July 18, 2024


Body and Interior

6 award-winning garden designs to recreate at home

6 award-winning garden designs to recreate at home

Take a stroll through some of the medal-winning gardens from the 2022 Melbourne International Flower & Garden Show.

The Melbourne International Flower & Garden Show made a triumphant return to Carlton Gardens this year, following a two-year Covid-induced hiatus. And plant lovers turned out en masse to celebrate, with more than 100,000 people attending the five-day botanical extravaganza.

As always, the biggest crowd-pleasers were the meticulously designed display gardens by a who’s who of garden designers from around the country, including a guest appearance by 2022 Australian of the Year, Dylan Alcott.

Gold Medal and People’s Choice

Landscape designer Robert Boyle in front of his show garden ‘More Than Meets The Eye’, encircled by massed Hydrangea paniculata ‘Sundae Fraise’: the flower heads turn from whisper pink to a deeper, dusky rose the longer they are in bloom.
What was your vision for this garden?
A celebration of plants! We designed it as four outdoor rooms, each showcasing a different planting style: traditional parkland, Mediterranean, urban woodland and a food garden. While each zone was distinct, there were elements that linked and unified the design. An avenue of birch trees (Betulapendula) underplanted with a sea of soft pink Hydrangea paniculata’ Sundae Fraise’ connected the rooms, while a strategically positioned arbour festooned in grapevines provided a viewing point of the garden.

You named the garden ‘More Than Meets The Eye’. What were the ideas at work?
Plants enrich our lives; so much can be said about the immense benefits and uses of plants, but the undeniable fact is, we cannot live without them. Plants and gardens give us that bit of paradise, enriching our mind, body and soul. This garden invited people to explore its rooms, take the time to discover its subtle ties, immerse their senses and realise it’s ‘More Than Meets The Eye’.

Key plants and materials you wanted to showcase?
A rich, diverse plant palette was integral to the design; to celebrate their diversity and versatility in a landscape. The weathered paling fence along the boundary was installed to help the garden feel like an everyday suburban backyard.

How achievable is this kind of garden?
This garden was designed to be simple and achievable. There are a lot of little take-home ideas, like how to transform a paling fence into a feature or how an espaliered lemon tree is an efficient use of space.

An avenue of birch trees (Betula pendula) underplanted with Hydrangea paniculata ‘Sundae Fraise’ formed the central axis of the design while an arbour festooned in grapevines provided a viewing point of the garden. The purple-flowering shrub is Aster x frikartii ‘Monch’; in the background is the borrowed landscape of Melbourne’s Carlton Gardens.
A gravel pathway and seating nook is flanked by clipped spheres of Teucrium and box, a cloud-pruned olive tree and square-topped pencil pines. Groundcovers include lamb’s ear and Teucrium, with pops of colour from salvia and agapanthus.

Your favourite plant in this design?
That’s too hard to answer. Every plant deserves its moment in the spotlight. It’s about enjoying what they have to offer, whether it changes with the seasons or an even shorter time frame.

Key message?
Gardens are life-changing. We’re all longing for a piece of paradise and gardens offer a place for our mind, body, and soul to feel grounded again.

How do you see the relationship between a garden and the home?
The house and landscape are inseparable. And they need to interrelate: there should be views to the garden and the house should feel part of the wider landscape. A late friend, architect Allan Powell, always said at the completion of a home, “Now, Robert, cover it up.”

Your philosophy on garden design?
Gardening is a collaborative effort but the outcome is so much more than just a garden. A beautiful outdoor space encourages people to come together – family, friends, strangers – uniting to appreciate and respect the unbridled beauty of nature, particularly in this manufactured world we live in.

Boyle Landscape; boylelandscape.com.au
Warners Nurseries; warners.com.au

Gold Medal and Best in Show

Christian Jenkins stands at the entrance to his show garden ‘Inner Calm’. Two antique carved-stone elephants sourced from Bali stand guard.
What was your vision for the garden?
I wanted to design a tropical oasis, but one that is completely functional. At the rear is a Polynesian-inspired pavilion, which acts as an outdoor living area overlooking a lagoon. To one side of the pavilion is an outdoor kitchen; to the other side is a sunken seating area complete with a fire bowl. The planting palette is mostly soft, large-leaved, tropical-style greenery punctuated with the bold architectural details of dragon trees (Dracaena draco) and Chinese fan palms (Livistona chinensis).

You named your garden ‘Inner Calm’. What were the ideas behind it?
The recent world events have taken a toll on us all. It’s changed how we live, function and communicate. I designed ‘Inner Calm’ to promote the idea that gardens are spaces to bring people together, where they can relax and reconnect in the surrounds of a tranquil environment.

