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A CHALLENGING SLANT
John Mason’s Qld Garden
For some new gardeners, sloping land seems difficult to work with, but in actual fact, it can be an advantage. Having a garden at different levels allows you to do things and create effects that you would otherwise not be able to do.
John Mason, gardening author and editor, created a unique garden on the Gold Coast hinterland in Queensland. This 2-acre bush block was a challenge from the start. Most of the land can only be accessed by walking down a steep slope to a flat area beside a creek. In 1996 the first clod of soil was turned over by the builders.
A decision was made to build the residence and office (two separate buildings) close to the front of the property, suspended over the steep embankment. This allowed reasonably easy access to the buildings from the road and maximised the limited space available for intensive gardening at the front. The one disadvantage was that building costs were increased by the need for high and strong supports at the rear of each building. However, this was offset by savings on the land purchase (because of the difficult nature of the property for building, it was less expensive to buy).
This garden was designed to be:
· low maintenance – with minimal lawn (only on the nature strip); not too much foliage around buildings; and avoidance of damaging roots around the buildings
· productive – with the inclusion of herbs, cut flowers and fruit trees
· safe for the pet dogs with a good run and access to the two buildings
· attractive for the people who visit and reside there
· healthy – with good ventilation throughout the house and garden, and non toxic and low allergen plants. In the Queensland environment, ventilation is important; for cool interiors you need to avoid blocking air flow through the gardens and through windows.
THE MAIN GARDEN AREAS
The gardens around the ‘office’ is divided into five main areas:
1. Entry area –This area provides access and parking for cars and visitors with a U-shaped driveway. It also provides an opportunity to grow and display some of the owners’ favourite plants – a lavender hedge, a large daylily collection and the beginnings of a conifer garden. The plants are kept low in this area, to provide good visual and physical access.
2. Dog enclosure – An area fenced between two buildings provides an outdoor run for the “guard dog” poodle, and access via dog ramps into the two buildings. This area has been planted with paw paws, a banana tree, a mango and a lychee which is progressively bearing fruit.
3. Heliconia and ginger flower garden – A network of stone paths has been created through a treed area, and planted with a collection of gingers and related plants including heliconias, costus, strelitzia and cannas.
4. Courtyard – A walled garden in front of the residence provides privacy from the street.
5. Rear garden – A less intensively cultivated area, in a natural bushland and rainforest setting.
HOW SOME PROBLEMS WERE DEALT WITH
The sloping site meant that erosion was a very real danger, especially once the soil was disturbed from earthworks and building. Erosion has been dealt with in three ways: surface and subsurface drains were installed to remove excess water; retaining walls were built to hold the soil and to reinforce the slope; and lots of mulch is used in the gardens to prevent the soil washing away in heavy rain.
Initially, the choice was made to minimise hot colours in the front area. As the garden established, we decided to add a couple of splashes of warm colours with a large patch of dahlias and a large patch of day lilies (Hemerocallis). However, these were kept away from the hot colours of the heliconias, providing a contrast as you move from one part of the garden to another.
3. DEFINITION and ORDER
A sense of definition was created by using walling and hedging. Walls along the driveway made of modular bricks acted as a short retainer wall to enclose the upper garden bed in which a Cuphea hedge was clipped. The earth tones of the interlocking bricks blended in with the bitumen driveway and the dark stoney natural earth. Other hedges used to define garden beds were basil, lavender and Plumbago hedges.
Physical access is achieved by using an extra wide driveway (5 m wide at its narrowest point).
Visual access is achieved by keeping most of the plants in the front low – under about 1 metre (except some of those against the building which help soften the line of the wall).