Anne KingBack Lake: opening our young, rural garden

Our extensive young rural garden at the foot of Mount Boninyong, near Ballarat in Victoria, reflects its time and place. We are both retired architects and farmers, and had rare good luck in finding this special property, then being able to design house and surrounding landscaping as one project to produce a cohesive whole. We bought it in 2006, moved to the area from South Gippsland in 2008, and into the new rammed earth house in March 2010.

Back Lake garden, Victoria

Back Lake garden, Victoria

The starting point was an irregular 20 acre paddock (including the 10 acres of lake). We had to work with red volcanic soil, rocks, very strong winds and some frosts. The previous owner had done some planting mostly of Eucalyptus globulus and Acacia melanoxylon on boundary lines, but much of this had been chewed back to sticks by the cattle. All livestock were excluded after our purchase, and most trees then recovered.

Back Lake garden, Victoria

Back Lake garden, Victoria

The picturesque lake at the low point of the site is leased to the Millbrook Trout School, and you can walk around it to look at Mt Boninyong. About 45 acres of land is leased to a neighbour for grazing.

Back Lake garden, Victoria

Back Lake garden, Victoria

From the start we looked at the project as ‘landscape’ rather than ‘garden’. The general layout was conceived at the house design stage, with views from inside the house being very much part of the design, and we detailed most of the landscaping and plant selection before any work commenced. The house site is cut into a north-facing slope overlooking the water, with steep embankments in front of and behind it.


Back Lake garden, Victoria

Back Lake garden, Victoria

We aimed to incorporate
– flowing curved lines reflecting the sensuous natural local land forms
– transitional hard landscaping elements to help integrate the strong rectilinear lines of the house into the natural landscape
– gravel / paving / local rocks / trees / grasses / minimal house lawn areas
– simple bold scale with swathes of repetitive planting
– a broader landscape of trees and slashed/mown grass beyond the house
– plants chosen for their colour, form and texture – and toughness, so that they would require minimal watering / pruning / maintenance once established
– orchard and vegetable gardens
– some deciduous trees, to emphasise the changing seasons
– sculpture

Back Lake garden, Victoria

Back Lake garden, Victoria

Sources of inspiration and ideas included the Royal Botanic Gardens at Cranbourne – especially the ‘Australian Garden’ – and early discussions with sculptor/landscaper Mel Ogden.

'The Meadow', Back Lake garden, Victoria

‘The Meadow’, Back Lake garden, Victoria

Old cattle yards and some large old cypress and pine trees on the north side of the lake were removed in 2008, and we planted curving rows of eucalypts and acacias above the ‘meadow’ which is now mown in stripes. We had outside assistance with the major earthworks and rock placement, and with labour for concrete block garden walls, planting of advanced trees and laying of large concrete pavers and turf.

Back Lake garden, Victoria

Back Lake garden, Victoria

The dry-stone walls, ponds, most mulching, gravel spreading, raised vegetable beds and general planting we have done ourselves. Experience shows that nothing with soft leaves survives here. The fruit trees are productive but must be netted if we want any fruit.

Four Prunus ‘Shirotae’ (white flowering cherry) and a Pistacia chinensis north of the house, and the Angophora costata in the south courtyard, were planted as advanced trees in August 2010. The cherries were placed on mounds to allow views under them from the kitchen; we now sit in their dappled shade for outdoor meals in summer, on chairs or low walls. Formal lawn is minimal.

Most planting around the house was done from October to November 2010, much of it as tubestock. Some of the trees in the broader landscape, including the orchard, were planted in 2008-09.

Back Lake garden, Victoria

We were extraordinarily lucky with the weather during the 2010-2011 summer. The drought broke and rain fell, giving plants every opportunity to establish. Most are thriving, though some advanced trees with poor root development blew over, and Eucalyptus caesia did not survive. Maintenance now mostly involves dead-heading euphorbias, echiums and agapanthus, and cutting back miscanthus and pennisetum grasses. Blackberries, thistles and capeweed require regular attention. And the amount of grass mowing can be daunting in the spring.

We propagate a lot of acorns and have planted an avenue of about 50 oaks nearby, along Wiggins Road.

The bird life on and around the water is prolific. We have recorded about 90 species.

