Bondi is known for its beach, babes and bikinis, and not for its gardens. But this is where I find one of Australia’s most imaginative pocket-sized spaces. Generously spirited and full of take away ideas to bring your garden to life.
Australia’s gardens are getting smaller and drier and the design of this garden addresses both issues with real and unique solutions, with a flourish of personality, heart and soul.
A beautiful setting.
The adage that “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts’ is true in this design where independent parts of the garden such as the dinosaur eggs, steel hoops, grassy knoll and clipped box are intriguing in themselves, but together they work in conjunction with each other to create a sense of place so flagrant you don’t want to leave. Walls are softened with drifting boundaries; domed tree branches create a cathedral-like vaulted ceiling echoing the curve of the steel arches and the floor is made up of a patchwork of contrasting textural carpets. Egg shapes pods become chairs and an ‘artificial’ grassy knoll becomes the highlight for weekend reclining. It’s a Dr Zuess inspired space you never want to leave.
This garden has the attention and style normally reserved for interior design, where the patterns and patinas of walls, ceilings, artwork, furniture and flooring are paramount in creating a well loved place. The space feels nurturing, enveloping, make it hard to leave. Luckily for the owners Lynne and Grahame rarely have to leave, in fact they can’t get rid of family and friends. The garden has a magnetism that draws you into the heart of this family.
Dr Zuess inspired space
Describing why a place is hard to leave is difficult. Most gardens I am happy to wander about, observe the careful plant choices, delight in the quirks and depart. But this garden is an exception. I think it’s all in the rise and fall of the spaces where breast-like forms (sphere-shaped plants, egg seats, steel arches, blurred boundaries) give a sensuality. Rounded forms are generous and plump and tap in the subconscious thought - about life and the promise of life. There’s no escaping the fact that egg shaped pods are life affirming elements that echo the beginning of life. There is nothing mean spirited here.
The garden was conceived by landscape architect Brendan Moar as part of his Dry Spell Gardens series for the Lifestyle Channel. On Brendan’s arrival the garden was a jungle garden ‘the result of misguided love and affection’ where 30 years of overzealous gardening had left the couple befuddled and out of ideas. Lynne’s compulsive impulse buying at nurseries had created a jungle. Lynne and Grahame always wanted a place that would draw visitors out of the house and into the garden, but they always stopped at the back door. They wanted an outdoor ‘living room’ that would fit seamlessly into their lifestyle – a room for maximum enjoyment!
Graham puts another log on the fire.
Brendan didn’t want to lose the magic and the quirky personality of the original jungle so he looked into the home (and the local golf course) for the big bold ideas that were going to drive the next phase. Big colour especially red and purple is a part of Lynne’s personality and bold blocks of colour inside the home, such as the red laminate kitchen, were carried out into the garden.
Early in the design stage Lynne thought of clearing all the trees, but Brendan suggested the opposite. By removing the shrubs and redesigning the ground plane he could trim the trees and sculpt the ceiling (like a giant hug and you). Certain views, like the one to the two storey apartment block were blocked by clever planting of Ghost Bamboo (Bambusa chungii), which is top of my list of near instant privacy plants- its eye-catching silver grey trunks are truly beautiful. Bamboos are often derided for being invasive, their reputation sullied by unsuitable species planted in the 1970’s. However do not let this fact stop you from meeting a whole lot of well behaved clumping bamboos that can magically make your neighbour disappear without encroaching on your valuable entertaining space.
Corten steel arch way
The dry-spell team wielded true skill, a perfect mix of personality, creative genius and the technical expertise to pull it off – quite rare in the world of garden design. This team shows the exceptional result you can get by employing experts in their fields. A landscape architect sees your gardens future, as they can see things that are not there, visualising spaces and voids not there in the beginning, but only develop as the plants grow and the garden grows into itself and into the plans originally put on paper. This often prompts many who couldn’t visualise the design on paper, to finally ‘get it’ two years later!
The garden sits very quietly in the centre of the space, fitting into its original trees and linking into the home. Colours speak to each other from inside to out, the most overheard conversation being between the shiny red kitchen and red retaining wall that doubles as a seat along the patio section. Too many colours can often muddle the message, so when the colour palette is restricted like it is here – a certain visual relief is gained. This age old design trick should be used more when designing outdoor spaces – as there is a tendency to put too many different plants and colours in.
The garden is designed into three areas that you can move through. Straight off the house is the formal patio area, for eating, where the pavers have been laid into a rectangular shape in neutral tones. A bench seat platform, in red and grey, provides a practical boundary to this area.
The Dr Zeus vibe really starts to kick in here, when you enter the heart of the garden through a portal, a little stargate moment, stepping up onto a recycled hardwood platform leading under two curved steel arches. The oversized arches have been painted with a finish called Corten, a paint which provides arealistic rusted patina. Imaginative plantings of clipped box contrast with fascinating cardboard palms (Zamia furfuracea). My imagination goes wilder with the informal seating area dotted with ‘just laid’ white dinosaur egg shaped seats, made from hand carved Hebel blocks. Hebel is an aerated concrete material, lightweight and fairly easy to carve; it is loved by sculptors and can be sawn and sanded into these giant ‘pet rocks’. Here lies the most experimental part of the gardens design, the nucleus of the garden – the grassy knoll – a big fuzzy green pebble, made from artificial grass positioned for maximum lounging.
A big fuzzy green pebble in amongst the perennials
A personal message inscribed into two rusted steel plaques ‘having a nice time?’ placed on the wall just off-centre of the coastal Banksia (Banksia integrifolia) provides a lovely place to remember the couple’s daughter with her instruction to enjoy the garden.
The endpoint to the garden is nocturnal, a spherical steel fire pit sits in the centre surrounded by a curved purple retaining wall doubling as seating. The back fence boundary is a giant green checkerboard with colourful Perspex noughts and crosses. Splashes of colourful bromeliads, bamboo and an ancient Gingko tree (Gingko biloba) enclose the jungle feel.