Bringing Peace - InsideOut March14

Friday, March 14, 2014 | Leave a Comment (0)

InsideOut Magazine

As featured in InsideOut Magazine

Bringing Peace

The clean lines and angles of a mid-century home inspire the considered planting of its tranquil garden

Words Donyale Harrison, Photography Brigid Arnott

Fish provide flashes of mobile colour in this cool courtyard at the front of the house. Their orange is reflected in crucifix orchids (opposite), while grey-blue pebbles connect to the paving and a nearby retaining wall

We were married in the garden here,” says Alison, the lucky co-owner of this tranquil garden. “It’s so full of memories.” ‘Here’ is a generous 800-square-metre coastal block near Newcastle that Alison shares with her husband, Ray. The couple purchased it 10 years ago from Alison’s parents, who bought it in 1973, when Alison was a young woman.

The retired pair began by refreshing the original Pettit+Sevitt architecture of the home, then they called on landscape designer Michael Cooke of Michael Cooke Garden Design after seeing the garden he made for Alison’s brother.

“It’s such a cool house,” says Michael, “and you could see that Ray and Alison really understood and respected the architecture and wanted us to do the same in the garden. The house has great lines and needed to be complimented, not complicated.”

He took inspiration from the 1960s architecture and kept a number of significant trees and shrubs, including palms, camellias that Alison’s mother had planted and a mature Argyle apple eucalypt tree at the front of the garden. “That eucalypt set the theme of grey, blue and silver in the front garden,” says Michael. “Whereas out the back, there’s a big tree on one side that casts a lot of shade, so that, and the palms there, took us down that path towards a darker colour palette and created a lush tropical feel.”

Drainage works and irrigation began the transformation, then existing steps and retaining walls at the front were joined together. The driveway, bordered by a curved blue-grey stone wall, was planted out with a series of informal rounded shrubs fronted by mounds of clipped maidenhair vine, which Alison loves shaping.

The stone wall defines the sloping garden on one side, with steps leading to the house on the other. The lower garden, below the driveway, is filled with hardy varieties including sansevieria, yuccas, corokia virgata, varied groupings of Indian hawthorns and miscanthus. Crucifix orchids provide era-appropriate colour and fragrance.


The grey-blues of the drive and large Argyle apple tree (above left) set the tones for the front garden, which slopes down from street level. Clipped mounds and naturally rounded shrubs are interspersed with upright spears of sansevieria (top) and brightened with seasonal flowers, including orange dicliptera. White walls mark the footpath to the front door, while on the drive side, the unusual colours of ‘Blue Glow’ agave complement the stacked-stone wall (above middle) that curves towards the courtyard and fishpond.

This garden ends at a small, flat area. “The area needed a simple solution,” says Michael, “so we installed a fishpond.” For Ray and Alison, it was a brilliant idea. Not only does the pond create a zone of quiet stillness where they can enjoy the front garden, but the fish themselves have become pets. “They come up in the morning when I go out,” says Alison. “You can stroke them.”

The rear garden, which looks out onto a sports oval, presented a bigger challenge but also a solution. “We’d planted a murraya hedge when we moved in,” says Alison, “and Michael looked at it, and looked at the roofline of the house.” What was once a straight-topped boundary has been reinvented as an angular series of what Michael calls ‘ice cubes’. “They echo the angles of the house and the garden beds, making something traditional interesting and unique. You can see over them to the oval and landscape beyond.”

This angular mid-height hedge plays backdrop to the beds with swathes of silver bush, lush mixes of palms and elephant-ear plants, and rivers of grasses, succulents and other lush coastal plants.

“The house has an element of Japanese design with all the glass and timber, which we wanted to incorporate into the coastal look,” says Alison. “Landscape designers have an ability to ‘see’ their designs, we trusted Michael and now that we can see it too, we love it.”

The installation was done by Adam Eurell and his team at Nature’s Vision Landscapes, with a few tweaks along the way. “We added the curved stone wall at the driveway, which Adam thought would finish Michael’s design,” says Alison. “We still get the landscaping team in every few months to maintain the garden and change the odd thing – I want to add a few miniature acanthus in one area – it’s all evolving. But there’s very little we’ve changed overall.”

“It’s not meant to be a low-maintenance garden,” says Michael. “Alison and Ray enjoy working outdoors, but they also love to travel. It was designed so that they could leave the garden without needing a housesitter to do much, and then pick it up when they come back.”

For Alison, it has become a haven. “I love my bowl at the back for the birds. I never tire of that view: the textures and the kookaburras bathing in the bowl, and the magpies and cats taking it in turns to have a drink. It’s just beautiful. To me, it’s what the garden is about.”


Cedar panelling was a key feature of the original architecture (top). While cool greens, silvers and greys dominate the garden, warm oranges and reds dotted throughout reflect the timber tones. The hand-like leaves of fatsia at the front door (above right) start a semi-tropical theme that carries through to the back garden, in contrast to the stiffer plants that dominate the sloping front garden (above left). Spreading plants, interlaced root systems and a heavy mulch keep moisture in the soil on the slope, despite its exposure to drying winds.

*For more info on Michael Cooke Garden Design, visit, and for details on Nature Vision Landscapes, visit

Old Charm

Wednesday, March 12, 2014 | Leave a Comment (0)

A busy start to 2014 for the Natures Vision teams many projects are on the go but I wanted to share this quaint little garden in Sydney's North shore designed by Michael Cooke Garden Design some 15 years ago. 

Michael and our team revisited this garden for a little revamp, some touches of horticulture in the garden along with some new planting, mulching and corten garden steel edging was needed to bring this garden back to life. 

It is a pleasure to hear that our clients are enjoying their garden "It is lovely now to sit in the garden and just admire it instead of thinking of doing all the hard work".

Garden snapshots below: Before & After 

written by; [email protected]