Key plants and materials you wanted to showcase?
The Chinese fan palms – there are 11 of them at varying heights. They have such a presence in the garden, with their crown of sculptural foliage atop short, hairy trunks. And the two dragon trees – they provide drama and are arguably one of the most architecturally bold plants you could use in a garden.
Giant dragon trees and Chinese fan palms were just two of the wonders in this garden, which also featured a limestone walkway interplanted with kidney weed (Dichondra repens), a black-tinted lagoon, a Polynesian-style pavilion lined with wallpaper and antique stone carvings. Outdoor furniture, Satara. Wallpaper, Grafico. Pots, Martin Kellock Pots & Planters. Pendant light, Red Socks Design.
The palette of tropical foliage plants included Philodendron’ Xanadu’, red-flowering fire spike (Odontonema tubaeforme) and lomandra.

What’s your favourite plant in this design and why?
It’s unfair to have a competition between the Chinese fan palm and dragon trees. All plants in the design are here on their own merit, so I can’t play favourites.

Take-home message?
Spend more time in a garden – that’s it. Immerse your hands in the soil. Can you get any more grounded than putting your hands in soil?

What is your all-time favourite go-to plant and why?
It’s hard to choose, but let’s say there’s a top five: Chinese fan palm, dragon tree, bromeliad, cycad and Japanese maple. Plants with architecturally striking features are always a drawcard.
How do you see the relationship between a garden and the home?
There has to be a connection. Internal courtyards are the best thing you can include in a design, but if that’s not possible, at least a window looking out onto the garden.

Your philosophy on garden design?
It’s about wellness. The garden provides a space where you can recharge and reconnect with yourself (or others). But ultimately, it still should be
functional– you should be able to walk in it and have a place to sit.

Christian Jenkins Landscape Design; christianjenkins.com.au
Australian of the Year and tennis champion Dylan Alcott collaborated with Carolyn and Joby Blackman from Vivid Design to produce a garden that celebrates inclusion.

What was your vision for this garden?
Dylan Alcott: We wanted to show that designing an outdoor space with accessibility and inclusion in mind– when done from the outset – is actually sexy and cool. Looking at this garden you wouldn’t even know it includes a lot of different accessibility features.
Carolyn Blackman: Dylan said he wanted to create a garden that looked like a space where he could have beers with his mates. He didn’t want it to look like a ‘disability space’. Everything in this garden is accessibility compliant, but it’s not obvious.

You named the garden ‘Tramlines’. What were the ideas driving that?
Carolyn Blackman: We named it ‘Tramlines’ because that is the nickname given to the sidelines of a tennis court – so it’s a reference to Dylan’s career in sport, but we didn’t want it to be too contrived or overt. Joby designed the white pergola structure as an abstract representation of a tennis court. It was in keeping with Dylan’s request for a funky space. We factored in lots of seating because meeting everyone at eye level is really important for inclusivity: it’s much better than having everybody standing and one person in a wheelchair – that’s an awkward dynamic. There are armrests in the raised garden beds – that was Dylan’s suggestion– so people in wheelchairs can swing out of their chairs and sit on the wall if they choose. For vision-impaired people, we included sensory plants – plants that are beautiful to touch and smell – and stripes on the raised planter boxes for high-contrast corner references. There was also a crunchy gravel skirt around the firepit to create an auditory safety cue for visually impaired people.
Wide paths, generous circulation space, abundant seating and discreet handrails featured in the garden.
The firepit and conversation area was designed for wheelchair access and usability.
Key plants and materials showcased?
Dylan Alcott: I love native plants – bloody oath. I’m very proud to be Australian and it was important to me to have natives in the garden. It was also vital to include yellow flowers because, for visually impaired people, yellow is the last colour they register.
Carolyn Blackman: We filled the beds with beautiful Australian plants you could touch and feel. To bring yellow into the scheme, we planted yellow kangaroo paws. The firepit is 400 millimetres higher than it would be in a standard garden: at that height, people in wheelchairs can toast marshmallows, pop the wood in safely and scoop out the ashes.

Key message?
Dylan Alcott: This design shows that when you factor in accessibility from the outset, it’s cheaper, it’s inclusive and it looks cool – you don’t even notice it. Retrofitting is expensive and looks like an afterthought. Good accessibility helps everyone, not just people with a disability. It makes everybody’s life easier.

