I knew from the outset that this garden in the beachside suburb of St Kilda, completed earlier this year, would be an exciting project to work on. As a company, the most satisfying jobs are where we’re involved in every step, starting with the design but continuing on through the construction and planting of the garden, and then also the follow-up garden maintenance.
The brief for the front garden was that it needed to be quite traditional, in order to complement the beautiful architecture of the original red brick Edwardian house, while the rear garden had to reflect a more contemporary aesthetic in keeping with the boldly-designed extension. Here, I’d like to focus on the front area and explain how we designed a traditional and romantic perennial-focussed garden that is a perfect frame for this stunning old house.
From the beginning the client was very keen on a soft and feminine palette with lots of pinks, purples and whites. Given that the client is a florist by trade, it was her dream to have a flowering garden full of blooms she could pick and use in her arrangements. In terms of style, the garden needed to have elements of structure but still have a relaxed feeling about it.
We kept the layout quite simple and traditional, including a generous lawn area for the young children and dog to play on, and a bluestone pedestrian path for easy and direct access from the gate to the ornately tiled veranda. To add detail to the design and make a paved pathway around to the side courtyard, we created another path out of bluestone crazy pavers. Here, the pavers are broken up by lawn, which clearly separates the main path from the secondary.
Bordering the lawn on all sides are several quite narrow garden beds. As there is limited space in the beds, we used the traditional method of positioning the lower growing plants at the front, and the medium to taller plants towards the back, rather than mixing the plants in the more random fashion I like to use in a larger bed. For example, plants such as Anemone and Gaura lindheimeri are planted towards the back of the beds, as their flowers will sit above the foliage of the lower growing plants.
When designing a planting palette, we usually approach it by making planting layers that can be built up to create an overall ‘look’. In this particular garden we have built up three distinct plant layers, which combine to create a beautiful and interesting garden all year round:
• a flowering layer
• an emergent layer and
• a structural layer
The flowering layer contains the majority of the flowering plants that create spectacular displays, predominantly in the warmer months. Plants in this layer include Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’, Anemone hybrid ‘White’ and ‘Little Princess’, Cosmos ‘Pink’, Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpurea’ (Fennel) and Agastache ‘Sweet Lili’. In amongst this layer, we have also included Helleborus ‘Pink Frost’, as it flowers in the cooler months.
In the emergent layer we incorporated some striking bulbs which will flower in late winter and early spring, such as Dutch Iris ‘White’, Iris histrioides ‘George’, Allium giganteum (Giant Onion) & Allium sphaerocephalon (drumsticks). The varied heights of the different bulbs we have used in this layer help to create diverse form and also vertical accents within the garden bed.
The structural layer includes bigger shrubs, such as Syringa vulgaris ‘Belle De Nancy’ (lilac) and different varieties of Camellia, which are used to fill space in the garden beds in the cooler months when the other plants are not flowering. These plants tend to hold their form year round while other plants around them are dying down. Having a structural layer ensures that the garden retains its shape at all times and still looks interesting even in the dead of winter.
There are also structural plants scattered throughout the garden which are clipped into hedges or will be pleached once they have grown. Spheres of Buxus sempervirens (English box) in amongst the garden beds help to create balance and act as anchor points, while the three Buxus spheres in urns with pleached Carpinus betulus (hornbeam) behind, provide a focal point down the long length of the lawn.
Something else we like to consider when designing a planting palette is foliage texture, and ensuring there is enough variation to create plenty of interest. In this garden, we used a mix of strappy plants such as Dierama pulcherrimum and Iris, plants with fleshy foliage such as Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, and low mounding plants such as Nepeta faassenii ‘Dropmore Blue’ (Catmint), Helleborus and Salvia.
Once we had selected the plants for this garden, we created A, B, C & D plant mixes for the different garden beds. Many of the same plants occur in more than one plant mix, while some plants are used exclusively in one mix. It’s important not to have a completely different mix in each bed, as the overall effect won’t be cohesive. In this case, many of the plants have been carried through to a number of different garden beds, for example the Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ used en masse along the front garden border is then dotted through all of the other garden beds in the front garden.
As this garden is newly planted, we are yet to see it in full flight and have not had the opportunity to watch it change throughout the seasons. I have to say though, I am very impressed with how it is growing so far, and was delighted to see the Salvia blooming and the Allium giganteum beginning to emerge the last time I visited. Given that we were able to use a lot of advanced-sized plants, I believe we will start to see some truly spectacular results in the very near future!