Monday, August 29, 2011

Up The Garden Path - A Potted History

Linking house and garden is the primary consideration for contemporary garden designers and a quick look back through garden design history gives us some important precedents to follow.

Persia is the commonly accepted birthplace of the concept of the garden as a designed space. Shut away from the harsh outside world, the Persian garden became a private oasis, a place to walk in comfort and safety, shaded by trees, cooled by water and adorned with pleasure pavilions. The Persian garden was a place for 'secret and voluptuous enjoyments', a paradise on earth.

The Romans enjoyed a happy blend of crisp order and verdant tranquility. Porticos and promenades encouraged walk and conversation, while outdoor rooms invited alfresco dining. The Roman garden, most usually a central courtyard, where water in the form of a pool, fountain or channel was an important element, was designed to refresh the spirit.

The Middle Ages saw the rise of neat, geometric knot garden beds. These gardens were formal and dignified, often with a central fountain symbolizing the conjunction of God and man. By the end of the more austere Middle Ages gardens had re- evolved back into the notion of a pleasure garden, a place for dalliance and knightly pleasures, where there were arbours, pergolas, ornamental fountains and singing birds.

In the wealthy Renaissance  era , where visible signs of wealth and status were displayed, the garden began to stretch out beyond the walls and the strict formality of  parterre gardens and grandiose man-made lakes stretched as far as the eye could see. The Palace of Versailles in France is a magnificent, living example of this style.

In England in the eighteenth century strict, formal gardens gave way to the freer garden designs of the English Landscape School with landscaped parks surrounding the grandiose mansions of the wealthy. Eventually the style evolved to encompass the idea of sequence, thus laying the groundwork for the appreciation of Chinese and later Japanese garden design, where each part becomes integral to the overall harmonious composition.

The pendulum of garden fashion continued to swing between formal and informal during the following centuries, however by around the 1920's the pattern of modern garden design was beginning to emerge, a blend between the formal and the informal, underpinned by sound structure.

History is a great teacher and provides us with rich examples to adapt and utilize in our modern twenty first century gardens. Whether we have a small balcony garden, city courtyard or more expansive suburban garden the elements of contemporary garden design - alfresco living, pools and water features, sculpture gardens, vegetable gardens, clipped formal hedges and much more can be traced back to their historical origins. Really we are no different to our ancestors, with the lure of the garden still a powerful force in our contemporary lives.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The 'Wow' And 'Woo' Approach To Garden Design

There are broadly two approaches to garden design - the instant, unsuspected 'wow' factor of immediate impact and the more gradual, subtle 'woo' approach, where the appetite is whetted and the curiosity aroused as we are lured on a journey of discovery.

The essence of the 'wow' approach to garden design is that the 'wow' feature should remain unsuspected for as long as possible. When first seen it must stop us in our tracks. This heart stopper may be a magnificent view, an inspired blend of colour or texture or a fabulous plant, striking in its form, flower display or heady perfume - a little piece of paradise, which through its planning and design can utterly transport us.

The subtlety of the 'woo' approach is more difficult to achieve but by careful garden design the viewer's step can be anticipated and manipulated. We are gently lured by the half hidden, the heard but not seen, or the tantalizing scent from an unseen source. We glimpse features through a window or open door, through a half screening trellis, hedge or fence. Sometimes our curiosity is aroused by the seduction of a path, curving mysteriously, or from stone pillars or columnar, sentinel trees, positioned either side of a gap in a hedge or gate which invites exploration, or even from the distant murmur of water.

Whether we implement the 'wow' or 'woo' approach however, good garden design relies upon order and discipline. The essence of garden design, the principles of transition, linkage and proportion have evolved over many centuries. These principles are the basis of any modern garden, large or small, formal or informal and the garden design traditions of history are still a rich source of inspiration for garden designers today.

