7 garden design ideas from four private gardens

March 3rd, 2019 Posted In: Garden trends & design

Here are garden design ideas from four really beautiful private gardens, none of which are ever open to the public.

They are in Southern Australia, an hour or so from Melbourne. But if you live in the UK, Northern Europe or North America these gardens have relevance for you too. Although Melbourne’s summers are much hotter than, say, ours are in South East England, the winters are as cold, if not colder.

Garden design ideas from private gardens

At Ard Rudah, the summers are hot, but the winters are quite cold. The house and garden date back to Victorian times and were revamped in the 1920s and then again by the current owners.

And garden design isn’t all about plants

These four gardens all have the challenges – and opportunities- of seasonal gardening. And their garden design ideas work in different gardens regardless of the temperatures.

Garden design ideas - use local materials

This pond is in the garden of Robin and Margaret Marks. They built the house themselves (stone by stone!) and also designed the garden. They used local granite for the house and this pond is also made of local granite with gravel made from the same granite around it.

And these gardens are all gardened by and for the people who live in them. They have some professional help, but not a great deal.

So they face the same challenges that all private gardeners face – having to make compromises due to lack of time, money or expertise.

Pick a colour or theme for your garden

This one works whether your garden is tiny or huge.

Pick one or two elements to hold the look of the garden together. The easiest is to have a signature colour. Or you can reflect elements from local landscape or echo your house.

Colour unifies a garden #gardendesign

The Marks’ yellow paint picks up a yellow tinge in the local stone.

Robin and Margaret Marks have painted all woodwork in their house and garden yellow. They built the house of local granite. It has a yellow tinge to it. They also used quite a yellow Oregon pine. So the yellow makes sense. I love it.

Use colour to pull your house and garden together #gardendesign

The Marks house with its yellow theme.

Victorian garden design ideas

Two of the four gardens – Karori and Ard Rudah – are in the mountains an hour or so out of Melbourne. They have quite a temperate climate . The summers are like very good, hot English summers. Winters are little colder than we normally get in South East England.

When Karori was built – in Victorian times – the garden was planted with European trees, many of which are still here.

Take your garden theme from the architecture of your house #gardendesign

Karori was built in the Victorian era, and its garden waa originally laid out then. The current owners are restoring it, keeping its Victorian roots in mind.

(See this post about Karori’s garden when they moved in, with gardening expert Stephen Ryan’s advice on how to restore the garden).

Victorian garden owners loved importing exotic or sub-tropical plants. They imported plants from all over the world, and didn’t worry too much about ‘right plant, right place.’ There was the manpower to work borders so that they were in full bloom for as long as possible.

It’s very Victorian to combine tree ferns with dahlias, hydrangeas and pine trees.

When William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll came along, private gardens started to be more ‘natural’. William Robinson pioneered the ‘wild garden’ in the late nineteenth century, by which he meant growing plants where they were likely to do well.

Echo the architecture of your house in small details #gardendesign

The owners of Karori built this chicken coop themselves, echoing the architecture and colours of the main house.

But there’s an exuberance and confidence about Victorian gardens that is having something of a resurgence now, in my opinion. Think glorious blazing colour from dahlias and cannas mixed with classic English roses and Scots pines.

Re-discover the hydrangea

Take a forgotten favourite – the hydrangea – and mix it with exotic plants such as tree ferns for an easy-care, big impact look. Blue hydrangeas with great big heads like the Queen Mother’s hats look wonderful in a jungle setting here at Ard Rudah.

Use traditional plants with exotic shapes #gardendesign

Blue hydrangeas and tree ferns at Ard Rudah. There’s a place for hydrangeas in the modern exotic garden!

There are stunning hydrangeas in pots at Ard Rudah, too. Put a big hydrangea in a big pot. Stand back and admire.

Use hydrangeas as a statement plant #gardendesign

Use hydrangeas as a statement plant in a big pot, like these pots at Ard Rudah.

And at Karori, a hedge of Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snow Queen’ gives almost two months worth of flowers.

Use hydrangeas as a hedge #gardendesign

A hedge of Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snow Queen’ at Karori

Time to embrace conifers?

The Victorians loved their pinetums and specimen plants. By the mid to late twentieth century, towering conifers plunged many British gardens into deep gloom.

