As it's Spring, my thoughts have increasingly been on the garden, and gardening in general. Early this year I contacted my landscape designer as a redesign of the front garden was required (this had not been designed by her, but rather by me). The front garden was installed only 4 years ago, however a number of problems meant that a redesign was in order.

The sick magnolia tree, stunted hedge to the right.

Firstly, we have as a central focal point by the front path a dying Magnolia tree. It didn't like the construction of the new front fence and has sulked by dying back year on year. Branches show disease and rot, and despite a lot of TLC on my part, it was obvious after nursing it along for the past 4 years that it was time to farewell it as it was a shadow of its previous magnificence.

The last of the magnolias

Secondly was the fact that the first landscaper that did the initial landscaping works did not prepare the soil properly. I had at the time emphasised the importance of the soil preparation - with all the construction works of the veranda and new boundary walls the soil was very compacted from earthworks. However I was unable to supervise the landscaping works adequately - at the time my mother was very ill in hospital for 6 weeks, and I was spending my days with her. It all looked fine at the end of the job, and the plants initially flourished, but that all stalled a year later when the compacted soil in one section of the garden was alternatively a bog in Winter or bone dry in Summer, and I would unearth very large rocks buried 30cm below the soil level that had not been removed from the construction of the wall from the other end of the garden - I can remember on one afternoon alone I dug up 13 30-40cm wide rocks while trying to plant roses. The hedge along the front fence also grew very strangely - one side is flourishing, and the other is half the size.

The third issue was to correct a rookie error on my part. Gardens are no different in many ways to Architecture, and scale is important. While I know how to do this successfully in buildings, in the garden I doubted what I'd read (garden beds should be a minimum of 2m wide, and ideally at least 3m) and instinctively made the common mistake of trying to maximise the feeling of space in what is a very narrow front garden by making the garden beds narrow and the lawn part as large as possible. It just doesn't look right - the garden feels like it's shrinking up at the sides and it emphasises the narrowness of the garden as a result.

So, the shorter version is that it's all coming out, and the new garden will have no lawn (no longer needed as we have a fully renovated back garden and living area for the children to play on), and will instead be almost entirely garden, with some gravel to soften the margins between veranda, front path and plants. Thank goodness I did in fact scale the front path well - it is very wide, which works well with the scale of the house and so it will not be changing.

Bronte House, Sydney. Photo via Bumble at Home blog 

Bronte House, Sydney. photo via Bumble at Home blog

"Possumwood" garden designed by Miles Baldwin

The style for the front garden is that of an early colonial Australian garden - I want it to look original to the house. In essence this means that it will rely on interesting plant combinations, rather than geometry (a formal garden with hedging) for interest. Colonial gardens were largely experimental - finding out what would grow in the Australian climate from plants collected from all over the world, and with a combination of plantings that emphasised textural contrast (grasses/ sedums/ meditteranean palms/ salvias) and that required little water.... It won't be a 'dry' garden as such, but it will have a good mix of grey/green leafed plants and will rely on interesting planting combinations, such as my inspiration garden images above. All the existing plants in the garden will be reused (they will be lifted out so that the soil can be adequately prepared first), and the focal point on one side will be a Victorian style fountain.

Cast Iron fountain circa 1890 at my Dad's house. (blurred out) photo of my children by Shona Henderson

I have searched high and low for a decent fountain - there is one main style of reproduction fountain available in Adelaide and it is a two tiered fountain with either swans or dolphins at the base. I wanted something different - so I've found instead a good selection from a foundry in Castlemaine, Victoria and have chosen a bronze Acanthus leaf fountain (not quite on the scale of my Dad's fountain!).

