This project came to me as a referral from a colleague who is more at home designing beautiful inner city courtyards and, when I saw the site, I knew why. It is a long, narrow and extremely steep one acre block owned by a working couple that want to make the site more amenable for their young children and for entertaining friends and family. Currently the 30 degree incline results in their kids tumbling off down the hill, and there is limited level area outdoors to sit or play.
The house is a split-level 1980s brick and iron construction with good bones but it is in need of a makeover. The clients plan to make some architectural changes and this will happen before the garden construction begins. However, it has been useful to them to have the garden plans take shape while they consider the house amendments; this is something I encourage whenever possible. After having dealt with a jungle of rampant Bamboo, English Ivy and Monstera, these clients have asked for a foliage rich, low maintenance garden for relaxing and entertaining in.
Central to the design of the new garden is the unobstructed view of Mt Dandenong, which I have made every effort to maintain and highlight. Terracing, decking and engineered retaining walls are integral to the design and these have been designed in such a way as to avoid the need for balustrading on all but the lowest level, leaving the full mountain view intact. To break up the necessary expanses of hard surface planting beds have been inserted wherever possible – the vistas from above and below will be of layers of greenery and natural materials.
The entire site has been arbitrarily divided into four main areas for ease of construction and because access issues deem it necessary to tackle each area individually. While they share the same aspect and exposure (except for the side areas, which are more protected and shaded), the functionality varies widely and so the design solutions must reflect that. Additionally, each area must relate to all the others for the sake of coherence, so materials and plant selections have been carefully curated to provide unifying elements.
The front garden is the first impression from the street and currently it is dated, falling apart and visually discordant. The plan is to terrace the steep slope with light toned stone walls and floating timber steps that weave down the hill directly to the front door. White flowering Crepe Myrtles will shade from the northern sun without closing the space too much; these will be underplanted with lime green, silver and white foliage plants to keep the area light and bright. The deck will be one single level and wrap around the entire front of the house. The side areas will require extensive steps and boardwalks to avoid disturbing the root zones of existing trees.
The rear garden has been considered as two distinct but related zones – the entertaining area closest to the house, and the wilder, natural garden further down the hill. Due to the root zones of existing Betula sp., one half of the entertaining area has to be raised decking with the other being retaining walls and backfill. Several different levels connect by steps and space has been kept on the upper level for a future pool. Architectural house plans are still in the pipeline but I have suggested several different access routes to connect this area to the kitchen, which is upstairs. Direct (though steep) access from the house to the lower reaches of the rear garden has been maintained – as the children get older they may prefer this option to traversing decks and steps.
Below the entertaining area the ground will be minimally retained and allowed to merge gently into the existing bush. A seasonal pond and stream planted with indigenous plant species will receive stormwater from the house roof, creating frog habitat and encouraging other fauna into the area. The lowest reaches of the block will be mowed a couple of times a year but otherwise left undisturbed, other than to plant more indigenous understorey species and encourage the bird life.
This project has been put on ice for the present moment, pending the architects’ house plans and the arrival of a new baby. It will be a long-term, staged project (the garden, not the baby) requiring considerable engineering input and earthworks. Like the clients, I am excited to see this unusable, dated site develop into a stylish, beautiful outdoor space.