Is the composition of this coastal view the best you’ve ever seen? Myles Baldwin says yes. He explains why in this extract from his new book, ‘Australian Coastal Gardens’.
Through good horticultural practice and boldness with a pair of shears and a chainsaw, a stylish garden has been produced. When seated on the deck, the swelling mounds of planting obscure the lawn and the path to the beach, while not obscuring the view. I’ll go out on a limb: the composition of the coastal view from this property is one of the best I have ever seen. Photo - Myles Baldwin, 'Australian Coastal Gardens'
Myles Baldwin first saw the shingled walls of this house and its garden of, mixed planting and lawn leading to the beach, when he was holidaying with mates. He liked its style. Five years later one of his clients bought the house, which is at Berrara, on the south coast of NSW, near Sussex Inlet. Myles was asked to tweak the garden ‘a little’. In this extract from his new book Australian Coastal Gardens, he explains what he saw when he walked through the property for the first time, and the changes he made.
Originally a weatherboard/brick/fibro cottage, shingles had been added by the previous owner, and a louvered, box-like dovecote installed on the roof for visual effect. The result is in an almost Hamptons aesthetic, which, combined with the setting on the coast seems even more the case.
As in most beachside properties, all the garden effort was made on the ocean side of the house. Texturally mounded coastal plants are juxtaposed with strappy
leaves of dietes and lomandra, arranged in a series of organic garden beds. These beds are used for screening on the boundaries, and unconventionally,
as foreground texture, running away from the centre of the house and splitting a lawn into smaller segments.
The diversity of the plant material is exciting; clipped mounds of metrosideros (New Zealand Christmas bush), Banksia integrifolia, Casurina glauca and Pittosporum undulatum (native frangipani) form the bulk of the plantings but even murrayas, syzygium (lillypilles) and viburnum make an appearance in the mix. Tall species have been trained to have a similar form and habit, and their subtly contrasting leaf textures make all the difference to the overall effect.
Composing a view
I have long been an advocate of planting or positioning an object within a grand view. That way it provides scale, and concentrates the vista into windows. The object or tree shouldn’t be so big, of course, that it blocks the view, or positioned to hide a key point of the vista from a key location on the property. Instead, the object should be placed in a way that it essentially becomes the subject of a great landscape painting.
In the case of the garden at Berrara, the subject is a fantastically clipped casurina that developed two trunks and, over a period of time, has been trained into two interlocking buns that may, or may not, be viewed as a pair of giant olive green buttocks.
More controversial than the casurina was the previous owner’s decision to split the lawn into halves. Up to 1.4m tall, the plantings are high enough that, when seated on the deck you don’t see the lawn or path to the beach, yet low enough that you don’t lose the coastal vista. I will go out on a limb to suggest that the composition of the view from this property is one of the best coastal views I have ever seen.
The Adirondack chairs match the shingled exterior of the house to lend a Hamptons aesthetic to a distinctly Australian scene. Photo - Myles Baldwin, 'Australian Coastal Gardens'
Small changes for big effects
When asked to work on a property with a strong aesthetic you need to be respectful of why the design was established in the first place and also what it
was about the place that encouraged your client to buy it. My job was to simplify the garden ‘a little’, and provide a ‘little’ more contrast within
the plantings. Retaining all the large clipped plant materials, I looked at segregating some of the wild lomandras from under the feature mounds to
become stand-alone specimens and drifts that would perform to their full potential.
Segregating plant material within a garden is something I encourage anyone with a mixed arrangement of plants to do, if they want a more mature Gardenesque aesthetic over a whimsical cottage one.
The casurinas were first to get treatment. Inspired by the clipped nature of the ‘feature’ casurina, the thin trees on the side were heavily pruned to encourage dense growth. Over a two-year period, they have become an impenetrable screening plant – so successful, in fact, that I have specified a casurina screen in two more coastal projects.
Inspired by the drift of westringia I had seen from the beach years earlier, I planted more westringia to continue the flow from the neighbour’s plantings, unifying the dune front. Once bolstered by spot plantings, it became a subtle grey contrast to the green of the garden closer to the house. We also added more banksia and a line of metrosideros near the beach, supported by the beachside favourite, oleander, and drifts of Leptospermum laevigatum.
Photo - Myles Baldwin, 'Australian Coastal Gardens'
The power of the shears
To many people this list of plant material sounds awful, and to be honest, given a different location, different conditions and pruning regimes, this would be a pretty horrible collection of plants. However, maintained in the same way the previous owners developed the garden, I am confident it will be a success.
This certainly is, though, a garden that that has developed out of necessity: the neighbours had to be screened, the hillside retained and privacy gained. The plant material has been selected because it suits the natural coastal aesthetic, performs well in compacted silty rubbish soil and loves salty air. Yet through good horticultural practice and boldness with a pair of shears and chainsaw, a stylish garden has been produced.