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An Australian Style Garden

Jo Hambrett

It is easy to conjure up pictures in our minds' eye of Italian, Mediterranean, Japanese, English or Californian style gardens but what do we "see" when we think about an Australian style garden?

Australia is a vast island continent with a huge array of climates, soils and ecosystems. Many of the ecosystems are under threat from a multitude of factors such as urban sprawl, feral animals, weeds, water, soil and air pollution, deforestation and so on. Water conservation and management is a major issue for Australia. Australia is a multicultural society and our differing cultural heritages will influence our concept of what makes a garden.

I feel strongly that, it is important to bear in mind the following facts when discussing an Australian style garden. Fundamentally there are two styles in garden design, formal and informal, and one garden can contain elements of both design styles. The formal garden tends to straight lines and circles, controlled planting and hard landscaping. It reached its peak in the European gardens of the Renaissance and Baroque periods. The informal style is influenced by Nature, therefore the planting is less controlled, the lines more asymmetrical and landscaping intervention "softer".

As creators of gardens we should consider the various roles a garden can play in our everyday lives - it should be more than a place for plants and gardening and the provision of recreational space. Gardens should be an extension of the surrounding natural environment, forming part of the "green corridor" to link remnant bushland. They should also be a microcosm supporting a variety of plant and animal life no matter how small and, lastly, they should provide an aesthetic space which is a pleasure to both be in and look at.

Descriptive, non-horticultural phrases such as "contemplative spaces", "a temple without walls", "energy flowing through space" and "a celebration of light" have all been used to describe a garden and its impact upon the observer and occupant.

Patterns, smells and sounds are as important as colours, textures and shapes in gardens and garden design. The art of garden design is practised in four dimensions of space and time and the fundamental principles of design hold good for all gardens irrespective of size and type.

When you are creating an Australian style garden there are three important points to consider:

  1. Make an intelligent site assessment - reinforce the spirit of the place
  2. Use predominantly Australian and indigenous plants
  3. Use garden furniture or art that is suitable and sympathetic

In order to make an intelligent site assessment treat the whole living space, that is dwelling, garden and surrounding land-, sea- or city- scape, as parts of the overall design. Gardens that echo their setting have an underlying logic that is visually satisfying.

Australian plants provide beauty and interest all year round with their flowers, leaves, trunks, textures and overall shapes. Now advances in horticultural science make many of these plants even more "garden friendly". There is a greater choice than ever for the gardening public, conscious of choosing more wisely for their garden in particular and the environment in general. Whilst a broad knowledge of Australian plants increases the range of options in a garden, there is an increasing awareness of the advantage of using plants indigenous to the area as a general matrix. These plants have evolved to suit the soil and climate and are the basis of the naturally occurring ecosystems in the area.

Many exotics can be mixed with Australian plants quite happily - when you do this, group plants of a similar appearance and the same horticultural needs together. This reduces maintenance and is visually more appealing.

To my mind the Australian garden responds to both the primitive and the modem. Both these styles adequately reflect the subtlety and fragility of the landscape and the quality of the light. In recent times we have rediscovered our need to live harmoniously with the earth and the extent of our alienation from it. The Australian garden style can provide both the symbolic and aesthetic expression of this need and be a part of the practical solution. If successful it will truly be a garden style of its time.

This talk was originally delivered at a Garden Design Study Group meeting in Sydney and published in the Garden Design Study Group Newsletter, August/November 2000.

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Australian Plants online - 2009
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