How to grow Jim Fogarty's Melbourne garden

Jim Fogarty's Melbourne garden

Foliage textures and colours are used in Jim Fogarty's Melbourne garden to create a calming tapestry. Photo - Jim Fogarty

Jim Fogarty has won a swag of international gold medals for garden design and Linda Ross finds that his private garden is just as lovely as you would expect. 

To me Jim Fogarty is the James Bond of international garden making: dapper, exquisitely dressed, never flustered. I half-expect him to arrive for our meeting at his own garden in an Aston Martin. In the garden industry Jim has built an international reputation as one of Australia’s top landscape designers. He’s earned a string of internationally recognised design awards, as well as a 2011 Chelsea Flower Show gold medal, and seems to be everywhere lifting the profile of Australian garden design.

The 2011 gold medal-winning garden was an all-Australian affair, designed to promote the opening, in 2012, of the Australian Garden in Cranbourne, Victoria (designed by Taylor Cullity Lethlean with Paul Thompson). I asked him what it felt like to take a piece of the Australian desert, complete with kangaroo paw, emu bush and gum trees to the heart of London? “Having a garden of pure native plants and to have them also in flower was a proud moment for us. It was a real challenge to source Australian native plants in Europe and work with British plant brokers and nurserymen to make sure they had everything timed for flowering on the one day of judging. There were many plants that people had never seen before in the garden so there was great interest from the British public and media. The garden was probably unusual in the eyes of some of the British visitors, but Australians identified with it straight away and it brought emotion from many homesick ex-pats.”


The garden is designed to be viewed from above as well as at ground level. Black bamboo screens the neighbours, with foliage from ground level to n ultimate height of 7 metres. Photo - Jim Fogarty

One especially interested garden viewer was the queen. “Her Majesty is very passionate about plants and flowers,” says Jim, “and it was brilliant to show her some of our more unusual plants. We had some rare and threatened plants in the garden, in particular Swainsona greyana, which was in flower. I pointed out the story of the journey of water, which was told through the design of the garden and showed her how the horticulture of Australia has adapted to different geographical regions over time.”

Away from the jet-setting life of international garden shows, Jim’s prize is his private garden in Melbourne, where he can relax with his wife, Victoria and their two daughters, Lilly and Rose. Inspired by recent trips to Singapore and Japan, the garden is a green oasis with a variety of foliages and plant shapes drawing the eye (and the feet). “I decided early on that the planting of the garden should be influenced by my own personal ambition to see more foliage plants being used in gardens,” he explains. “I wanted our garden to use green foliage plants in abundance.” As a result the garden has a cool serenity.


A black-painted wooden pavilion floats above the foliage, anchoring the design and providing a space for entertaining. Photo - Jim Fogarty

The house is a contemporary double-storey building which gave Jim a clean palette on which to work. The garden was designed to be looked down upon, moved through and celebrated with friends. The colour scheme relies on dark colours of ash, khaki and concrete.Three colours of pavers were chosen: white, grey and charcoal. This colour scheme was repeated for all the constructed elements of the garden. 

The garden is a no-mow zone: a large garden bed of interesting foliage plants and a path zigzagging though it. Instead of a lawn for sitting on, Jim designed a black-stained floating timber deck which nestles nicely amongst the dense green foliage. “I used Bambusa textilis ‘Gracilis’ , which is a non-speading, clumping bamboo for height and screening along the deck, under which is planted Solomon’s seal, hellebores and Hosta sp. Which all enjoy the shelter of the bamboo. I used Liriope, Ligularia, Bergenia, and blue spires of Ajuga as contrasts.” He filled his garden with buxus balls, spring-flowering iris, eye-catching sprays of Agave, pink splashes of Sedum, and clumps of parsley and grasses to soften the edges.


Parsley, both curly leaf and flat Italian, is used to soften the edges, along with flowering groundcovers ajuga and bergenia. Photo - Jim Fogarty

The desire to screen the next-door neighbour’s house introduced a tough list of plant requirements. Jim needed a plant that would grow 7m tall in a space about 80cm wide. Foliage from the ground up was necessary as he didn’t want to look out onto tree trunks or have precarious limbs overshadowing the courtyard. The final selection was black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra), with handsome black stems and attractive foliage. As this is a running bamboo, Jim ensured it was planted correctly with root control barriers.The matching black-stained deck in the front garden is a great place to relax on timber bench seating and soak in the late afternoon sun. “We chat to our neighbours who continually stroll by, many commenting on how lush and green our garden looks.” I’m imaging a martini is somehow involved... shaken not stirred.


The stylish, curved wooden seats are 'Slats', designed by Sydney-based Jo Philippsohn ( Jo has a passion for style, colour and texture and provide products with a timeless aesthetic. Photo - Jim Fogarty 

Plant notes: Jim's favourites


1. Coastal Banksia Banksia integrifolia

These long-lived trees reach 8m high with a narrow canopy and thrive in a range of soils. Leave are bicoloured: leathery green on the topside and silver on the underside. Birds love feeding on the soft lemon yellow flowers and seeds.

Photo - Jim Fogarty

2. Elephant's ears Bergenia cordifolia

This groundcover has aptly named big ears, and pink flower spires in September and October. It's great for shaded or dappled sunlight areas, and is a good foliage contrast to other groundcovers.

Photo - Jim Fogarty


3. Box Spheres Buxus japonica

In Jim's garden, spheres are clipped from box plants and complemented with granite spheres. Try English, Japanese or Korean box. Clip regularly with topiary shears for the best results.

Photo - Jim Fogarty


4. Century plant Agave attenuata

The rosette form of this plant, and its blue-green colour, makes it a useful focal point and good contrast with the box spheres and other contrasting leaf shapes. Easy to grow.

Photo - Jim Fogarty


5. Black Bamboo Bambusa textilis 'Gracilis'

This clumping (not running) bamboo is loved for its wall of green foliage which reaches from the ground up, and its wavelike motion on windy days.

Black stemmed bamboo is a brilliant screen for second story neighbours.


6. Ajuga ‘Caitlin’s Giant'

Cobalt blue flower spikes appear in spring and for the rest of the year this groundcover delights with cabbage-like purple foliage.

Blue Ajuga carpets are stunning in spring. Photo - Jim Fogarty

Text: Linda Ross


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Author: Linda Ross

Garden Clinic TV