.”

They were also keen for the balustrading to be replaced, further opening up the space, and for extensive decking and paving works to be undertaken.

Ensuring ease of flow from space to space was high on the owners’ wish list but, because of the differences in level, this was something of a challenge. By using like materials — in particular the Batu decking and the Fremantle Stone paving — Denise has been able to achieve this in what appears to be an effortless fashion.

“The positioning of the paving insert into the decking did require some thought so as to create the correct balance with the decking insert into the paving in the barbecue area,” she points out.

“Another consideration was the positioning of the trickle pot water feature, one of only two imported into Australia from Vietnam. The aim was to make this a focal point without obstructing movement from the top deck to the lower deck and access down the side of house.”

In coming up with a style of design, Denise says: “The clients were my inspiration. The design takes its cue from their personality, which is why this back garden is not just functional; it’s a lot of fun and there’s plenty of room for entertaining.”

It also has a tropical feel, which will be enhanced when the rosewood (Tipuana tipu), a fast-growing winter deciduous shade tree, matures and spreads its beautiful canopy over the lower deck.

How you style an outdoor area can have a lot to do with how effective the finished result will be. Here, a couple of brightly patterned cushions and a vividly coloured pot was all it took to dress up the black wrought-iron cafe table and matching chairs.

Framing is another another technique that can make or break a garden. Returning to the example of the metal table and chairs, the setting is framed by two angular pots, each planted with a single agave. These dark charcoal-coloured pots help to define the area and turn the setting into a desirable vista.

Denise use the same technique — this time in the form of large, white cylindrical pots planted with red cordyline — on the lower area of decking beside the pool.

This lower deck is used for relaxed entertaining or casual conversation with friends. All the owners do is scatter some comfy cushions about and it’s time to unwind. This area can also be used for sunbathing between dips in the pool.