Landscaping a garden with a 45 degree slope is quite an uphill task. Award-winning Australian landscape architecture firm Secret Gardens shows us how it can be done and that too with style.
A house steep enough to have an inclinator might boast of pretty views, but working on its landscape is an uphill task indeed. The property in Seaforth, a suburb of Sydney, Australia had 1600 sq m of water-facing land that needed to be landscaped. The challenge? A steep 45 degree slope. Award-winning Australian garden design company, Secret Gardens was commissioned to transform the land into one of their beautiful “hideaways”.
Started in 1994 by Director Matthew Cantwell, Secret Gardens now has over 45 employees offering a complete landscaping service. They have won several awards in every landscaping category including design and maintenance.
Because of the location of the Seaforth garden, there was limited access to the property either by land or water. As a result, all materials had to be delivered by a water barge and physically carried up the hill.
There were other challenges too. “It was completely overgrown with weeds. We actually had to perform an extensive clear out before we could commence design,” says Matthew Cantwell.
“Cranes were used to install the larger plants and materials including stone, sand and timber over the top of the house from the street level.”
The property features an inclinator with four stops on the slope. The new garden was designed keeping this in mind, with several levels of lush landscaping instead of one steep slope. Sandstone steps and paths meander through the garden, encouraging you to take a walk. Their descent is gradual, allowing one to take measured steps. Decked viewing platforms leading to the water invite you to stop and take a look around.
“The levels in the garden were created by building dry packed sandstone retaining walls and linking the levels together with timber stairs. At the water level, sandstone steps were built into the garden with ferns planted on either side of the steps that lead one to the first level in the garden.”
The garden uses a lot of the natural surroundings in its design. “A rock ledge provides a dramatic backdrop and a simple timber bench seat provides a spot to sit peacefully and enjoy the garden and the views,” elucidates Cantwell.
Throughout the garden, the highlight though, is the planting. Each level has something different to offer – a mini botanic garden mixing ornamentals, native shrubs and some classic foreshore trees endemic to the natural landscape; burnt orange flowers of Sedum ‘Autumn joy’, sit alongside Helichrysum Petiolare (liquorice), Agave attenuata and a burst of purple flowers with purple Salvia leucantha.
“The client wanted a botanical experience. They recognised that on a steep slope facing south on Middle Harbour the garden deserved some hardy natives but they were also keen to include some ornamental favourites. It is an eclectic mix of plants. The boundaries have larger shrubs and trees creating privacy. The top half of the garden which is quite open has a lovely selection of flowering plants and is more tailored,” says Cantwell.
As we go deeper into the garden the planting takes on a more natural appearance. 60,000 litre water tanks were installed to ensure that the garden always had water.
The garden successfully frames the magnificent views of the water, without blocking it. The various levels break up the expanse of green and allow the eye to wander over patches of lawn, flowering trees and evergreens.
The touch of blush-pink sandstone is a clever and unobtrusive complement to all the green. Large rocks in the garden and near the water add texture and drama. “It is a unique plot of land, such plots are fast disappearing and most are overdeveloped. Our clients were very lucky that they only required it to be a garden,” says Cantwell.
The thoughtful landscaping of this challenging property won Secret Garden the prestigious AILDM (The Australian Institute of Landscape Designers and Managers) Design Award for Best Plantscape 2010. Secret Gardens continues to maintain this Seaforth slice of heaven, for which they won the 2012 Excellence Award for Maintenance, Residential from Landscape Association NSW & ACT (LNA).
Text By Chryselle D’Silva Dias
Photographs Courtesy The Designers