‘Back Lake’ at 264 Wiggins Road, SCOTSBURN, Victoria, is opening for Open Gardens Australia on the Easter weekend 4-5 April 2015. 10am – 4.30pm. $10 entry (under 18 years free). Scotsburn is 16km from Ballarat, and an easy 1½ hour drive from Melbourne city. Tea and coffee available; plant sales. DIRECTIONS: Scotsburn is south-east of Ballarat and Buninyong. From roundabout in Buninyong take Midland Hwy A300 towards Geelong. In 3 Km turn left onto Yendon No2 Rd. In 2Km turn right into Wiggins Rd. 600 metres to garden on left. Drive in. Parking in paddock. Small buses only.

Kookaburras at Back Lake garden, Victoria

Kookaburras at Back Lake garden, Victoria

Like this post? Why not share it with a friend?

Anne King

About Anne King

An avid garden visitor, Anne is passionate about new gardens being appropriate to their time and place. Her interest in design stems from her training as an architect and is coupled with a hands-on practical approach honed while managing the family farm in South Gippsland for many years. Now retired and living near Ballarat with husband Berry, they both enjoy travelling and thinking up new creative projects in sculpture and silver jewellery making.

15 thoughts on “Back Lake: opening our young, rural garden

  1. You did indeed find a very special property, although I am sure it didn’t look quite as good as this before you started. The planting looks so Australian, which I just adore, and I agree that the deciduous trees are a great addition. Thank you for sharing this; if only I lived a bit closer, I would definitely be there for Easter.

    • It was mostly bare paddock when we started. Its been a lot of hard work but a great joy to start with a clean slate for both house and garden and have everything come together in such a short time.

  2. Just so inspiring Anne! We too started with a bare paddock, endured the ravages of the drought years and continue to learn lessons orchestrated by the seasons. Suppose all things are relative; always perceive Buninyong as a cooler, verdant place (compared with us in the Wimmera at least), but interested to read about the tough conditions you need to adapt to as well.

    • We are lucky with the soil and rainfall here, and unlimited water from the lake, but frosts and wind were a new experience after South Gippsland. Eremophila and Echium were badly burnt by a series of heavy frosts last winter but have bounced back. Cooler weather now is starting to bring on the colours of autumn.

  3. Hello Anne and Berry.
    Your garden looks enormous and magnificent. You have made it all so beautiful. It must involve a lot of hard work to keep it thriving, but what a joy to live in and amongst!
    Anna Mow

    • Hi Anna
      The theory is that it’s supposed to be relatively low maintenance, but when I’m dead-heading several hundred agapanthus and euphorbias, or taking to the dozens of pennesetum grasses with the chain saw, I realise that we’ll never run out of things to do.

  4. You are an inspiration Anne and Berry, and how satisfying to create such an environment from scratch. Your landscape is a legacy to all those around you.


    Angie Morgan.

    • Hi Angie Thanks for the kind comments. I sent the link to Garry and Lorraine and didn’t expect it to go out to everyone. Still all publicity is good. Now hoping for fine weather and lots of visitors.

  5. This is my kind of garden. The meadow is superb, the art you picture seems particularly well suited to its surroundings. I’m very glad to hear about Back Lake. I hope we will be able to visit the next time we come to Australia, possibly in 2016.

    • It’s a thrill to connect with people who understand what this garden is about. I sometimes feel awkward with people who think its not a real garden unless it has rose bushes and box hedges.

  6. What a lovely home you and Berry have made. Having those scenic views from all parts of the house is the best!! When Gary sees this, he’s going to hone in on the lake and dream about the fish he can catch (and release).
    Your home is a dream come true.
    Mary Earl

    • The opening was a big success, due in large measure to the fine and still weather.
      Thanks to all those who came and for the many complimentary comments. We loved sharing our garden with you.
      Anne & Berry

  7. A bit late catching up on your blog Anne – but this is amazing garden. I think you have nailed the ‘naturalistic style’, not many gardens have done this so far in this country. Congratulations and I hope you are open again after winter!!!

  8. Dear Ann – Kept the pictures and information from your- OPEN GARDEN Easter 2015… with intentions of my groiup making a vist up to Scotsburn.
    Still love to visit you. Ann when is your next Open Garden. or Ann can we arrange a day with you. 2019.
    Cheers………. Probus Club…Drysdale Clifton Springs. Vic.

Leave a Reply (no need to register)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.