My own garden has been a work in progress since 1993. It extends over three large blocks with a continual slope dropping 12m over a length of 60m. It has featured in a number of Australian magazines and books such as House & Garden, Your Garden, Backyard Design Ideas and Great Australian Gardens.
It is a place of constant experimentation and change. Subtropical oasis in the middle, focus on creating habitat for wildlife in the lower garden and an extensive kitchen garden and chook run at the top level.
The sloping site was divided into level areas and banks, keeping the need for expensive retaining walls to a minimum. Decisions about how and where to create these new levels were informed by the decision to retain the existing Camphor Laurel and Frangipani trees and not to disturb their root systems.
To slow down run-off and allow water to filter into the ground, stormwater management, erosion control and drainage have been an important consideration in the layout of the garden.
The terracing was also designed to manage heavy downpours, a critical consideration in this climate. Surface drainage is paramount, and the terraces are vital in capturing and slowing the water flow. The lower garden is home to a frog pond/billabong. It is positioned, so that all excessive run-off can channel into it. The stormwater from the roof of the Jetty House is also directed into this pond. We have a lot of frogs during wet times. In periods of drought the pond dries up but the plants persist.
The garden has several ‘key’ areas. The courtyard garden, which is integral to the architecture of the main house, was designed to be viewed through the large two-storey glass front when traversing through the house.
From this quite structured environment a timber deck leads onto a level lawn with views over the lower garden to the mountains in the distance (until the neighbour’s bamboo went mad!). Across the lawn, under the canopy of the large Camphor Laurel, which despite being declared a noxious weed remained, as it provides nesting sites for a variety of birds and shades and cools the three storey house. From there a path leads into the ‘tropical’ section. Here a number of shade-loving plants provide a focal point from the house.
Important vertical elements are Australian natives such as Alexander palms (Archontophoenix alexandrae) and groves of cabbage-tree palms (Livistona australis). This section of the garden is planted densely with lush, mainly tropical foliage plants, including rainforest species native to the north coast region. These towering palms and vast thickets of tropical plants give the impression that the garden occupies a luxurious tract of natural rainforest.
Recurring feature plants include the luxurious red bromeliad Alcantarea imperialis Rubra, the spear lily (Doryanthes palmeri) with its spectacular sword-like leaves and the cardboard palm (Zamia furfuracea). Surprisingly, another plant used extensively is clipped Japanese box (Buxus microphylla japonica), a plant usually associated with formal, temperate gardens. It’s a star performer in this sub-tropical setting, formed into elongated rectangles and spheres, used to help corral swathes of more unruly groundcover plants and grasses.
The colour palette is restrained to shades of green, grey and purple foliage with the odd bit of colour from flowering plants in mainly whites, lemon yellow and the occasional pink.
The garden at the top block, is mainly for the vegetable garden, sub-tropical fruit trees and the chooks. There are more traditional plants such as Hydrangeas and Salvias in this area.
Throughout the garden hard surfaces are kept to a minimum. Paths through the garden are graveled, stepping stones sit within groundcover plants and there is some lawn.
This garden doesn’t adhere to any particular style. Rather, it is a response to the context of the site, the topography, the climate and the architecture of the house.
Plant selection and experimentation with new species plays an important role as it’s a garden of constant change.
This is not a low maintenance garden. Large trees and bamboo constantly shed their leaves, gingers need to be cut back, palm fronds must be removed and weeding and mulching are regular chores. However, this is an exciting garden that invites interaction, is a source of exercise and, ultimately, great satisfaction.
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