‘Stylised wildness’ has become a signature of Melbourne based landscape architect practice ACRE whose garden designs delight in the interplay between hard and soft. Native Plant Project chats with Creative Director, Brett Robinson on why Australian flora is always part of the mix…
NPP: Your work has a strong combination of architectural details with character created through plant selection. Tell us more about your approach to landscape design…
BR: We feel we are true architects of the landscape in that our focus is always firstly the functionality, circulation, and integrations of the outdoor spaces. We pride ourselves on our architectural hard structure details and have an emphasis on connecting the home with its surrounding landscape context. Then due to our creative backgrounds in graphic design, pottery, furniture design, and interior designer, we tend to paint with plants and come up with stylised wildness that is beautiful to look at often fighting traditional horticultural practices. We bring character to our gardens through stylised planting palettes that add texture and contrast to the built form.
“We have a passion for raw materials and hard architectural lines being softened by vibrant and eye-catching native plant palettes…”
NPP: One of your recent projects – a garden for a new contemporary home on the Mornington Peninsula – shows off this interplay beautifully. How did the design evolve?
BR: The garden we created for this modern beach house is the outcome of a passion for raw materials and hard architectural lines being softened by vibrant and eye-catching native plant palettes. The result shows that natives & coastal plants can be exciting and lush, whilst complementing an architecturally designed contemporary home.
NPP: What do you most love about Australian native plants?
BR: 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?
“There are so many natives that will work in every garden so you just need to give some that suit the feel of your own space a go…”
NPP: Do you feel it’s important to inject natives into any Australian garden?
BR: Every garden we design has natives in it somewhere even if it’s a traditional European style garden. We combine all types of plants together to work with the colour palette. I feel we must be true to our climate, or landscape history and our sustainable responsibility so fully exotic gardens are just not something we do. This means natives always play a role for us.
NPP: Can you give some examples where you’ve seen this combination of natives and exotics work well or how you’ve put this into practice with great success…
BR: Australian natives work so beautifully with perennial flowers due to the colour palette and softness of the foliage. We often combine things like olive trees and prostrate rosemary which are more of that Mediterranean palette with our natives as they complement each other so well. Perennial grasses and wildflowers can add interest within the hues of blue and grey greens created from natives. And with almost every client we work with wanting a low maintenance garden, natives are always a successful choice.
“The colours and character that can be gained through natives are softer and calmer. They create a sanctuary through their rambling forms and require so much less maintenance than exotics, what’s not to love?”
NPP: What are some tips you’d give to someone wanting to start their own native plant project with an established garden or new space?
BR: Just do it, try some things out, and quick quickly you might find the natives become your favourite plants within the space. Things might fail and some will work better than others but that’s what a garden should be, it should be a testing ground for ideas and somewhere to develop your own garden style. There are so many natives that will work in every garden so you just need to give some that suit the feel a go.
NPP: Where do you get your design inspiration from?
BR: I get a lot of my personal inspiration from overseas. The gardens of Bernard Trainor and Andrea Cochran are two of my favorites. And although they don’t use Australian natives, I feel their styles our mine are aligned. And I also enjoy seeing what Philip Withers is doing in the Australian garden design space. He’s making natives cool again and getting a wide variety of species into his designs. It’s great to see.
For more inspiration:
The Munro House, Blairgowrie, Victoria: Architect – Planned Living Architects. Interior Design – Studio Tom Design
Photography credit: Derek Salwell