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A Cultivated Wilderness In Inner Suburban Melbourne

Gardens

After seeing team Phillip Withers’s ‘I See Wild’ installation at Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show in 2017, Melbourne-based couple Malcolm Watkins and Peter Kerr (of PLK Interiors) engaged the landscape specialists to create a captivating garden to surround their Cera Stribley and AV-ID designed residence in Toorak. 

Comprising three separate pockets of garden that each required a distinct horticultural approach, Phil and his team devised channels of foliage that connected the landscape with the architecture, while also giving the separate sections a distinct character and function. Not to mention one seriously vibing infinity pool!

2nd April, 2021

The front garden greets entrance at the threshold of the property. Plantings: tree aloe, bay laurel, forest pansy, cycads, bay laurel, cousin it, prostate swamp sheoak, laurustinus balls, string of pearls. Photo – Amelia Stanwix. Landscape design – Phillip Withers. Landscape construction – Form Landscaping.

The main garden on the middle level is the connection between the residence and garden. Plantings: jacaranda, grass tree, knobby clubrush. Photo – Amelia Stanwix. Landscape design – Phillip Withers. Landscape construction – Form Landscaping.

The dramatic pool is entered from the main level garden. A Queensland bottle tree sneaks its way up the side. Photo – Amelia Stanwix. Landscape design – Phillip Withers. Landscape construction – Form Landscaping.

The rear garden wraps around the pool’s monolithic sandstone body. Photo – Amelia Stanwix. Landscape design – Phillip Withers. Landscape construction – Form Landscaping.

The pool overlooks the cactus garden at the end, and this tranquil pocket on the side. Plantings: Queensland bottle tree, silver banksia, cleistocactus. Photo – Amelia Stanwix. Landscape design – Phillip Withers. Landscape construction – Form Landscaping.

The functional main level garden is an interplay between hard (rocks) and soft (lawn) materials, complete with bluestone crazy paving! Plantings: imperial bromeliad, red back Australian ginger, crassula. Japanese cheesewood, heartleaf bergenia, cardboard palm. Photo – Amelia Stanwix. Landscape design – Phillip Withers. Landscape construction – Form Landscaping.

Natives like kangaroo paw and tall sedge provides pops of colour and texture in the rear garden. Photo – Amelia Stanwix. Landscape design – Phillip Withers. Landscape construction – Form Landscaping.

The black steel battens create a wavy fenceline that dissolves into the garden. Plantings: hard rush, buxus ball, European palm, red back Australian ginger, cycad, heartleaf bergenia. Photo – Amelia Stanwix. Landscape design – Phillip Withers. Landscape construction – Form Landscaping.

The main garden is characterised by the dramatic raised pool island. Plantings: jacaranda tree, Japanese cheesewood, grass tree, fan aloe, knobby clubrush, dwarf swamp sheoak, red back Australian ginger. Photo – Amelia Stanwix. Landscape design – Phillip Withers. Landscape construction – Form Landscaping.

Plantings: grass tree, knobby club rush. Photo – Amelia Stanwix. Landscape design – Phillip Withers. Landscape construction – Form Landscaping.

Plantings: soft tree fern, rhapis palm, dwarf swamp sheoak, kalbarri carpet. Photo – Amelia Stanwix. Landscape design – Phillip Withers. Landscape construction – Form Landscaping.

The tranquil fish pond creates a moment of serenity in an otherwise dark and forgotten corner. Plantings: leopard plant, kentia palm, water lily morning glory, upright millfoil. Photo – Amelia Stanwix. Landscape design – Phillip Withers. Landscape construction – Form Landscaping.

The cactus beds at the rear garden are contained by curved corten planters. Plantings: cleistocactus, olive, tuckeroo, euphorbia, spiny head mat rush. Photo – Amelia Stanwix. Landscape design – Phillip Withers. Landscape construction – Form Landscaping.

A winding pathway makes its way through correa alba, European fan palm, tall sedge and dwarf swamp sheoak. Photo – Amelia Stanwix. Landscape design – Phillip Withers. Landscape construction – Form Landscaping.

Plantings: agave , spiny head mat rush, tall sedge. Photo – Amelia Stanwix. Landscape design – Phillip Withers. Landscape construction – Form Landscaping.

A view back into the house from the edge of the pool. Plantings: waterhousia, knobby clubrush. Photo – Amelia Stanwix. Landscape design – Phillip Withers. Landscape construction – Form Landscaping.

Sasha Gattermayr
Friday 2nd April 2021

This residential garden in Toorak is growing wilder and wilder by the day, which is actually the point.

‘The aim for the planting was to present a wild and diverse set of species to help build an oasis-like environment,’ says legendary landscape designer, Phillip Withers. With a palette consisting of 81 plant varietals (!) and his own practice’s installation at MIFGS 2017 in mind, he and his team set out to cultivate a wilderness around the home designed by Cera Stribley architects, with interiors by AV-ID

The final garden design (which was built by Form Landscaping) consists of three pockets of landscape, each with their own distinct personality and function. The front garden is a verdant welcome mat which serves to soften the architecture of the home upon arrival; the rear garden contains the body of the raised pool, a cactus garden and secreted pond; and the main garden on level one provides direct connection to the home via a landscaped patio and entry to the pool.

The sections of the garden closest to the house (such as the front garden and patio that connects the pool to the main pavilion) are characterised by the interesting and luscious shapes of an exotic palette, while the sections closer to the boundary are built with more localised flora, borrowed from the neighbouring surrounds. 

At the main level, the pool is skirted by a small lawn, native grasses and a squat charcoal grass-tree. A young jacaranda tree sits at the centre and will become a majestic living sculpture at the heart of the home.

On the lower level, an L-shape bend in the residence floor plan created a sheltered nook between the pool and the house, which was in danger of becoming a dark cavity lost amongst its sunny surrounds. Phil rectified this closed-in corner by installing a decorative lily pad pond surrounded by ferns and Bangalow palms. Inspired! 

This winding rear garden wraps the pool’s raised body, with its edge overlooking the cactus beds from the end and the secluded fishpond from the side. Native violets, banksia and kangaroo paw provide bursts of vibrant colour against the soon-to-mature saplings. A cluster of silver torch cacti will create a statuesque presence once fully grown and a direct reference to the ‘I See Wild’ installation.

The contrast between hard and soft materials mirrors the contrasting planting schemes in different pockets of the garden: raised corten planters contain beds of soft flora; matte black steel battens form an undulating pool fence; and bluestone steppers are cut along jagged lines and placed haphazardly to create crazy paving. Every element has been thought about in relation to itself and its neighbours. 

The luscious garden will benefit from ongoing stewardship by the Phillip Withers team to ensure its wilderness will be tamed and maintained for years to come.

See more projects from Phillip Withers here.

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The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net