The pandemic has taught us two things (at least) about our gardens. The first is that we love growing some of our own food; the second is a related realisation that our gardens are essential to our wellbeing, and, with a bit of help, could offer us even more of whatever we need – serenity, excitement, time together, time alone, a connection to life.
Both of these lessons are demonstrated in the garden that recently won a Gold Award in the mid-size residential category of the Landscape Design Institute Awards. Designed by Steve Warner of Outhouse Design, the garden in Five Dock, in Sydney’s Inner West, puts food and family fun at the centre of the project.
On the client wishlist: an entertaining area and pizza oven, a trampoline for the kids, a better connection to the existing potting shed, a lawn area, quiet spots to sit, and lots of puppy-proof space for growing vegetables. The overriding demand was for a family garden that encouraged the family to be out in it together.
The clever design uses a big circle of lawn as the hub from which all of these activities radiate: a patio and pizza oven shaded by a pergola of weathered rustic posts; a trampoline sunken and disguised by soft native grasses; a custom-made wooden chaise-lounge built into the recycled, sinuous retaining wall for private conversation or solitary reflection.
Left to their own devices, many suburban gardeners repeat the outline of the boundary fences in their backyards, with a narrow perimeter border of garden and a big rectangle of lawn. A circle of lawn is a much better idea. It still gives the space a pleasing geometrical structure, while allowing for lots of entry and exit points and providing interestingly-shaped, deep garden beds.
In the Five Dock garden one of these beds is dominated by an existing tree from the garden’s previous life. It’s a Cape Chestnut, Calodendrum capense, a South African native that blooms with big bunches of beautiful, scented, orchid-like pink flowers in the spring, when it is a focal point for the whole garden.
It is food, though, that is the real heart of this garden. Raised vegetable beds skirt part of the lawn on either side of a colonnaded walk. Espaliered citrus and an olive grow against the fence, a passionfruit winds its way over the potting shed and groundcover herbs grow between the paving stones. The kids are encouraged to get off the trampoline and pick toppings for the pizzas cooking nearby.
Warner’s design invites involvement in the development of the garden. There’s nothing precious about it – if a family member develops a sudden desire to be surrounded by dahlias and zinnias, this is a garden plan that can easily adapt.