Billman's Foundry Acanthus leaf fountain

Acanthus leaves were a motif commonly used in Classical Architecture, and ferns, palms and Acanthus leaf motifs were popular during the Victorian era, so I feel it will suit my house style and the overall style of the garden. Then there was the pond part. I didn't want it to go into a new build pond with stone edging. I wanted it to go into a cast iron Victorian style pond surround, similar to my Dad's original fountain located in his garden in the photo above. Well, no one makes them anymore. Apparently you'd need a crane to get one into your garden at any rate… but I did manage to find a reproduction fibreglass pond surround that will look the goods. The fibreglass is high quality, so bears no resemblance to the cheap pebbled ponds you might find at the local garden centre, and it's still a 3 man lift, so it's solid and substantial enough that I think it will work well. It also came from Castlemaine.

So, with those plans in place I'm just waiting on the landscapers to arrive, which will be Monday. In readiness they came and sprayed off the lawn to kill it. However this was done a little prematurely in my opinion - we have been looking at this scene for the past 10 weeks. I can't even begin to tell you how much I am desperately wanting the yellow grass to be gone. It's a very depressing entry at the moment to the house.

In other parts of the garden however things are flourishing. I've put in a lot of hard yards over the past couple of months fertilising, weeding and pruning in readiness for Spring - not the glamorous part of gardening that's for sure. I've had a few questions about the hedging in the side garden and how I've gone about with this radically different method of growing a thick hedge (advice given to me by my hedging man).

Rather than tip pruning and getting the vase shaped bush that is common, he suggests pegging or tying down any long leaders you get to spread out the footprint of the bush. You then get new shoots out of the horizontally tied down branches and the bush is much thicker as a result. I've used galvanised irrigation pegs that I bought from the hardware store. You can air peg the branches if necessary (so that you don't snap the branch if it is more brittle by pushing it right onto the ground), and after around 3 months the branch has changed its direction of growth enough that you can remove the pegs and reuse them elsewhere. Alternatively you can tie branches from plant to plant together with something flexible (I use old stockings for this). While overall the hedges that I've done this to are shorter than the ones I haven't, they are only marginally so, and by contrast are double the footprint of the normally grown type. I highly recommend this method, and I'm now doing it to all the bushes. It's also being done along the front fence hedge (particularly the side growing poorly) to help thicken it up.

If you look almost directly at the centre of the image you'll see the peg holding the branch down

Kind of flattened out into the gaps

Back corner of the garden

The other thing my hedging man did was to test the ph of the soil. I've actually never done this before, but it's very alkaline, so we need to add Acid to bring it back to a neutral Ph. Not having neutral ph means that the plants can't take up nutrients adequately and it stunts their growth and makes them susceptible to disease. So Mr AV and I have spent a lot of time lugging around elemental sulphur and digging it into the soil to correct it. It's not been a lot of fun. Actually, the day we did that I was pretty grumpy….But the back garden is rewarding us - the crabapples are in full flight, the forest pansy is in blossom and all the other trees have leafed up nicely. I've planted out a lot of roses around the bocce court, some of which I've successfully transplanted from the front garden in readiness for the landscaping works.

Forest Pansy

And I've been busy growing new things for the front garden and to fill in the gaps in the back garden. Lots of salvias, echiums and sedums. Some from cuttings, some from seed (via the Diggers Club who have the more unusual varieties you can't buy from nurseries).

Seedlings waiting for the front garden….

So I'll be posting hopefully in a couple of weeks with a radically different looking front garden. Happy Spring!

I often write blog posts about things I get a lot of emails about, and one thing I've received a few emails about, and that I've spoken to people quite a bit about in real life as well,  is where I would recommend to study Interior Design or Decoration and then the specifics about a general career change to Design.

I have wanted to be a Designer of some sort from about the age of 9. I used to frequently rearrange the furniture in my bedroom from the time I was about 8 years old, draping table cloths on the bed, moving around my pictures… I saved up for 2 years to buy my own dollhouse, and I used to love visiting one of my Aunts who would buy in all the overseas design magazines (so expensive back then!) and I'd spend all my time whilst at her house curled up on her sofa reading them obsessively.

