Urban Sanctuary

Urban Sanctuary


home gardeningProviding calm amid the city chaos, this plant-filled garden is a personal oasis
Story: Georgina Martyn, MAILDM
Photos: Simon Griffiths

Do you ever feel there is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide? That your nervous system is working overtime? How do we create a feeling of calm amid the chaos of life? This was the challenge facing the owners of a double block in Melbourne’s spirited seaside suburb, St Kilda.

The garden is just a minute’s walk from Luna Park where streets teem with people, vibrant colour and the joy of life surrounds the footpaths. It is fun to be part of this kaleidoscope. Yet there comes a time when one is ready to step off the merry-go-round, to retreat and to replenish. 

With its balance in layout and softness in plantings, this garden offers a tranquil space that almost transcends time and place.

Entering through the sliding carport door from a narrow side street, the garden dissolves stress immediately. The layout is simple. It consists of granite stepping-stone paths winding through the garden to a series of three different yet seamlessly interconnected garden rooms.

A curved deck beneath the verandah creates the first room. The deck welcomes you home and offers a place to breathe. Succulents planted in terracotta bowls held up by metal stands take their position on the timber, bringing the garden right up to the house and setting the scene for what lies beyond.

Beyond the verandah lie two more rooms connected by the winding granite stepping-stones, inter-planted with thyme.

A round lawn graced by plantings offers a place to feel the earth beneath your body while lying under the mature loquat. This is the second garden room, where Carex testacea softens the lawn edge. The Carex creates the appearance of a ring of fire as the leaf blades turn bright orange in the summer sun. A nearby water bowl stands atop a charcoal-coloured plinth. The water splashes pleasantly into a base pond soothing your nervous system with its mellifluous flow.

Deeper into the garden lies the third room. It is the kitchen garden, framed by a metal arbour clad with Clematis armandii. The Clematis offers a delightful spray of fragrant white flowers in early spring. After the petals fall, intriguing fluffy seed heads appear bringing a superb succession to the plantings.

The kitchen garden is complete with a potted citrus grove, a range of wonderful herbs and leafy vegetables. Brightly coloured stems of chard reflect the surrounding red walls. The walls are clad with climber Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata). The climber heralds autumn, as the leaves change to orange, red and coppery tones.

Each garden room has a sense of balance within itself and within the entire garden space. Calm exudes from this garden with the use of wonderful planting combinations.

Lush, abundant plantings embrace the garden. The foliage, with its contrast in texture, colour and form, seems to reach out and hug you. Feathery seed heads of Miscanthus, nod and dart on the edge of the path, as if in appreciation of their surroundings. By catching the afternoon sun on their hairy tips, they offer a golden charm.

The garden comes alive with silvery-grey-coloured grasses among deeper greens and lime shades. Foxtail agave (Agave attenuata) punctuates the lower plantings bringing drama and interest to the garden. The accent on leaf, bark and berry in plants such as Eupatorium megalophyllum, Mahonia japonica, and Olea europaea ensures seasonal interest year-round.

Despite the chaos of the surrounding streets, this garden offers a place to relax and retreat. It is fun to be part of the vibrant colour of the St Kilda streetscape, though it is important to set aside time to enjoy some quiet bliss and a gentle world.

Start now. Create a place where you can run and hide. Stop your nervous system working overtime. For a space that feels just right, use a simple garden layout softened with plantings to experience calm amid the chaos of life.

About the author: Georgina Martyn is a Melbourne-based landscape designer and the founder of BoldSimplicity.