Take a look at these garden design ideas from four really beautiful private gardens, none of which are ever open to the public.
They are in Southern Australia, an hour or so from Melbourne. But if you live in the UK, Northern Europe or North America these gardens have relevance for you too. Although Melbourne’s summers are much hotter than, say, ours are in South East England, the winters are as cold, if not colder.
And garden design isn’t all about plants
These four gardens all have the challenges – and opportunities- of seasonal gardening. And their garden design ideas work in different gardens regardless of the temperatures.
And these gardens are all gardened by and for the people who live in them. They have some professional help, but not a great deal.
So they face the same challenges that all private gardeners face – having to make compromises due to lack of time, money or expertise.
Pick a colour or theme for your garden
This one works whether your garden is tiny or huge.
Pick one or two elements to hold the look of the garden together. The easiest is to have a signature colour. Or you can reflect elements from local landscape or echo your house.
Robin and Margaret Marks have painted all woodwork in their house and garden yellow. They built the house of local granite. It has a yellow tinge to it. They also used quite a yellow Oregon pine. So the yellow makes sense. I love it.
Victorian garden design ideas
Two of the four gardens – Karori and Ard Rudah – are in the mountains an hour or so out of Melbourne. They have quite a temperate climate. The summers are like very good, hot English summers. Winters are a little colder than we normally get in South East England.
When Karori was built – in Victorian times – the garden was planted with European trees, many of which are still here.
(See this post about Karori’s garden when they moved in, with gardening expert Stephen Ryan’s advice on how to restore the garden).
Victorian garden owners loved importing exotic or sub-tropical plants. They imported plants from all over the world, and didn’t worry too much about ‘right plant, right place.’ There was the manpower to work borders so that they were in full bloom for as long as possible.
It’s very Victorian to combine tree ferns with dahlias, hydrangeas and pine trees.
When William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll came along, private gardens started to be more ‘natural’. William Robinson pioneered the ‘wild garden’ in the late nineteenth century, by which he meant growing plants where they were likely to do well.
But there’s an exuberance and confidence about Victorian gardens that is having something of a resurgence now, in my opinion. Think glorious blazing colour from dahlias and cannas mixed with classic English roses and Scots pines.
Re-discover the hydrangea
Take a forgotten favourite – the hydrangea – and mix it with exotic plants such as tree ferns for an easy-care, big impact look. Blue hydrangeas with great big heads like the Queen Mother’s hats look wonderful in a jungle setting here at Ard Rudah.
There are stunning hydrangeas in pots at Ard Rudah, too. Put a big hydrangea in a big pot. Stand back and admire.
And at Karori, a hedge of Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snow Queen’ gives almost two months worth of flowers.
Time to embrace conifers?
The Victorians loved their pinetums and specimen plants. By the mid to late twentieth century, towering conifers plunged many British gardens into deep gloom.
It put us all right off them.
But conifers come in a range of sizes, colours and shapes. They don’t all grow to 100ft tall. Many have sculptural shapes and virtually turn themselves into topiary, so they provide structure in a garden.
These conifers were planted around 50 years ago at Ard Rudah.
Especially a clump of Italian cypress
I really fell in love with the slender, sculptural pillars of Italian cypress. They’re tall and distinctive, but don’t take up much ground space.
One of the four gardens is around Mingara, a house built by Australian modernist architect Guildford Bell.
A group of five Italian cypresses by the front door make a stylish entrance.
But if your taste is more classical then combine them with box hedging and traditional stone, like here at Ard Rudah.
Modernist garden design ideas
The fourth house is a modernist Guildford Bell house with a modern sculpture theme to the garden. Guildford Bell is one of Australia’s most famous modernist architects.
And contemporary sculpture is exactly right for Mingara’s contemporary architecture in Victoria near Melbourne.
Sculpture is more than just creating a focal point. For those who have busy lives or travel a lot, sculpture is a wonderful way of creating a long-lasting impact in a garden.
And it’s also low maintenance. When the weather puts the garden under stress – during a drought, for example, or a hard winter – sculpture will carry on and hold the interest.
Make mowing easier
The combination of trees and lawn makes a big garden relatively low maintenance. You don’t have go round snipping off dead-heads or digging up seasonal plants.
However, mowing around trees can be irritating. It’s slightly easier if you have these box hedge surrounds, like Ard Rudah. The mower can go right up to the box hedge without damaging itself or the box hedge.
The one big border theory
This tip works equally well for both large and tiny gardens.
If you’re short of time and your garden is big, then concentrate your ‘fine gardening’ on one big showy border somewhere you will see it all year round, which is probably near the house.
And if your garden is very small, then having one big border (which can be anywhere that works for you) creates a big splash and lots of impact.
Think about your fences and gates
And how they tie into the overall theme of the garden.
And this yellow picket fence and gate is at the entrance to Margaret and Robin’s house.
Worried about another hot, dry summer?
Summers don’t get much dryer or hotter than the one Australia has just had.
Ignore the lawns, they’ll bounce back. Plant drought-resistant plants, such as sedums, lavenders, grasses and some of the hardier roses.
When Robin and Margaret were building their house, one of their neighbours had been a friend of the Australian rose grower, Alistair Clark. He’d experimented with hybridising drought-resistant roses. His friend had a number of un-named plants which she passed onto the Marks’.
Last summer was unusually hot and dry, and the Marks’ roses didn’t bloom. But they are healthy and will bloom again when there is more rain.
Their Rosa mutabilis, however, has flowered profusely.
Fruit cages can be a thing of beauty
Why not have a vegetable or fruit cage that you enjoy being in?
Gardening is a little tougher in Australia than it is in the UK because Australia has the full spectrum of slugs, snails and pests that we have. Plus the additional plant munchers, which include kangaroos, wallabies, possums, parrots and cockatoos.
Almost everyone has an area covered in mesh or strong netting, which is often not just a place to protect your crops but somewhere that is a pleasure to be in its own right.
At the Marks’ house, kangaroos nibble the lawn at night and even pluck weeds out of the borders to enjoy. But they can be dangerous.
At Karori, the owner has built this huge netted enclosure himself.
Learn how to do it yourself
I was super-impressed with how much people are prepared to do things for themselves in Australia.
I think that in Northern Europe we perhaps box ourselves in too much – if we’re essentially desk workers we seem to tell ourselves that we can’t do things like carpentry or building a wall.
Robin and Margaret Marks built their entire house, one piece of granite and plank of Oregon pine at a time.
And the fruit and veg cage at Karori was also built by hand by the owner, who did an hour of cutting and shaping wood every day before starting his desk-based writing and consultancy. He learned a great deal of the techniques from YouTube videos.
See more of these gardens…
This week’s YouTube video has more about these gardens:
Pin for reference
Finally, make sure that the soles of your wellington boots match your garden theme! I mean, how hard can that be?
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