Is gardening part of your life?
Dylan Alcott: It is now! I finally have a garden. It’s the first garden I’ve ever had in my whole life. My girlfriend Chantelle and I got it installed last October. We have a tiny pool and a small selection of plants. We weren’t originally green thumbs but we’re trying our best.
Carolyn and Joby Blackman of Vivid Design created a garden with an intriguing ‘portal’ as its centrepiece, which explores the contrasts of light and shade, social and private, and open versus protected spaces.
What was your vision for this garden?
Carolyn Blackman: We wanted it to be a plant-driven design where the plants aren’t just about adding greenery or softening the architecture – they are an architectural inclusion in the composition. To convey this idea of ‘green built form’, we featured an espaliered olive on a 5.4×2.7- metre frame [designed by Vivid Design, built by Semken Landscaping and developed over three-and-a-half years by Merrywood Plants]. We cut a portal in the middle and this formed a living, sculptural centrepiece in the garden. To this, we added canopy trees, masses of evergreen foliage plants, whimsical grasses, romantic flowering classics and open lawn.

You named the garden ‘Apertura’. What were the ideas driving it?
‘Apertura’ is Latin for opening. The most evocative gardens, the most memorable ones, are those that have a sense of mystery, a ‘what lies beyond’ quality. We wanted to explore that notion. We also wanted to highlight the importance of manipulating light throughout the seasons. The front of the garden was more open, lively, light and sunny; beyond the aperture, it was shadier, more immersive and lush. It was an interplay between open, social spaces and cocooning, private spaces.

Key plants and materials showcased?
The espaliered olive drove everything, from the proportions of the pergola to the paving lines which ran to the centre of the opening. We also love showcasing classic materials – bluestone and recycled local red bricks. We’ve been drawn to the same palette for our whole career, since before they were trendy.

The pergola was designed with views across the lawn to undulating garden beds; in the foreground, a crepe myrtle tree (Lagerstroemia’ Natchez’) is underplanted with Rhaphiolepis’ Snow Maiden’ and Sedum’ Matrona’. The plantings at the front were “lively and light-loving”, says Carolyn; species include Buxus japonica (clipped into spheres to echo the circular aperture), Miscanthus sinensis ‘Flamingo’, Mexicanlily (Beschorneria yuccoides), Sedum ‘Matrona’ and Ceratostigma plumbaginoides.
The ‘portal’ in the espaliered olive was designed as a living sculpture: through the opening is Japanese elm (Zelkova serrata). Rosemary cascades over the retaining wall, while Agastache ‘Blue Boa’, Buxus japonica and Stachys byzantina’ Big Ears’ is planted at the base. Paving is bluestone and recycled brick. Furniture, GlobeWest.

How achievable is this idea in a regular suburban garden?
Easy. Olives love being espaliered. Sunny wall and away you go – you just have to wait five years! All the plants we used here are pretty easy to grow, and the important concept was that plants don’t only belong along the boundaries.

You favourite plant in this design?
The vertical grasses (Miscanthus sinensis). I love the way they bring height, intimacy, balance and drama to the garden without bulk or blocking.

What do gardens bring to our lives?
Connecting with nature through our gardens makes people’s lives better and promotes wellness in very real ways: activity and movement, exercise, drinking tea in the sun, reading a book in the shade. Everything that is good in the world.

Your philosophy on garden design?
Creating spaces where people can relax and come together has always been our prime goal: in a post-Covid world, these spaces are critical. It’s also important to design for all seasons, designing gardens that embrace light and warm thin winter while providing canopies of natural shade and ever-changing dappled light in summer.

Vivid Design; vividdesign.com.au
Landscape designer Mark Browning paid homage to his “mad keen” gardener mother, Audrey, by featuring newly released and never-before seen plants – including Distylium’ Vintage Jade’ at his feet and, behind him, a new crabapple, Malus’ Strawberry Pear’, both from Fleming’s Nurseries.
What was your vision for the garden?
This garden was in memory of my mother, Audrey, who died four years ago with Alzheimer’s. Mum was a mad keen gardener – not necessarily a good one, but super keen. I wanted to create an organic garden that felt like my childhood backyard in Syndal [in outer Melbourne]. Our backyard had a creek going through it and every time we had a downpour, something would change.
The garden was named ‘Aud’ in honour of your mum. How did it reflect her?
The eclectic nature of the garden reflects Mum’s planting style. Her garden had a mismatched quality to it. She would plant rhododendrons with begonias and gardenias– no plan, just whatever she liked. She loved ferns. I think she went to the nursery at least twice a week. I also deliberately made the garden difficult to view because my mother was a very private gardener.
Key plants and materials showcased?
The incredible basalt stone from Bamstone – it comes out of Port Fairy in Victoria’s Western District. I used it for the stepping stones and the flooring of the pergola. I also love the wall of chainmail mesh used on the pergola: it’s polycarbonate with a copper finish and it works beautifully as a screening material. Plant-wise, I used some species that are new to Australia, such as Distylium ‘Vintage Jade’, which is an evergreen shrub and seems pretty bulletproof, like Rhaphiolepis ‘Snow Maiden’. Another one is Pseudopanix ‘Cyril Watson’, an evergreen with lush, lobed leaves and looks prehistoric. It suits the quirkiness of my mother.
Replicating elements of Mark’s childhood backyard, stepping stones reach through an eclectic plant palette.

