‘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!