It put us all right off them.

But conifers come in a range of sizes, colours and shapes. They don’t all grow to 100ft tall. Many have sculptural shapes and virtually turn themselves into topiary, so they provide structure in a garden.

Conifers offer leaf contrast and sculptural shape in a border #gardendesign

Conifers offer a good leaf contrast and sculptural shape in a mixed border, and they are very easy to look after. Seen at Ard Rudah.

These conifers were planted around 50 years ago at Ard Rudah.

Use conifers for easy maintenance and sculptural shapes #gardendesign

These conifers were planted decades ago. They haven’t grown too big and they frame this sunken garden at Ard Rudah.

Especially a clump of Italian cypress

I really fell in love with the slender, sculptural pillars of Italian cypress. They’re tall and distinctive, but don’t take up much ground space.

One of the four gardens is around Mingara, a house built by Australian modernist architect Guildford Bell.
A group of five Italian cypress by the front door make a stylish entrance.

Use sculpture to echo your house's style

Mingara is built by Guildford Bell, one of Australia’s leading modernist architects.

Plant Italian cypress in 3s or 5s. #gardendesign

A clump of Italian cypress create a living sculpture outside the Guildford Bell house.

But if your taste is more classical then combine them with box hedging and traditional stone, like here at Ard Rudah.

Italian cypress and neatly clipped hedges for classical garden design #gardendesign

Whether your taste is modern or classical, there’s bound to be room for a few slender Italian cypress somewhere in the garden.

Modernist garden design ideas

The fourth house is a modernist Guildford Bell house with a modern sculpture theme to the garden. Guildford Bell is one of Australia’s most famous modernist architects.

Use sculpture to create a theme in your garden #gardendesign

Sculpture by swedish sculptor Sanae Maelstrom sits beautifully in this courtyard of Mingara.

And contemporary sculpture is exactly right for Mingara’s contemporary architecture in Victoria near Melbourne.

Sculpture is low maintenance and it looks good in all seasons. #gardendesign

‘The Holy Family’ – a sculpture by Stephen Cox in the gardens of Mingara.

Sculpture is more than just creating a focal point. For those who have busy lives or travel a lot, sculpture is a wonderful way of creating long-lasting impact in a garden.

Combine blue foliage and white stone sculpture #gardendesign

Simplicity, elegance and style. This lavender bed, wattle tree and sculpture at Mingara are easy to look after, can be left if the owners travel and look beautiful.

And it’s also low maintenance. When the weather puts the garden under stress – during a drought, for example, or a hard winter – sculpture will carry on and hold the interest.

Make mowing easier

The combination of trees and lawn makes a big garden relatively low maintenance. You don’t have go round snipping off dead-heads or digging up seasonal plants.

However mowing round trees can be irritating. It’s slightly easier if you have these box hedge surrounds, like Ard Rudah. The mower can go right up to the box hedge without damaging itself or the box hedge.

Use box edging for definition #gardendesign

This neat box edging under the tree at Ard Rudah gives it definition in the lawn and also makes it easier to mow.

The one big border theory

This tip works equally well for both large and tiny gardens.

If you’re short of time and your garden is big, then concentrate your ‘fine gardening’ on one big showy border somewhere you will see it all year round, which is probably near the house.

And if your garden is very small, then having one big border (which can be anywhere that works for you) creates a big splash and lots of impact.

Create impact with one big border, #gardendesign

This red, white and silver border at Karori creates impact beside the house.


Think about your fences and gates

And how they tie into the overall theme of the garden.

Think about your garden theme when choosing gates #gardendesign

I love these gates at Ard Rudah – they match the colour of the drive and also echo some benches around the garden.

Think about all the different elements in your garden #gardendesign

Ard Rudah’s benches are made in a similar ironwork to the gates.

Paint your gate and fence #gardendesign

This yellow gate and fence at the Marks’ house is in their signature yellow.

And this yellow picket fence and gate is at the entrance to Margaret and Robin’s house.

Worried about another hot, dry summer?

Summers don’t get much dryer or hotter than the one Australia has just had.

Plant for hot dry summers #gardentips

Kangaroos at the end of a hot dry summer

Ignore the lawns, they’ll bounce back. Plant drought-resistant plants, such as sedums, lavenders, grasses and some of the hardier roses.

