In many ways this approach takes its cue from the classic Mediterranean ethos of making modest, everyday gardens with what’s to hand. Lots of designers will tell you that the trouble begins when you give yourself infinite choice. Tight budgets can be your friend and climatic limitations force you to think about how you garden.
It’s about valuing available resources and selecting plants that can cope with the prevailing conditions, whether it be poor soil, lack of water or strong winds. It also relies on experimentation, following your own imagination and thinking about the cultural heritage (indigenous, industrial, past gardens) of the site.
Brockhoff’s Sorrento garden contains lots of the plants to be seen in its surrounding sand dunes – moonahs (Melaleuca lanceolata), sea box (Alyxia buxifolia), cushion bush (Leucophyta brownii) and drooping she oaks (Allocasuarina verticillata) for example. But there is no mistaking her garden with the wider landscape. She clips, tweaks and edits. She paints her garden gates in eye-popping orange, red and yellow and displays her maritime bits and pieces in such a way that avoids being kitsch.
Brockhoff also uses plants – that will thrive in the situation at hand – from all over. There are New Zealand flaxes, Mediterranean euphorbias and Mexican agaves, for example. She emphasises contrasting forms and foliage, tightly pruning some plants to provide a sense of structure.
When it was open in January, people who hadn’t visited her garden for 10 years were exclaiming about how much it had changed and if you were to visit again now it would be different again. There is a constant process of adaptation to suit changing microclimates and personal predilections. This garden manages to belong to the landscape and be an artful construction at the same time.
And that is the nub of the matter – making gardens that reinforce a sense of place requires us to think about both the land and our own stories.
A version of this article first appeared in The Age.
Photo credits: Simon Griffiths; supplied.
About our guest writer:
Megan Backhouse has a Masters of Urban Horticulture and writes the weekly garden column for The Age. She has been a journalist for 30 years and is an avid home gardener.