Four years ago Klaus and Anne Schindhelm made the opposite of a tree change. They moved from a large house and garden on a one-acre property in Sydney’s leafy Northern suburbs to an apartment in Rozelle, less than one-tenth of the size. What was most important when searching for their new property, in addition to easier access to amenities and a sense of community, was space for a garden.
They bought the apartment for this reason. It’s a gorgeous north-west facing space, wrapped by a huge roof terrace. Walls of glass doors slide open on two sides of the living area, connecting the space seamlessly to the L-shaped garden. Tubs of dragon tree (Dracaena marginata) provide screening from neighbouring apartment buildings as well as providing a lush green outlook from the living room. But the backyard, if you can call it that, is where the action is.
When Anne and Klaus bought the property, the garden consisted of a large raised section of lawn surrounded by a few shrubs. ‘I think it was after Klaus bought the third lawnmower that we got in touch with Adam!’, Anne tells me. She’s talking about Adam Robinson, a landscape designer and roof garden design guru. ‘We started off by saying we wanted a few pot plants, and then Adam saw the lawn space and convinced us we should do something about it.’
The bones of the space have been retained – the composite decking, wide timber stairs, raised planter with long timber bench seat and sunken lounge area were elements of the initial design. The centrepiece, which was originally just a big rectangle of lawn, is what Adam focused on.
Adam proposed a simple design – replacing the lawn with a garden consisting of recycled timber sleepers leading to a water bowl at the end of the space. The planting is low and textural – grasses like matt rush (Lomandra ‘Tanika’) and leatherleaf sedge (Carex buchananii) jostle with clipped germander (Teucrium fruticans) and box (Buxus spp.) Gorgeous big spheres of copper spoons (Kalanchoe orgyalis ‘Copper Spoons’) line the glass balustrade, their colour bouncing off the rusty tones of the carex. A green carpet of creeping thyme (Thymus serphyllum ‘Albus’) grows amongst the sleepers, transforming in summer from green to white as it flowers. Whilst the location is incredibly harsh, the planting scheme feels anything but. It’s a delightful mix of succulents, Mediterranean and native plants – happiest with the tough love of full sun and harsh winds.
The pair loved working with Adam. ‘He always listens and gently prods you towards the correct decision,’ says Klaus. ‘Left to our, well my, imagination, we wouldn’t have gone anywhere near this outcome’. He and Anne are very happy with the end result. ‘We love the garden – it has a really nice movement and flow. The grassy plants look great in the wind, and it’s spectacular at night when it’s lit up.’
The plant palette was unfamiliar to Anne, a gardener most familiar with natives and camellias. She’s enjoyed learning more about succulents and when I compliment a pot of Cotyledonorbiculata on the outdoor table, proudly claims ownership. “I picked that one!”
It’s easy to see why Klaus and Anne fell in love with the apartment enough to move from their big garden in the suburbs. From my perch on the couch in the living room all I can see are plants and sky. The vastness of the vista stretches far beyond the boundary of the garden. There’s space galore, but it doesn’t need maintaining; and there’s garden enough to actively garden. Win, win.