Tropical Oasis

Tropical Oasis


home gardeningA once unusable sloping backyard has been transformed into a water-wise tropical oasis 
Story: Natalie Watts

Photos: Glenn Weiss

Designing a garden for friends can be a recipe for disaster, although in this instance it has been a rewarding experience. My husband and I own and run a landscaping company, Branat Designs, and, a few years ago, we created a front courtyard for good friends — a garden that has held up extremely well, despite the drought. Recently, the couple put in a new upper and lower deck at the back of the house, so we were again called in, this time to tackle the old, steep garden at the rear.

Both work very long hours and while they wanted a garden that would complement the new renovations, it had to be easy to maintain as they have neither the time nor the inclination to get their hands dirty. Being water-wise was also a major consideration and towards this aim they had installed water tanks to provide for garden irrigation.

Next on the must-have list was the creation of a poolside entertaining area with enough room for an outdoor dining setting and a few sun lounges. Last, but by no means least, the rear garden had to be dog-friendly. The dog has a big personality and is very much a member of the family.

To achieve all of this, we strove to use as much of the existing materials and plant life as we could – including some existing palms and trees that helped to create the tropical oasis look we were after — although we did need to introduce new plant varieties to complement and flesh out what was already there. We were also able to draw on the ‘borrowed’ landscape of the surrounding houses.

The house is located in Paddington, an inner-city suburb of Brisbane known for its leafy gardens and tree canopies. Here, you will find beautiful, old Queenslanders mixed with contemporary homes, but the whole area is dotted with established trees that produce a profusion of colour at varying times of the year. There are jacarandas and tabebuias, not to mention a wonderful array of distinctively coloured frangipanis.

As the only access from the front of the property was down the eastern side of the house all materials, from pavers to plants, had to be lugged down the steps to the rear of the garden. And they had to be lugged by hand. By the end of the project, everyone had great buns and thighs!

Another challenge was the poor soil structure. It contained lots of shale, clay and granite, which is typical of most of north-western Brisbane. To improve it, lots of organic matter was tilled over and incorporated into the soil. We also mixed Hydrocell into the soil. This is a water-saving product that helps to keep water down at the plants’ root zone for longer and so far we have had very good results with it.

For the new paved area near the existing swimming pool, we used 400mm x 400mm Himalayan sandstone with cream and ochre flecks. Adding interest to the paving and creating a talking point, some of the sandstone contained fossilised ferns. To define the edge of the sandstone paving, we used a border of 100m x 100mm charcoal cobbles.

Picking up on the colour of the cobbles, we constructed the pathway using 400mm x 400mm Edenstone Charcoal pavers. A 200mm gap was left between each paver — we filled these with 20mm-40mm tumbled sandstone pebbles.

To top off the paved area around the pool — and give the dog somewhere to play — we established a green carpet of ‘Sir Walter’ turf.

Connecting the front courtyard to the back garden, there is a stand of Timor Black bamboo that runs along the eastern boundary to the new decking and screens out the view of the next door neighbours.

The lower eastern side of the rear garden is screened with Syzygium ‘Aussie Southern’ complemented with an array of other plants contributing colour and texture — bird of paradise (Strelitizia reginae), Alpinia zerumbet ‘’Variegata’, giant bird of paradise (Strelitzia nicolai), Liriope muscari ‘Evergreen Giant’, heliconias, crotons, native frangipani, rhoeos, Alpinia caerulea (red and green leaf forms) and sago palms (Cycas revolute).

Today, when you stand on the upper deck and look down, it is amazing to see how much the garden has grown and it is heartening to know that the garden will continue to flourish during dry spells or periods of rain.

Natalie Watts is a horticulturist who, along with her husband Brad, runs the Brisbane-based landscape design and construction company, Branat Designs.