Expert Tips

How does your garden grow

Ideas, tips and inspiration from native plant lovers creating distinctly Australian gardens on the coast, in the city and countryside…

Create joy…

Phillip Withers’ approach to garden design comes from the heart. His spaces – both residential and commercial – are almost painterly in their composition, bringing colour, texture and interest.  “Gardens are to be enjoyed, we want to create a sensory experience and a connection back to the landscape,” says Phil.

Natives are at the core of most garden designs for Withers, who’s immediate suggestions for bringing natives into your own backyard include:

“Consider planting some beautiful flowering plants to bring the birds back into the landscape, to enjoy or to pick for yourself and put inside. Plants such as Banksias, Acacias, Callistemons and Grevillea are all fantastic plant groups because they’re not only colourful but produce lots of pollen and nectar, bringing birds and bees into the garden.”

A signature statement of Withers’ is also combining local flora with dramatic succulents and cacti plus the generous use of seating and pathways within the garden to help bring people into the space.

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“Think of your garden – no matter the size – as somewhere to bring a connection between people and place, somewhere for people to be in and stay.”

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Find your style…

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Megan Backhouse, The Age’s Garden writer (and contributor to Native Plant Project) has visited a host of backyards to discover there’s no one size fits all formula to making a garden that feels right.

“It’s about an approach and the first thing is to do nothing. Having settled on a site for a garden there’s no point immediately starting to shift masses of soil or buying plants or ordering in compost. You are better to stand back and observe. Pay attention to the weather and light and to the land’s geology, topography and context. Think about what you want from your garden.”

A favourite gardener using native plants is Fiona Brockhoff, who’s designs feel distinctly Australian, leisurely and lived in – but by design.

It also relies on experimentation, following your own imagination and thinking about the cultural heritage (indigenous, industrial, past gardens) of the site…

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Brockhoff’s garden designs (both her own and those she creates for others) emphasise contrasting forms and foliage, tightly pruning some plants to provide a sense of structure and selecting plants indigenous to the area, favourite natives as well as plants that will thrive in the situation at hand from all over. And a generous dash of whimsy too, Brockhoff’s own garden on the Mornington Peninsula includes a thong collection, painted fences and gates in eye-popping colours and other marine flotsam for sculptural interest.

A natural choice…

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“Decide on your desired colour palette and there will be a native variety you can happily find to use or combine with exotics…”

“I love the colours that can be gained through natives, they are softer and calmer. They work so well in creating a sanctuary through their rambling forms and require so much less maintenance than exotics, what’s not to love?” says Brett Robinson of ACRE Design.

Robinson’s garden designs have a distinct interplay of soft and hard, using natives to quieten architectural lines and bring texture and interest, particularly to smaller spaces. If the idea of all native garden is too much to begin with, Brett suggests trying Australian natives with exotics to create distinct results. The blue grey colour palette and softness of foliage of natives works well with perennial flowers; a favourite to mix is olive trees and prostrate rosemary with our natives.

Reimagine the traditional garden…

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This expansive garden on Victoria’s Surf Coast may arguably be one of the largest private native gardens in the country, but its owners believe the approach to its creation is one that can be adopted.

“We wanted to re-imagine the quintessential ‘Australian garden’ based on our extraordinary, weird and beautiful Australian natives. Just like we can visualise an English garden and an Italian garden, a Moroccan garden and a Mexican garden, we wanted to imagine and execute our idea of a native Australian garden.”

The garden adopts quite traditional principles of sweeping lawns and surrounding garden beds that create structure, balance and proportion with layers of different native varieties for beauty, texture and interest.

“We made a lot of mistakes and we will continue making mistakes. That’s part of the joy of it. We keep adding and we keep expanding.”

It’s a philosophy the owners offer to anyone wanting to start a native garden – large or small. “Start slowly, experiment and be ready for failures. It makes the joy of success so much greater.”