How to grow The Wrap Up: Hidden Festival of Outdoor Design

The Wrap Up: Hidden Festival of Outdoor Design

Seasonal change: this garden is designed not for a single peak but for year-round fascination. Photo - Robin Powell

On a sodden April weekend some of Sydney’s professionally designed gardens opened their gates to visitors for the Hidden Festival of Outdoor Design. There were 21 gardens, lots of rain, and plenty of take-home ideas for solving everyday design issues in our own gardens. Here are a few of our favourites.

Create privacy

We love a garden to be a private oasis of calm where next-door’s Hills Hoist does not intrude on our vision of serenity. Creating that sense of nurturing enclosure, without making the garden feel closed-in, is one of the challenges of creating a satisfying space. The solution used in this Sydney garden by design team Art in Green is slender weaver bamboo. This plant is now the go-to screen for narrow spaces. It’s so popular it has its own TLA (three-letter acronym) - BTG for Bambusa textilis gracilis.


Slender weaver bamboo. Photo - Robin Powell

BTG is a clumping bamboo, not a runner, though it will make enemies of your neighbours if you plant it too close to your fenceline and don’t keep control of it. Left alone it will form a big clump and grow to a willowy 6m high. In this garden it’s trimmed about every six weeks through the warm season to keep that forest of green uprights clean, and to keep the top of the hedge neat and even at a sky-revealing 3m.


Go up the garden path

Unlike a room whose walls, floors and furnishings are revealed as soon as you step through the door, a garden offers an opportunity to explore and discover along a pathway. Several of the gardens open for Hidden reminded us of the joy of going up the garden path. At this Jon Jensen garden, a simple brick-edged, beaten earth path winds through the garden and past a pond, and offers views back over a sunny lawn to a deep veranda at the back of the house. In the Barbara Landsberg-designed Vaucluse garden, concrete stepping stones take a path through native violet groundcover and past blue ginger, soft mounds of Malay pygmy grass and punctuation points of alcantera, to a treehouse. In Ken Lamb’s semi-formal Japanese garden the white gravel path edged in stones references a dry riverbed. It leads past beautifully placed rocks to a teahouse at the highest point of the property.


Photo - Robin Powell

Change up the levels

This sunken courtyard garden designed by Brendan Moar is in a newly built aged care facility. The garden was designed to be seen from inside and outside at ground level, and from above. It also needed to be easy to maintain and able to shrug off the difficult conditions of deep building shade in winter and full overhead sun in summer. Brendan chose a range of foliage textures and forms and arranged them on different levels to create a green and lush look. A variety of white pots placed on stone slabs hold ‘waterfalls’ of rhipsalis or the bold forms of alcantera. At their feet native violet makes a carpet interrupted by cycads. Variegated shell gingers bring more light into the garden, silver lady ferns offer their lacy softness, and clumps of slender weaver bamboo link the lower level with the upper terrace.



Tiers of green are created through the use of planter boxes and raised pots at different levels. Photo - Robin Powell

Make a feature

The owners of this garden wanted something to see from their bedroom window. Ken Lamb, from Imperial Gardens, complied with this lovely water feature. Water trickles from the bamboo pipe into a shallow pool in a granite rock. The light catches the water as it runs down the rock into a pond planted with water plants. The sight and sound of the water moving have a meditative peace – perfect for a bedroom. Around the water feature are raphis palm, clivea, blue ginger, mondo, a background of lillypilly and a Japanese stone pine on its way to becoming a fascinating sculptural form in itself.

Photo - Robin Powell


Deal with a really small space

In this little pocket garden Nicola Cameron from Pepo Botanic Design shows that you don’t need much space to create a garden. The semi is built to the extremes of the property boundaries and has no front or back yard, just a few odd-shaped spaces on the northern side of the house. She has connected them with irregularly shaped grey concrete pavers that lead from the carport past a triangular patch of garden bed to a deck that opens out from the lounge room. In the little patch of garden a tall iron sculpture by Mark McClelland seems to grow and reach for the light, doubled in a cleverly placed mirror on the large blank wall behind it, which captures light (or on the day I took these pictures – plenty of rain!) The only touches of colour in the garden are the red antherium and red New Guinea impatiens in a pot. They echo the red sofa in the sitting room, providing a visual link between the indoors and outdoors. 


Photo - Robin Powell


Text: Robin Powell

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Author: Robin Powell