My parents wanted me to channel my interest in Interiors into something they viewed as a more substantial level of study, and so I completed a 5 year Bachelor of Architecture degree after finishing school. I didn't enjoy it. Architecture consistently has one of the poorest student satisfaction results across all University degrees in Australia. It's a long course of endurance. But I got through it, as I'd made a deal with my parents that I could then study Interior Design at The Inchbald School of Design in London - a course highly regarded in the design industry that had turned out many of the designers whose work I admired in English House and Garden magazine (my favourite Interiors magazine).

Of course there are a variety of options available to study Interior Design or Decoration in Australia. The thing that interested me, and that sent me to London, was not in completing another 3 years of a Bachelor of Interior Design at University (and coming out with no knowledge of fabrics/ wallpapers and all the things deemed 'fluffy' - Interior Architecture at University has quite a commercial slant as this is where most end up working) but in expanding my wings in a design sense and in finding a point of difference from all the hundreds of other University graduates finishing University at a time when jobs in Architecture were incredibly scarce. Back then with no Internet, Australia was truly at the bottom of the world and ideas from overseas would take literally years to filter down here. We were at the mercy of what was brought into the country by trade agents, and the insular nature of being here meant that design was very skewed toward a certain look.

So I travelled to London, studied Interior Design and Decoration at a private design school and worked for some time as an Interior Design slave (which I wrote a little bit about here). It was a fantastic, formative experience for a design mad girl from Adelaide, and I think it's definitely influenced the way I design and opened my eyes to the possibilities that are out there. No where in Adelaide (or Sydney at that time) would you find lacquered or fabric upholstered walls, cedar lined drawers in a walk in dressing room, be lining curtains in hundreds of metres of a Pierre Frey check so that the curtains looked attractive from outside the house, specify hand appliqu├ęd borders on curtains or chinoiserie wallpaper painted by hand that was made specially to fit a room's doors and windows…and all the other myriad things that I saw being done while I worked in Interiors in London. While these things are not something I will necessarily do in my work now (few have the budget - these were projects for multi-multi millionaires), they spin off other ideas in my head that can be applied in other ways. They also left me with a life long aversion to trend driven design, which is so prevalent at the moment, and instead to appreciate an underlying quality of design and materials which will last beyond a 3 year cycle.

But of course I was a lot younger then than I am now. When people  have asked me about a change career into Interior Design I always suggest looking to London to the two big private design schools there - The Inchbald School of Design and KLC, which are both very highly regarded in the industry. If you can go in person to one of their courses, then so much the better. But both now offer online courses, accredited by Universities in the UK, in a range of design subjects and courses. They are rigorous and well thought through, and will definitely give a good grounding in design on which to build a career as well as teaching the business of design (running actual projects). For people living in a geographically vast country like Australia, and for people unable to access a design school locally due to not living in Sydney or Melbourne, or not wanting to study a 4 year Bachelor of Interior Architecture, or those looking to still work while retraining, and for those looking for world class teaching...then this is the perfect solution.

I cannot emphasise how much I loved my course all those years ago - the teachers were all experts in their field, and we'd regularly have talks from world-class London based designers. We were taken on guided tours of the V&A museum with an Oxford educated expert in decorative design. We visited stately homes, fabric showrooms, and trade shows. All things that expand your horizons in a design sense. Now to keep up a world view on design I spend a lot of time looking at International and local design magazines, reading books, visiting exhibitions and attending talks when I'm able to, and using online resources such as virtual gallery tours.

My trip to Hobart over the weekend, the subject of my last post, was a long talk fest about houses - particularly so as Romy, our Hobart hostess, has a beautiful and eclectic home and clearly a good eye for design. Earlier this year Romy decided to retrain as an Interior Designer, and has signed up for the KLC course online - study options being particularly limited in Tasmania. Romy has just restarted her blog  - now called A House in Hobart - and has promised to blog about her design course and all the beautiful houses in Hobart near her home. So if you're interested in following along with her on her on this process then drop by her blog and say hello.

All images via Pinterest

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Architect & Interior Designer. Mother of three. A sometimes Cook, Baker, Reader, Gardener, Fashion Lover, Renovator, Writer of random things in South Australia email me on
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