Today changing social and economic factors have brought about increased lifestyle expectations and altered how we live in our houses and apartments and utilize our gardens and outdoor spaces. But one thing hasn't changed. There are few of us who do not respond to the 'wow' and 'woo' of garden design and delight in the simple pleasures that a garden, however small brings into our busy lives.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sydney Landscaping Tips For Water Wise Garden Design

In Sydney landscaping companies are looking for creative garden design solutions to make the most of the rain that falls to the ground on our properties.

Although this year in Sydney we have had record rainfalls, this is not the norm. As we move through the regular rain cycles however, dryer times will return to challenge us. Sydney's average rainfall is normally about 1200mm and as a result of previous stringent Level 3 water restrictions Sydneysiders have become more conscious of avoiding wasteful over use of water in the garden despite our dams returning to record high capacities.

In Sydney, landscaping design strategies need to create opportunities for residential garden designs that allow the maximum water absorption benefit for our gardens and lawn areas by slowing down the runoff from paths and driveways to take advantage of every precious drop when it does rain. Instead of the traditional 'let's concrete the side paths and the driveway' these areas should be considered as potential areas for water absorption.

When designing garden paths excavate into the soil sub grades and install agricultural pipes, immersed in gravel and flowing to the lawn and garden areas. With many of  Living Colour Landscapes' landscaping projects in suburban Sydney we have then installed sandstone treads or large scale pavers with decorative pebbles and native violets to add softness and colour.

For several smaller Sydney properties where there is only a car stand at the front of the residence we have followed the same landscaping procedure as in the pathway method but have excavated to a deeper level so that there is a greater depth of gravel. The sandstone slabs need to be 75mm thick and a reasonable size, say 600mm x 400mm and can be placed on a screeded bed of washed river sand and laid as tracks only, so that there is plenty of room left for planting.

When it does rain the water does not flush into the gutters but makes its way through the stone gaps and plants and into the gravel, reducing runoff and allowing more water to be absorbed over a longer period, well after the rain has ceased.

Go to our website at to discover more of our landscaping ideas.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Using Colour Therapy In Garden Design

Sight is our most immediate physical sense. The kaleidoscope of colour in our environment has an instant effect on how we feel and experience the world around us. Colour influences our thoughts, our actions, our health and even our relationships. Amazingly it has been noted by researchers that many colour energies are so powerful that even the visually impaired can sense their vibrations and recognize a colour by sensing the density of air that surrounds it.

Colour therapy is an ancient approach to healing that has been used since the earliest times. The aim is to restore harmony and stimulate our inner resources. Colours can profoundly affect our mood and often have a measurable effect on our emotional and physical behaviour.
So how can we incorporate colour therapy into garden design? Each colour has many meanings and effects and can heal a wide variety of conditions. The usual rules of garden design still apply though and the scale and size of the garden, colours of the house materials and location are still a major consideration. Of course it is not only flowers that can provide colour in the garden. Plant foliage, furniture, garden pots and accessories are also a rich source of colour to play around with.

Red is the colour of love and fertility and is a great energizer. It keeps you alert, helps you cope with the demands of life, removes negativity and provides courage. Red is the boldest and most eye catching colour in the garden, providing vibrancy and making areas seem smaller than they really are, due to its advancing nature. Red has an ability to increase appetite so it is a great choice around eating areas or gardens visible from the inside dining area.

Orange is the colour of joy and provides a feeling of well-being by relieving the worries of everyday life. Orange is warm and welcoming, optimistic and sociable, it is bursting with energy and acts as a stimulant. Orange provokes change, creates opportunity and is the colour of enthusiasm and freedom. Orange is a great colour to lift us out of depression and instil a dose of optimism and fight our unknown fears. Orange is also a great colour to use around eating areas and an excellent choice for an area to enjoy a cup of tea in the morning sun.

