Setting the period tone outside and in

Tuesday 17 Nov 2009

However, with continued trends in renovation, expanding family requirements, and the pressures of drought, the heritage value of our gardens is at risk.

The problem today is that when it comes to the marriage of period architecture and garden style, many gardeners simply become unstuck.

Edwardian period of gardening (1901-1914)

The Edwardian period saw the dawn of a new century and continued prosperity. Gardens reflected stately success among the upper classes.

This was the era of the country manor house and garden parties became fashionable. In Melbourne, the beginning of the Edwardian period coincided with Federation.

This garden style blended informal planting schemes with the formality of Victorian-era gardens.

Drifts of colour were used in herbaceous borders made famous by the likes of Gertrude Jekyll. Pergolas and arbours also became popular in this period.

Edwardian front garden

This red brick Edwardian house needed a revamped front garden to incorporate a new garage and driveway.

The new garden needed to be more sensitive to the style of the house and the home owner wanted to create a showpiece entrance to this grand home.

To design a garden in the Edwardian style, it was important to create a link with Melbourne's English gardening heritage and to select materials that reflected the exterior of the house.

Using secondhand red bricks is an easy way to reuse old materials and add some aged charm to a garden.

To create a less formal feel, the front path was offset in panels to avoid the straight line one might find in a more Victorian garden approach.

Offsetting an entrance path opens up more design possibilities. In this case I was able to form a connection between the front path and the driveway to the right.

The drive edge was curved to soften the layout of the garden. Bringing the feel of a country manor house is not easy in a small space in Melbourne, but softening straight lines by offsetting paths and using curves is effective.

When it came to selecting plants and trees, autumn tones were used to blend the seasonal foliage colours with the red house bricks.

A mix of green foliage with highlights of autumn colour is a good way to create a more informal garden feel.

Suggested plants: Victorian style

Mahonia x media 'Charity'

There are several types of Mahonia available in nurseries. This one is a cross between M. japonica and M. lomariifolia. Growing to about 1.5 metres, the spiny fern-like leaflets are produced at the ends of bamboo-like shoots. In autumn into winter, dense bright clusters of yellow flowers appear. If difficult to find, try Mahonia lomariifolia.

Digitalis sp.

Digitalis sp. (foxglove) is a woodland plant that will grow happily in areas of part shade or dappled light. A biennial plant, it grows easily from seed as long as you provide moisture during the hotter months. The tall showy spikes of flowers over one metre tall continue growing into summer and are very attractive. Trim back after flowering to produce more flowers.

Melianthus major

Growing to more than two metres tall, the attraction of the honey bush foliage is its slightly drooping large pinnate leaves up to 60 centimetres long. Deep red, showy flowers resembling a swan's neck are produced in spring and summer. Prefers a full sun position and is drought hardy. Can be known to sucker in favourable climates so be wary in environmentally sensitive areas.

What you need to know

  • Check with council for heritage overlays; they may also have information about heritage paint colours and front fence styles. See heritage.vic.gov.au for a list of free heritage advisory services.
  • Choose period plants or plants that have the look of the period. Modern varieties of old plants will most likely be better performers or have better flowering capabilities. Visit Como House, Ripponlea and Werribee Mansion for design ideas.
  • Select either heritage materials or modern materials that work with the period. Melbourne is famous for bluestone, but you can also choose reconstituted paving products that are bluestone in colour.

- Jim Fogarty - Landscape Designer and Horticulturalist