Sedums are loved by wildlife and are drought-resistant #gardentips

Sedums are loved by wildlife and are very drought-resistant.

When Robin and Margaret were building their house, one of their neighbours had been a friend of the Australian rose grower, Alistair Clark. He’d experimented with hybridising drought-resistant roses. His friend had a number of un-named plants which she passed onto the Marks’.

Last summer was unusually hot and dry, and the Marks’ roses didn’t bloom. But they are healthy, and will bloom again when there is more rain.

Plant for drought #gardentips

Rosa ‘mutabilis’ has survived the long dry summer.

Their Rosa mutabilis, however, has flowered profusely.

Fruit cages can be a thing of beauty

Why not have a vegetable or fruit cage that you enjoy being in?

Gardening is a little tougher in Australia than it is in the UK because Australia has the full spectrum of slugs, snails and pests that we have. Plus the additional plant munchers, which include kangaroos, wallabies, possums, parrots and cockatoos.

Put a bench inside your netted enclosure

The Marks’ netted enclosure has flowers and a pretty bench inside.

Almost everyone has an area covered in mesh or strong netting, which is often not just a place to protect your crops but somewhere that is a pleasure to be in its own right.

At the Marks’ house kangaroos nibble the lawn at night and even pluck weeds out of the borders to enjoy. But they can be dangerous.

A fruit cage can be beautiful! #gardendesign

The netted enclosure at Karori has a Victorian theme.

At Karori, the owner has built this huge netted enclosure himself.

Learn how to do it yourself

I was super-impressed with how much people are prepared to do things for themselves in Australia.

I think that in Northern Europe we perhaps box ourselves in too much – if we’re essentially desk workers we seem to tell ourselves that we can’t do things like carpentry or building a wall.

 Build your house yourself

The Marks’ house is surrounded by garden.

Robin and Margaret Marks built their entire house, one piece of granite and plank of Oregon pine at a time.

DIY sculpture #gardendesign

The owner of Mingara created his own sculpture out of corten steel, even though he’s not a sculptor.

DIY in the garden - a netted enclosure

The owner of Karori spent an hour every morning before work making this netted enclosure.

And the fruit and veg cage at Karori was also built by hand by the owner, who did an hour of cutting and shaping wood every day before starting his desk-based writing and consultancy. He learned a great deal of the techniques from YouTube videos.

See more of these gardens…

This week’s YouTube video has more about these gardens:

Pin for reference

Finally make sure that the soles of your wellington boots match your garden theme! I mean, how hard can that be?

Tips for garden design #gardendesign

Harmonious boots at the Marks’ house.


9 comments on "7 garden design ideas from four private gardens"

  1. Hi there! I am a young, Generation Z gardener, and recently started a blog about gardening in college. I have posts on vermicomposting and some of my gardening tips. I would appreciate if you would check it out! If you like the content, give me a follow and share it with friends. If you don’t like my blog, I would love to hear your feedback and comments. dormlifegardening.blogspot.com

    1. It’s great that you are doing this blog. I’m not sure what feedback would be helpful, but it’s always good to be specific about the person you hope to reach -‘dorm life’suggests Generation Z and possibly gardening in rented accommodation, which lots of people now do, so that’s a good niche. So make sure you are specific in the posts as to why your gardening tips are so helpful to people with that lifestyle. There are lots of big magazines, programmes and blogs with gardening tips that are helpful to everyone, but gardening tips that are specifically helpful to Generation Z may be different, so if they are, say why and how, even if the difference isn’t great. Hope that makes sense and good luck with garden blogging in the future.

  2. Darren says:

    Fences and gates also important in garden designing. This is a really important guide on how to do gardening by yourself.

  3. Rhody says:

    So sorry, forgot to say, great story. That area is beautiful.

  4. rhody says:

    The hydrangea you identify as ‘Limelight’ is most definitely not. It is Hydrangea quercifolia, the North America, oakleaf hydrangea.

    1. You’re absolutely right – It’s Snow Queen! Thank you for commenting.

  5. Those ferns with the hydrangeas are spectacular: what a full, luscious look! Thanks for the tour and ideas!!

    1. Thank you – yes, I loved the hydrangeas and ferns too.

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