A Magical Family Garden As Productive As It Is Pretty

Anastasia Elias renovated her home in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs at the beginning of 2019, and began planting the garden in winter of the same year, just before her young family moved into their new house. In that short time, the garden has become an abundant wonderland – sprouting with vegetable patches and self-seeded flowers that scatter the meandering front grass of their own accord.

Anastasia is a self-taught gardener, and her passion for horticulture is guided by a concept called biophilia: the belief in an intense and symbiotic affinity between humans and the natural world. This approach permeates the entire garden, from the cubby house overgrown with jasmine and violets, to the lunar calendar that she uses to plot her planting cycles.

This is a deeply holistic family garden, one that is constantly informing and framing the human lives that tend it.

Sasha Gattermayr

The back garden of Anastasia Elias’s property is 85 sqaure metres, while the front sits at a sprawling 105 square metres. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

It’s hard to believe this abundant productive garden is just approaching two years old! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The house renovation was completed in mid-2019, watch this space for a tour in the next few months! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

‘I never wanted to impose on the era of the home, the garden was intended to feel as though it was the original garden, planted for the house,’ says Anastasia. ‘I did a lot of driving around the neighbourhood looking at other Californian bungalows and other homes styles of this era, looking at the plants that were chosen that worked with the home, the way that paths were never straight but meandering, the way rocks were used to retain walls.’ Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

A pergola Anastasia and her husband Josh originall made is now replaced with a ‘greenhouse’ containing a potting shed! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Perennial flowers sit alongside apple, quince and plum trees! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Rainbow chard sprouting from the beds. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Grass is always being eaten up with new veggie beds. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The cubby house is tucked into a corner of the back garden, consistent with the rambling magical nature of this suburban space! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Anastasia fashioned the children’s cubby house herself from willow stalks and a ball of twine. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

It’s now overgrown with jasmine, climbing roses and viola. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Anastasia’s children make fairy potions and perfumes from plants they’ve gathered in the garden. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Anastasia believes in a holistic approach to gardening, and engages in seed exchanges and bulb planting to ensure her plot of land is always regenerating. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

She draws on permaculture techniques and moon gardening practices, meaning she cultivates seeds according to the lunar cycle! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

‘During the lockdowns, we buried lots of bulbs to look forward to: daffodil, freesia and snow drop bulbs,’ says Anastasia. ‘When we emerged from the second lockdown last year, we were rewarded with blooms popping up throughout the otherwise relatively sleepy perennial beds.’ Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The garden is constantly evolving to match Anastasias shifting inspirations and new ideas. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Every corner of the garden is stuffed with friendly green species. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Hardy winter plants sit alongside trees and delicate flowers to create a many-layered planting palette. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

A swing hangs from the tree on the nature strip, meaning the kids can look back at the garden wonderland. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The young family on the front porch. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The sprawling front garden was a lockdown project. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Sasha Gattermayr
16th of March 2021

‘Gardens have always been such inspiring places to me,’ says Anastasia Elias. ‘I admire the way in which a garden can take you away to another place, the way in which it can speak to your emotions without saying anything at all.’

This is the exact sensation you are left with when entering her own magical garden, which is nestled in Melbourne’s verdant eastern suburbs. Anastasia notices the rhythms and vibrations of every corner of her garden, and records these tiny nuances in a journal. In scientific terms, the affective reaction she describes is called biophilia: an intense and innate affinity between human beings with the natural world. But in simple human terms, it’s just called passion.

It’s hard to believe this entire patch of suburban garden is only just approaching 24 months old. Working with Bespoke Landscapes, Anastasia and her husband Josh started by devising a rough structural design that encapsulated both the sprawling front garden and smaller rear yard that could contain the abundant planting scheme they planned on playing with.

‘I tried to salvage a few things but in the end, we pulled everything out to begin again with a clean slate,’ says Anastasia of the first steps in transforming the garden. She and Josh began by planting both gardens, and installing big chunks of bluestone slab Anastasia found on Gumtree to create a stepping stone path to the front door.

‘There was a lot of manual labour done ourselves,’ she says. ‘Schlepping volcanic rocks around to edge the beds, laying bluestone steppers, compacting and filling gravel paths, painting fences, installing trellises and building the vegetable garden beds from salvaged railway sleepers.’ These solid structures formed the boundaries for the garden, but its actual personality is constantly evolving as new ideas take hold and more layers are forever being added.

Inspired by Piet Oudolf, perennial-edged terraces intervene the steep incline of the front garden. Moments for pause exist at every level: a steel-rimmed reflection pool halfway up, and a bed of roses beneath their daughter’s bedroom window. ‘I really wanted the garden to offer different accents at all times of the year, amongst the perennials,’ she says, pointing to the seed heads and dried grasses that will keep their sculptural form throughout the cooler months.

While the front garden is decorative and inviting, dotted with plants and a meandering path, the backyard is productive and personal, filled with veggie beds and practical workspaces.

A pergola originally installed in place of the old garage was converted it into a greenhouse during lockdown, now housing a working-from-home space and potting shed within a set of secondhand French doors and windows.

The cubby house is a similar homemade creation, which Anastasia fashioned herself from willow stakes and a ball of twine. Consistent with the fairytale aura that surrounds this magical place, the rudimentary structure is now encased by overgrown jasmine and climbing rose ‘Cécile Brünner’ with a carpet of violas and labradorica inside.

‘We both find a lot of joy in harvesting, preparing and eating food that has been grown by us,’ says Anastasia. ‘There is nothing quite like knowing the entire lifecycle of the food that nourishes your body.’ Thus, the rear garden holds as many fruit trees as the couple could fit in: quince, apple and two plums. This appreciation for homegrown food frames Anastasia’s thinking and feeling about the entire garden, extending to seed exchanges, growing flower bulbs and sharing homegrown produce.

The family has begun to propagate their own seeds from the vegetable garden, using lunar planting and permaculture techniques to guide their growing. In addition to this, a composting system and worm farm work to create a micro ecosystem on the property, propped up by seed saving and companion planting practices that the family abide by.

At the end of the day, nurturing the land is both a deeply spiritual and even political undertaking for Anastasia.

‘Knowing we are giving back to the Earth, improving the soil health, regenerating the land,’ she muses. ‘We do what we can to help our small patch and recognise the importance of our decisions today and how they will shape the future for our children and generations to come.’

Watch this space for a peek inside Anastasia’s home– coming up in a couple of months!

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