Reading list: With Nature by Fiona Brockhoff

This new book profiles beautiful, practical, sustainable, naturalistic landscapes by this lauded Australian garden designer, including the loveliest lakeside haven. What follows is an edited extract.

MAIN IMAGE A stacked slate wall retains this semicircular space for lounging; Correa reflexa var. nummulariifolia drapes over the stone. Banksia spinulosa ‘Birthday Candles’ adds bird-attracting interest to the upper level. TOP With papery, twisted trunks, Melaleuca nesophila grow alongside this path with Lomandra longifolia ‘Tanika’ at their feet. Both plants like boggy ground. ABOVE In this soft setting, a void made from local Dromana gravel is encircled by plants including common tussock grass Poa labillardieri, spiky green Lomandra longifolia ‘Tanika’, Anigozanthus ‘Big Red’, and Dichondra repens as a tight ground cover.

Centre stage at this country house by Meacham Nockles McQualter in Main Ridge, on Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula, is the lake at the bottom of the hill — an ever-changing view, a welcome swimming spot and a haven for wildlife. The relaxed garden rolls down to the water’s edge, successfully mimicking the planting of a natural lake margin or water course. Plant choices are mainly Australian native and complement the Scandinavian-style holiday home, which sits close to the earth with an open and light aesthetic, a single step from the house into the outdoors.

ABOVE A strong inside-outside connection is made via large sliding doors and floor-to-ceiling windows. From this space, the evening light can be seen illuminating the tussocks and dancing on the water.

The garden was designed in conjunction with the house, allowing for soil improvement after the house site was cut. Good on-site topsoil was combined with compost and manure to create a healthy planting medium, but much of the success of the garden was due to careful plant selection, including varieties that handle dry spells as well as periods of inundation. The landscape materials were all local to Victoria and included Pyrenees slate for retaining walls and paving, local granitic gravel for the paths, and recycled bridge timbers for steps and to define the entrance.

ABOVE Tall she-oak Allocasuarina littoralis helps to frame the view of the water.

A major feature in the garden are the clumps of Anigozanthos ‘Big Red’, which flower all summer into autumn and draw in honeyeaters and other nectar-feeding birds. Crimson glory vine (Vitis coignetiae) rambles over the pergola and provides welcome shade as well as brilliant autumn foliage.
The trees include the small gum Eucalyptus macrandra, with its stunning shiny trunk, she-oak Allocasuarina littoralis and the deciduous Koelreuteria paniculata. Mass planting of tussocks such as Themeda triandra ‘True Blue’ and Lomandra longifolia ‘Tanika’, and groundcovers including Grevillea lanigera ‘Mt Tamboritha’, which flowers throughout winter, create soft swathes of vegetation that surround the house, connecting it strongly to the lake. The bold Phormium tenax ‘Anna Red’ have thrived in the wet conditions along with Melaleuca nesophila and the indigenous tussock Poa labillardierei.
As the garden has grown and more shade has been created by the developing tree canopies, especially on the east side of the house, some of the underplanting has been modified to include more shade-loving plants. The success of Plectranthus ambiguus ‘Nico’ and Microsorum diversifolium has allowed a continuum of low-lying vegetation.

TOP Even the door to the laundry is beautiful. The seed pods of Koelreuteria paniculata above it rattle in the wind, making a sound like rain falling on a roof. ABOVE The pergola is an extension of the house, adding an outdoor dining area shaded by crimson glory vine. Slate crazy paving is an attractive textured surface underfoot, and the use of stand-alone rocks as steps into the house is a Japanese-style touch.

The eastern side of the garden includes a cherished kitchen garden of vegetables, herbs and fruit trees, plus a chook house and run. The western side is dominated by a large treehouse that sits high up in a pine tree, complete with a flying fox that propels you toward the centre of the lake. This is a practical, productive and fun garden for all seasons. 

Edited extract from With Nature by Fiona Brockhoff with photography by Earl Carter (Hardie Grant, $75). 

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