‘Plants are my abiding interest,’ Robyn Prent tells me. Hence, there’s no lawn in her Melbourne backyard, just wall-to-wall garden beds. ‘I wanted to make as much space as possible for plants. I wanted to be engulfed by them.’
Robyn, her husband John, and their three children moved into the Moonee Ponds property in the late 1990s. It was a relatively empty 60-metre-long backyard then – just grass and fruit trees, many of which still remain, like the old mulberry, apple and walnut trees.
Robyn designed the garden herself, taking her time to get it right. ‘I spent about four years drawing it on paper. When I started building the garden I knew where it was going, what we’d end up with.’ Her design philosophy was simple – she wanted it to feel abundant and full, have a focus on seasonal planting, and retain views to the western horizon.
‘I wanted a path through the garden and I wanted it to be an adventure, an exploration,’ she tells me. ‘The path meanders, and you’re encouraged to stop, pause, change direction, get a different view. This makes the garden exciting to me.’
The garden is like a series of rooms, all linked together by the pathway to the back gate. Different spaces open up as the path winds through the garden. A square gravel space with a central water-feature, flanked by standard catalpa trees (Catalpa bignonioides ‘Nana’), provides a strong focal point leading out from the house. The tall Italian pencil pines (Cupressus sempervirens ‘Glauca’) divide the garden space while not obstructing distant views.
The materials used in the garden are simple – gravel pathways, washed-out timber decking and old brick walls augment the abundance of the greenery, rather than compete with it. Because, after all, the plants are the real stars of Robyn’s garden.
With plants comes seasonality. ‘Constant change and flux means there’s always something to look forward to in the garden,’ Robyn tells me. ‘I have a lot of self-sown annual plants. They’re so giving, and they can so dramatically fill the garden with colour and form, then they’re gone.’ Robyn loves plants like delphiniums, verbascum, impatiens and poppies because of this. When the annuals die, she just chops them up and puts them back on the garden as mulch. And on it goes…
It’s clear that this garden, like all great gardens, is a deeply enriching labour of love for Robyn Prent. ‘I love returning home, walking around the back of the house and seeing the beautiful green oasis open up in front of my eyes,’ she tells me. ‘The light and shade, the depth of green, the seasonality – It’s so enriching, so soothing for the soul.’