Yellow is the brightest colour in the spectrum and is an excellent aid to concentration and study. Yellow energy provides intellectual and inspirational stimulation, encourages agility of mind, aids precision and helps to sort out difficulties. Yellow also brings feelings of optimism and self worth. Yellow is a powerful colour and will attract and dominate, drawing the eye toward it and increasing the feeling of space. Yellow will bring a feeling of well-being to the garden even on a dull day, evoking the spirit of spring.

Green is the colour of nature, a balanced hue which is neither warming nor cooling and brings a sense of harmony in garden design. The greenness of young seedlings represents regeneration and fertility. Green is believed to bring about change, create new routes in life and encourage hope. Restful and relaxing, it offers sanctuary from the outside world and spreads a feeling of peace. It is useful for meditation as it encourages a purposeful state of mind. In the garden, in all its myriad hues, green appears to enlarge space and will have a calming influence. Green enhances appetite, allays anxiety and brings a sense of peace and well-being.

Blue encourages relaxation and tranquility in garden design. It is a good colour for contemplation and is very conducive for meditation, inspiring patience and calm thought. Blue makes you aware of the need for rest and denotes a desire for peace and order. Blue is a cold hue and has a  cooling and cleansing effect which quiets the mind and soul. Exposure to blue can reduce blood pressure, pulse rate and brain activity. Blue is the perfect colour to reduce stress and anxiety in our busy lives and will reduce insomnia and help to combat nervousness, tension or fear. Blue reminds us of clear skies and creates a feeling of spaciousness.

Violet is a rich, regal colour which has been used throughout the ages to indicate knowledge, self respect, spirituality, nostalgia, dignity and wealth. Violet brings feelings of self-worth and is a good colour to use if you need to learn to love yourself. Violet is a difficult colour to use in garden design and needs plenty of contrast in texture, form and tone. For example Lavender has beautifully contrasting silvery foliage as a foil and many violet flowers have striking, contrasting centres such as the climber Clematis.

So now that we are armed with an insight into the effect of colour therapy in garden design we can manipulate space, form, colour and light in our gardens. We can create wonderful swathes of soothing singular colour, lifted by textural interest or mass plantings of complimentary colours. For example blue and orange stimulate the eye and make each colour appear even more intense than it would if set against any other colour in the spectrum. We can calm our nerves in quiet spots in the garden designed for relaxing with blues, greens and neutral whites, or turbo charge our eating areas with vibrant reds and oranges.

Colour is an integral part of our lives and its positive effects on our well-being in a well designed garden are immeasurable. So what are you waiting for? Its time to start re-evaluating your garden as a rich source of healing energy.

Healing Gardens, Romy Rawlings

Monday, July 11, 2011

Create Your Own Private Sanctuary

Most of us are looking for ways to find relief from the stresses of our busy everyday lives. We crave time and space for relaxation and our homes and gardens should provide this sanctuary. Our gardens, regardless of their size can play a vital supporting role in providing a refuge from the pressures of the outside world.

Sitting in a garden brings you into contact with the healing power of nature. In your own garden you can indulge all your senses, choose plants that appeal to you for their colour or shape, their scent or texture or delight in the sounds of rustling leaves, swaying grasses or melodious birdsong.

When planning a garden design, the garden should be visualised throughout the year to exploit the diverse glories of each season. Spring brings an explosion of colour, through the greens of young foliage and a multitude of bulbs and shrubs in a dizzying array of colours. In summer there is another burst of colour until autumn, when we get the full explosion of fiery shades of rich reds, oranges and russets. The winter palette is generally more muted but the showy display of camellias in brilliant shades of reds and pinks through to soft yellows and stunning whites provides a counterpoint to the bleakest winter day.

Gardens should be stimulating environments, both mentally and physically, and can be designed to provide a rich sensory experience. Sight usually dominates our senses but if you close your eyes and wait for your other senses to be aroused you can gain a new understanding of the touch, smells and tastes that surround you.

