A functional and appealing garden designed to thrive in a cool mountain climate
Story: Arthur Lathouris, MAILDM
Photos: Diane Norris
It’s always a pleasure to get a call from the owners of this home. And it is such a positive feeling to be asked to design another garden for someone. In this case, garden number four. With these particular clients I know it’s going to be fun, it’s going to be different and it’s going to be a close working relationship. Opinions on all sides are respected and discussed before decisions are made. Roland Karr is a builder of high-quality ‘mountain’ homes and, he and his wife, Trish, buy rundown or ‘boring’ houses from which many other people shy away. The result is a beautiful house and garden that the locals know will add value to the area. I am the privileged garden designer.
In this case, the old, brick-veneer box was knocked down, the existing concrete slab extended and a beautiful, single-storey weatherboard home constructed. There was nothing in the garden but unhealthy grass, bare earth, some awkwardly shaped spaces and minor but interesting level changes. The brief was open with respect to style, materials and plants, but still, certain items had to be considered and accommodated. The most important items were those that I would always include in a place of my own: vegetable and herb gardens, fruit trees, compost bins and water tank. Chickens also had to be catered for, as well as a rotary clothesline in a sunny position for ease of drying in the cooler mountain climate. Good access to all areas of the garden was important.
The level changes are defined by low brick walls, rendered and painted to match the house. The height of the walls allows them to double up for informal seating. Plain concrete or pebble paths join the various spaces. The concrete was used in areas where high, and at times messy, garden activities take place, for example, through the vegetable gardens, composting area and to the work shed. It’s surprising how easy it is to clean up afterwards.
A black vitrified tile was used on the patio and entrance areas as well as the steps. These were selected to tie into the trim colours of the house, unifying the house and garden. The house wall facing the patio on the south-eastern side is painted a vibrant red. This picks up some the brighter colours in the garden as well as the autumn hues of a mountain winter.
The garden is set out in formal lines, but the planting is mainly informal. Korean box (Buxus microphylla var. microphylla) line the lower path where there are vegetables on one side and ornamental plantings on the other. As the gardens are so different, this creates some unity. Vegetables could not be planted in that particular garden because it’s shady for much of the day, particularly in winter. The planting within this garden is very informal with broad drifts of colour and texture. The purple leaves of the azalea (Azalea ‘Plumtastic’) contrast with the long, fine, rich-green leaves of the lomandra (Lomandra longifolia ‘Tanika’) and the broad, flat leaves of the heartleaf saxifrage (Bergenia cordifolia). Adding height and stature to this combination are three Betchel’s crab apples (Malus ioensis ‘Flora Plena’).
The simple cast-iron-bowl water feature was designed into a curved recess in the retaining wall and is surrounded by mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus ) at ground level with lomandra (Lomandra fluviatilis) weeping down from the top creating a soft, often moving in the breeze, backdrop. Centred in the garden above the curved wall is a weeping cherry. The rest of the planting in this upper garden includes magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’), Mexican orange blossom (Choisya ternata) and winter daphne (Daphne odora) combining to provide a beautiful scent for much of the year. For contrast and colour there’s New Zealand flax (Phormium ‘Chieftain’) as well hellebores (Helleborus orientalis) and more Bergenia cordifolia whose lower growth fills the gaps.
The top level is dominated by a plum-coloured garden and storage shed, and a matching iron rainwater tank that is used for watering the garden. Compost bins and a chicken shed are also tucked away in the back corner. No attempt has been made to completely hide all these structures as they add to the character and function of the garden. However, they are softened by plantings of Spartan juniper (Juniperus virginiana ‘Spartan’) and a variety of fruit trees, vegetables and herbs.
The combination of productive and ornamental plants works very well and means that the owners are able to enjoy the bounty of their new garden as well as the delights of sound, colour, scent and texture.
About the author: Arthur Lathouris is an award-winning landscape designer based in the Blue Mountains region of New South Wales.