Animal Magnetism

Animal Magnetism


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This whimsical family garden embraces its former incarnation as a private zoo
Photos: Marian Riabic

The Fox family didn’t want an ordinary garden. They wanted a landscape design that appreciated the history of their garden but also made it a fun and functional space for a young and growing family with pets and a love of the outdoors.

Landscape architect Vladimir Sitta came highly recommended and was approached to design the garden. Like the owners he was intrigued with the curious history of the site and was determined to make the most of it. It was a brief that suited his unique style.

The home is an elegant two-storey townhouse with a front and rear garden. In the 1930s, this garden was a private zoo displaying elegant Borzoi dogs, tropical birds, well-stocked aquariums, monkeys and other animals. Remnants of the zoo remain, including animal sleeping and feeding areas, artificial rocks, fountains and old walls, shelters and plants.

The new landscape, constructed by Above the Earth, is deceptively simple and belies the work involved in creating the modern garden in the old space. Levels were changed and extensive piping and drainage work concealed beneath ground level, much of it dug into rock.

The garden consists of a lap pool, which has been pushed to one side of the garden so it runs the length of one boundary wall. A moat beside the pool, into which water overflows in a continuous sheet, is densely planted with lomandra (Lomandra spp.). The moat substitutes for a traditional pool fence leaving the area open and unrestricted.
The pool heater is concealed beneath vegetation while the necessary 3.6m balance tank is sunk in the ground and disguised at one end of the pool by decking. (This area required a child-proof pool gate.) Elevated timber decking has also been placed beside the pool, providing an area in which to relax and also giving a view back towards the house.

The pool itself is a work of art and so doubles as a water feature as well as a family swimming and entertaining area. It is constructed of polished concrete and granite (modelled on the pool in the National Gallery) and was constructed in-situ. Although requiring extensive work from the pool contractor (Beecroft Constructions), the polished concrete has proved to be a low maintenance and elegant finish that was well worth the effort involved.

Much of the structures of walls, grottoes and a feeding area that relate to the old zoo have been retained. The feeding area is now a storage area for pool equipment and toys. Beside it an aged wisteria still cascades over an old structure that Vladimir Sitta refers to as the cloister. Where there was a rubbish heap is now a clump of palms and other lush plants salvaged from elsewhere in the garden.

Part of the area was an old stable, which was falling down. This structure had to be partially demolished with some of the walls and roof structure removed. It made way for the new lawn and swimming pool. The walls that were retained are cleverly integrated into the design. They have been stabilised for safety but left in their original state — mellow brick.

A Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) has been trained on one wall to add a seasonal element to the planting. In winter it is bare, in spring it is fresh and green, in summer it is a lush covering that bursts into brilliant red in autumn.

Garden owner Rebecca Fox admits that she took a lot of convincing to plant a deciduous vine beside a swimming pool. “Your initial reaction is no – it will make a mess. But the effect is well worth any extra work and the leaf fall is only in autumn for a few weeks,” she says.

Indeed, she admits to loving the floating autumn leaves on the dark reflective surface of the pool. The leaves are easily caught by the filtration system and regularly cleaned out.

“When we were building the new garden it was difficult to make some of the contractors understand that the walls were not going to be rendered and disguised,” explains Rebecca. “We had to stop them chasing wires and pipes into the walls which would have marred the surfaces.”

The whimsy of the old zoo is not only retained in the design but highlighted by new decorative elements. What looks like a door left ajar in an old wall with a jet of water spurting out (and could be mistaken for a naughty boy), is actually part of the pool’s filtering system.

The back gate with its square letter slot is known as ‘Ned Kelly’. Pride of place is a garden sculpture, Terra Hitech Taylor, a ceramic fish skeleton by Australian ceramicist Kristyn Taylor. It is displayed as if in a museum case, yet another humorous nod to the garden’s prior history.

Nearby is a sculpture with a difference. What looks like a hotch potch of old ladders really is a collection of old timber ladders. Some came from the site, others were found and one was donated by one of the contractors. In summer, the ladders are planted with sunflowers that transform them into a happy, living sculpture.