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Design for use

Phillip Withers

Phillip Withers

November 26, 2013

Lately I have been designing a lot of gardens with mixed uses. A perfect example was a garden a couple of weeks ago in Melbourne’s inner east that will be packed with all things useful. It will include fruit, vegies, a heap of herbs, cut flowers and even the humble chicken coop ready for some little fellas to come out and play. It will be a garden not just for the couple that owns it but a garden for the whole family to enjoy and grow up with.


It’s a fun exploration to think about these type of gardens because from the outset of our meeting, the family that lived here emphasised their key requirement in the brief – which was then outlined in yellow highlighter “We want a garden that we can use, both for us and for the children”. What a fun statement, hey? This says to me, so how much fun and use can you pack in Phil. Well….

Spring onion and beansExploring this topic shows that there is lots to cover, such as designated areas to cater for pleasure, production and of course, a hint of elegance. In these type of gardens it’s about exploring a system; by this I mean a garden that works and works for you and doesn’t simply make you feel something. It’s a garden that’s switched on for production and use. It’s a place that we can feed from, learn from and is forever changing with the season. So how do we do it?

trixzie pear tree flemingsWe start by thinking about suitable placements for structures such as sheds, chicken coops, water tanks and even compost bins. Places that can be hidden, or structures that can be manufactured well enough to compliment the rest of the garden

We then start softening the edges and fit in some fruit trees, such as pears or citrus. Then we look to include some other points of interest and integrate some clever screening which doubles as climbing frames for fruits and vegies. One that I like to use a bit is passionfruit.

chillis and eggplant

We look to offset the amount of space for entertaining and only use what we really need so there is ample room to fit in our other areas such as lawn for a spot of leisure and a raised bed vegetable patch.

We think about covering a pergola with a fruiting plant, we fill the garden beds not with decorative plants but decorative useful plants, including herbs and certain fruit and veg such as ginger, thyme, chilli and strawberries, to name a few…

We then add in our interest and exploration with winding paths, entrances, and possibly even a chalkboard, rockery or sandpit.


A garden such as this is perfect for the young growing family. It helps keep us outdoors and experiencing life in the garden, which is something we really don’t want to lose as society gets more driven by technology. See it’s the work we put into this garden that will help keep it as happy as the tight knit family who own the place…

Oh and here’s a little secret for all you readers – I’m looking forward to unveiling an interesting spin on this type of garden for the next year’s Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show 2014, so keep your eyes peeled in the coming blogs.…

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