Key message?
It’s about having passion both for your garden and the garden centre you love. My mum would go to the same nursery weekly and buy plants she liked the look of. She’d always find a spot for them. That’s how I designed this show garden– a homage to passion, not necessarily horticulture.

How achievable is this kind of garden?
Totally. Having some funds, a great local nursery and a wild spirit is all it takes. Lots of love and talking to the plants also helps. I can still hear my mum having conversations with her plants, urging them on.
Your favourite plant in this design?
The Sambucus nigra ‘Black Beauty’. It’s like a super-soft Japanese maple in full autumn glory all the time.

All-time favourite plant?
I love ginkgo trees (Ginkgo biloba); the fan-shaped leaf is so beautiful. They’re so adaptable and you can grow them in all climates. And I adore dragon trees (Dracaena draco) – they’re living sculptures.

What do gardens bring to our lives?
Gardens give us an opportunity to stop and take a breath. They create a microcosm, a micro environment. I’m a big one for planting more trees; they are the solution for avoiding urban heat islands. And I’m a fan of deciduous trees – it’s uplifting to see seasonal change.

Mark Browning Landscape Design; markbrowning.com.au
A flame-coloured tree was the focal point of landscape designer Inge Jabara’s symbolic and plant-infused garden, themed around moving forward and flourishing again.

Your vision for the garden?
It was a reflection piece on the last two years of this pandemic. I wanted each element to be visually appealing, but also highly symbolic. In the background, I positioned a single bench chair resting on a bed of gravel, with a trio of Corten steel arches framing the outside world. Beyond the arches, the ground surface transformed into cobblestones without door furniture pieces selected to facilitate connection and conversation. The feature tree, Zelkova serrata ‘Green Vase’, provided seasonal interest and echoed the overall theme: after losing leaves and going into a period of darkness, rebirth and renewal awaits in spring.

You called the garden ‘Granum Florere’. What were the ideas driving the design?
It’s a representation of how I personally felt and what I observed others feeling. ‘Granum’ is Latin for grain or seed and ‘florere’ means flourish. The design was intended as an embodiment of the negative emotions and struggles, but also the strength and growth as we move forward.

Key plants and materials showcased?
The inclusion of large rocks was important. Two boulders are positioned in opposing corners as a display of strength and resilience. The plant palette is quite autumnal. The feature Zelkova serrata ‘Green Vase’, elevates the space, a hedge of Magnolia grandiflora ‘Teddy Bear’ frames it, and drifts of feathery Miscanthus sinensis and Loropetalum ‘Purple Prince’ add softness and movement.
The rust colour of a Corten steel arbour was echoed in the planting scheme, including the golden flowering heads of Miscanthus sinensis and red tones of Zelkova serrata ‘Green Vase’. Outdoor furniture, Provincial Home Living. LED lighting, Gardens at Night.

How achievable is this kind of garden?
Extremely achievable. There are plenty of simple elements – like the cobblestone paving, arbour and planting scheme – that can be easily translated into a small courtyard.

Your favourite plant in this design?
Zelkova serrata ‘Green Vase’. It’s an extremely hardy tree that holds its gorgeous russet-toned foliage for 6-7weeks, unlike most deciduous trees, which drop their leaves at one breath of wind.

Take-home message?
Gardening is easy. Just get out there and do it – it’s as simple as picking up a couple of planter boxes, some soil and choosing some plants. Experiment with what you like, but work within your limitations. Don’t choose plants that require regular maintenance if you can’t tend to your garden often.

All-time favourite go-to plant?
Miscanthus sinensis is the best plant in the world. It’s included in almost all my designs because it offers movement. With just a breath of wind, it sways and elevates the space.

Words of gardening wisdom?
Look at how much time you can dedicate to the garden and work within your limitations. Having a large garden doesn’t mean you need to fill every corner with plants – the upkeep is physically demanding! Everyone has limitations. Simply acknowledge them and create a landscape that suits your needs and lifestyle.
Inge Jabara Landscapes; ingejabaralandscapes.com.au