Careful plant selection and deft handling of level changes were the keys to this successful makeover
Story: Alan Harrison, MAILDM
Photos: Diane Norris
The clever combination of bold planting with hardwood timber screens and decking has transformed this difficult site into a stylish and relaxing garden. An exposed, sloping site on an irregular shaped block, it posed a real challenge but after only 12 months the new garden is looking lush and established.
Located in the southern Sydney suburb of Como, the architecturally designed house had been built several years earlier. Extensive cut and fill had been carried out, with the exposed areas left to grow grass and weeds. The existing soil was very poor, containing large pockets of building rubble, stone and heavy clay.
The owners wanted a low maintenance garden that offered some privacy, blended with the contemporary design of the house, and created a usable space that they could relax and entertain in.
The main embankment provided the first structural challenge. Rather than build a 2.5m high retaining wall, the existing sandstone rock was retained and infill sections of spray concrete were installed. This created a continuous rock face that blended with the sloping levels of the block.
A specialist rock artist was then engaged to create a natural looking surface, adding coloured oxides and texture to produce a suitably aged and weathered appearance that blended with the natural rock.
A small amount of excavation was required to install the spotted gum hardwood deck extending off the original patio. Several hardwood timber screens were also designed into the garden to break up the open views and add visual interest amid the planting.
Prior to any planting, extensive soil preparation was required. The worst areas of rubble and clay were excavated, with the remaining garden cultivated to de-compact and improve drainage. Next, several tonnes of humus and garden mix soil was worked in.
The planting design incorporates bold foliage with strong green and burgundy colours carefully blended throughout. The use of grasses in large drifts creates movement throughout the garden, and the overall effect is lush and tropical.
The Agonis flexuosa ‘Jedda’s Dream’ along the existing deck balustrade helps to screen out the road. A large drift of tiger grass was planted in front of the rock embankment, partly to screen the rock face, but also to provide some privacy from the neighbouring properties which all overlook the house from a higher position.
Another tier of mixed screen planting on the top embankment reduces overlooking into the living room of the house and onto the deck area. This mixed planting consists of Acacia pravissima ‘Little Nugget’, Syzygium australe ‘Select Form’ and Agonis flexuosa ‘Jedda’s Dream’.
A small water bowl has been positioned in the midst of the tiger grass, visible from the living room. The sound of bubbling water can be heard from the deck as well as the living room, creating a sense of calm.
A mixture of hardy plants has been incorporated around the deck, including yuccas, Cordyline ‘Red Fountain’ and Lomandra longifolia ‘Nyalla’. A feature tuckeroo has been positioned near the northern corner of the deck, and will provide natural shade in a couple of years’ time.
On the steep embankment near the driveway, mass plantings of Pennisetum ‘Rubrum’ and Lomandra longifolia ‘Nyalla’ create a striking drift of colour and movement and help to prevent soil erosion.
The front entrance of the house has its own microclimate, enjoying morning sun and afternoon shade. This enabled a small tropical courtyard of cordylines to be created around the mature tree fern. A large hardwood timber screen was then positioned across the house frontage to enclose the courtyard and provide privacy.
The result is a stunning low-maintenance garden that enhances the owners’ lifestyle and provides year round enjoyment.
Alan Harrison is a landscape designer and director of Green Bean Landscapes, which is based in Sydney.