By the Sea

By the Sea


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In the relaxed environs of this casual coastal garden life couldn’t be easier
Story: Jenny Paul, MAILDM
Photos: Bruce Usher

A home in a beachside suburb of Sydney is one of the great joys in life. The casual atmosphere and the friendly, open-house feel of the district sets a mood for a lifestyle many of us would love to have. It was, therefore, no surprise that this new house in Palm Beach, one of northern Sydney’s most sought-after locales, would reflect the owners’ wish for the relaxed, carefree atmosphere of life at the beach.

One of the greatest pleasures of designing a garden in this type of seaside location is the opportunity to reflect the beach environment. On the other hand, creating a garden so close to the sand and salt can be a problem. On this site, there was little soil — just sand, sand and more sand.

The owners had chosen to design the house around the principles of Feng Shui with an absence of direct lines from the front gate to the front door and through to the rear of the garden. So a traditional rectangular block had been treated in a very asymmetrical manner. This and the total absence of a traditional soil profile set the criteria for both the garden design and plant choice.

Garden areas were softened with curved beds and a path of sandstone stepping stones wandering from the front gate to the front door. This curved path also provides the opportunity to slowly meander across the entry garden giving visitors the chance to take in the unusual combinations of plantings in different sections of the garden beds.
With the home just metres from one of the many bays in Pittwater, consideration needed to be given to plants that could survive in soils which retained little or no moisture and provided minimal nutrition to the plants. While this location wasn’t exposed to high winds, salt-laden winds were still an environmental consideration.

The core planting scheme of the garden is made up of a combination of succulents and grasses, with structure and scale provided by a series of Ravenala madagascariensis (Traveller’s palms). Grasses of varying sizes, including Lomandra ‘Tanika’ and Miscanthus sinensis, not to mention Xanthorrhoea (known to most as the grass tree), are used as a soft foil among a range of succulents. The latter includes Agave, Aloe, Sempervivum, Echeveria, Senecio and Kalanchoe species, such as Kalanchoe beharensis and Kalanchoe tomentosa, to provide colour and textural variety. With a backdrop of colourful Dodonaea triquetra ‘Purpurea’, the foreground plantings create an exciting palette that complements the colours of the home.

In keeping with the beach lifestyle, seating and entertaining areas in the rear garden also reflect an easygoing and relaxed approach. A water feature sits beside a daybed to provide a cool and calming background for the outdoor seating.

Each of the outdoor areas has been designed to complement its use. The side access has little traffic but is viewed from living areas of the home, so a pebble path was created to, once again, meander along the side of the house and provide access to the outdoor shower. Bamboo and Dypsis madagascariensis (Madagascar palms) were the perfect plants to provide screening and privacy without requiring a lot of space and the variation of leaf size and texture created an interesting backdrop to the ground planting of grasses and succulents.

Established just a year ago, this garden has blossomed despite the hard conditions. The owners are particularly delighted that they have created an interesting outdoor space that requires a minimum of maintenance, allowing them to sit back and enjoy the garden as part of their beach experience.

About the author: Jenny Paul is a Sydney-based garden designer and the founder of Seed Garden Design & Mai