Z Outdoors GenericThese lush, landscaped spaces offer optimum privacy, which is just how the owner likes it
Story: Diane Norris

From your first fleeting glance, it’s clear that both front and rear gardens emit the feel of a lush oasis, one in which healthy plants provide a sense of enclosure and sanctuary and where well-integrated garden features work in harmony to add interest and intrigue.

When developing an initial concept, garden designers have many goals. They need to make sensible use of the space, find remedies for problems such as awkward level changes, create garden zones that meet the owners’ lifestyle needs (now and into the future) and they need to match the style of the garden to the architecture of the house.

But there is one other, very important objective that needs to be met. The design needs to reflect and incorporate the style of the person (or people) who live there. In this case, the owner is an artist who wanted an interesting landscape from which to draw inspiration.

What designer Olaf von Sperl from Above the Earth has done is take a sloping, somewhat oddly shaped site in Neutral Bay, a waterside suburb in Sydney’s north, and transform both the entry and back gardens into pleasingly private spaces awash with lush subtropical plants, appealing shapes and textures, and the gentle, refreshing sound of bubbling water.

Olaf describes the garden style as “an Australian rainforest setting — it is colourful and abstract while blending natural colours and materials”.

In the small front garden, Olaf has emulated the look of a dry creek bed, yet the overall effect is anything but “dry”. The entire perimeter of the garden is planted out with masses of subtropical plants: fast-growing bamboo, flourishing ferns, stately palms and glossy green-leafed cordylines. These plants like moist feet and that’s assured with water-saving crystals embedded in the soil around the larger plants and the installation of an efficient drip-irrigation system.

A gurgling bulbous “seed-pod” water feature sits in the midst of the creek bed, beneath the cool canopy of a large fern. Apart from providing an interesting focal point, it emits the sounds of the rainforest — the drips and drops of water you always hear and the smell of moisture you always enjoy from a rainforest walk.

In the rear garden, the planting is similarly abundant and also supported by drip irrigation. Again, considerable effort has been expended to create privacy, a sense of enclosure and a feeling of accord.

Charcoal-coloured clay pavers were used for the lower deck extending from the back of the house, the deep tones blending harmoniously into the landscape in a non-imposing and subtle fashion while upholding that understated artistic feel and flair of the whole design. To soften the look of the paved area, a water feature has been integrated into its design along with channels planted with black mondo grass.

Once you step down to the lawn area, the shapes all take on a more sinuous form and this continues until you reach a small curved oasis at the very tip of the tapered backyard.  In this part of the garden, chunky railway sleepers have been set into a bed of gravel to create a series of rustic-looking steppers that lead to a timber recliner. To give this relaxation area a distinctive Australian look, there is an outstanding grass tree specimen and a feature bush rock.

While the overall look is relaxed and extremely natural, there are some contemporary touches including the smooth-rendered planter at the base of the lower deck and the series of small rendered blocks that define the outer edge of the garden bed that hugs the right-hand boundary fence.

Front to back, this landscaping project shows what can be achieved in small spaces, which is no doubt why it won two awards in The Landscape Contractors’ Association of NSW Awards of Excellence in 2007.