Foliage can be sharp, smooth, bold, feathery, sticky or quilted. Flowers play their sensuous part in the garden, from the tiniest and dainty headed through to the big and bold, providing us with glorious sweet smelling carpets of colour or striking architectural specimens. Pleasing sounds in the garden can provide a refuge from the daily stress of the unwelcome noise of the cacophony of sounds in our city environments. The sound of rain, wind chimes and bubbling water, the hum of bees and the song of birds, the movement of the wind through trees and shrubs can be almost hypnotic, providing a calming influence and panacea to the day's stresses.

Whether your garden is large or small, a courtyard or a balcony you can create your own private sanctuary, filled with wonderful shapes, textures and scents to rouse your senses and provide an escape, if only momentarily from the outside world.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Revisiting a Favourite Sydney Landscaping Project

One of our favourite landscaping projects is a large Killara garden located on the North Shore in Sydney. Over the years and through several different owners the garden has been lovingly nurtured and tended, and has grown towards maturity to fulfill the original vision.

Stephen and I spent a delightful late afternoon wandering around the garden with the new owners, marvelling at the play of light on richly coloured autumn leaves, swaying grasses and clipped box hedges. Autumn is when this garden is at its most colourful with bronzes, blazing clarets, yellows and oranges, set against a tapestry of greens.

The landscaping was redesigned around the original house, designed and built in the 1940's by a prominent Sydney architect of the day. The house design lent itself to a classical and romantic format, with sweeping hedges of box and topiary planting at strategic points along the pathways. Beautiful, established Eucalyptus trees and exotic deciduous trees added a cathedral like presence to this large North Shore garden and formed 'the bones' of the garden design and landscaping.

Outdoor rooms were created with taller hedging plants such as Syzigium and Murraya to echo the home's architectural elements and to create backdrops for colourful, sculptural plants and a wide variety of native and exotic grasses, that the original owner had a particular passion for.

This wonderfully photogenic landscaping project has been showcased on television in Hot Property and featured in Belle magazine and continues to delight both us and the new owners as it grows towards maturity in this established garden suburb.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Sculpture In The Garden

Since Venus, God of love and beauty, was hailed as the presiding deity of gardens by the Roman poet Varro she has been blessed with a long and prosperous reign and sculpture in the garden has continued to be an important ingredient in garden design throughout the history of constructed landscapes.

Many contemporary sculptures still explore the ideal of Venus through the female form. The voluptuous sculptures of powerful female forms by Gaston Lachaise in the sculpture garden at the National Gallery in Canberra are a wonderful contemporary example of 'figures' in the landscape.

The gardens of Renaissance Italy were outdoor museums, in the original sense of 'homes for the muses'. Classical sculptures, excavated from the ruins of Greece and Rome, were displayed in gardens and considered to be an aid to contemplation, and a taste for placing classical statuary spread with the Renaissance to northern Europe. Henry VIII of England placed sculpture in his garden at Nonsuch, begun in 1538 and Louis XIV assembled a vast collection at his grand palace at Versailles.

Today sculpture has once again enjoyed a renaissance in garden design and with a dazzling selection and price range to choose from, there are sculptures to suit every garden, courtyard or balcony. From classical or modern stone and bronze statuary to contemporary pieces in steel, stone, timber and a multitude of materials, the choices are limited only by the artist's imagination.

This collection of images is from Sculpture at Peppers, located in the magnificent, historic gardens of Craigieburn Peppers, and features the work of Stephen Oatley, Thomas Buchich and Stephen Coburn, who were invited to exhibit large scale sculptures as part of the Southern Highlands Festival of Wine, Art and Roses in November last year.

We don't all own grand garden estates like Craigieburn but sculpture can be incorporated into the garden design of any outdoor space to create a dramatic focal point or quiet area of contemplation. Just as the classical sculptures in ancient Roman gardens nurtured the ideals of love and beauty so too can sculpture in our gardens today create that same sense of love, beauty and contemplation