Lush, leafy and private, this recently renovated rear garden exudes a sense of serenity
By Tig Crowley
Photography Peter Brennan
There’s no denying that outdoor living is vital to the Australian lifestyle and Sydney, in particular, is ideally suited to utilise this to the optimum. In a climate such as ours, being able to escape to a small sanctuary within the privacy of our own properties is not only a luxury but virtually a necessity. The importance of a functional, low-maintenance and enjoyable garden consequently served as inspiration to the design, construction and management of this Neutral Bay project.
The property presented a stunning, classical Victorian family home, the rear of which had been recently renovated. The garden, although quite pleasant, was now out of date and ready for a redesign that would complement the renovation, increase usability and add value to the property.
The owners sought to combine their desire to entertain friends and family with the need for privacy, both inside and outside the home. With this in mind, the design brief demanded some subtle level changes, space rearrangement and restyling. Garden lighting was also important to extend the usable hours and create ambience.
The existing paths and hard surfacing were predominately 1970s clay brick paving, containing some unwelcome undulation and single steps. This was all ripped up and the new layout was paved in a mix of random squared sawn sandstone and stone flagging. The old brick retaining wall was replaced by a flowing rendered brick wall with generous bull-nose sandstone capping. The walls were repositioned to create a socially enhancing space that incorporates the stairway to the lawn, the water feature, the barbecue, a pedestal — and they double as seating. The water feature was positioned at one end and the walls pushed back at the other, providing more of a room and less of a corridor.
The two-tiered rear lawn sloped quite dramatically and was linked by a beautiful, rustic but impractical “stairway to nowhere”. Part of the lawn area was excavated, levelled and retained with a less formal semi-circular dry-stone wall housing a teak bench seat. The lawn is surrounded by stone flagging edging that opens out as the upper landing for the stairway and an apron for two bench seats.
The north-facing rear garden was blessed with a grand existing Japanese Zelkova (Zelkova serrata). This beautiful deciduous tree provides the perfect balance of adequate light in winter and cooling shade in the summer. There’s also an existing murraya hedge screening the fence, providing privacy to the upper level and the western side of the garden. This hedge was overgrown and needed to be significantly reduced. Although not unattractive now, it will take another year before it adjusts to its new dimensions.
The planting makes this garden. It is attractive, functional and blends well with the new structure, residence and borrowed landscape. I consider ecological enhancement as a vital design component and the plants have been selected from a vast, low-water-using palette that requires little maintenance. We have replanted existing agapanthus and clivia, continued with plants such as rhapis, star jasmine and bird of paradise and introduced native plants including blueberry ash, dwarf coast rosemary and native violets that mix well with exotics. The use of Austromyrtus ‘Blushing Beauty’ has introduced a soft burgundy that connects with the recently repointed brick of the residence.
The transformation of this space has been a huge success, as the owners now have a beautiful garden that’s both functional and generous. The installation of the water feature contributes to the peaceful ambience within this private space, serving both the owners’ personal interests and entertainment purposes. The development of ample wall seating and providing an appropriate venue for the existing outdoor furniture ensure that any number of guests and family can be made welcome and comfortable. A combination of appropriate and exciting planting, sandstone finishes and a level lawn allows for a beautiful flexible garden that now complements and accentuates the lovely home and suits this family’s active lifestyle.
Tig Crowley is a landscape designer and founder of Sydney-based Tig Crowley Designs.