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A Beautiful New Life For A Generous Family Garden

Gardens

The suburb of Haberfield in inner-west Sydney is a traditionally working class neighbourhood, though its proximity to the CBD has accelerated its gentrification in recent years. When Christopher Owen of Fieldwork was engaged to complete this garden in the suburb, he was torn on how to balance his love for the nostalgic, characterful space that had been in the previous owner’s family for decades, with his client’s brief for a contemporary garden.

He settled on a design that respected the garden’s legacy as a family space, by creating a new site ripe for the next generation of memories to take place. And it’s gorgeous!

11th October, 2021

The house in Haberfield has been renovated by Sam Crawford Architects, who left space for a courtyard in the middle of the communal areas so that the kitchen and lounge could be flanked by greenery on two sides. Photo – Jessie Ann Harris.

Pavers, greenery and magenta foliage characterise this abundant pocket at the heart of the home. Photo – Jessie Ann Harris.

Sliding doors open the lounge and kitchen to the central courtyard. Photo – Jessie Ann Harris.

The corten steel pond is a Japanese-inspired feature. Photo – Jessie Ann Harris.

A passive passage garden runs the length of the house, allowing access from the front of the house to the rear. Photo – Jessie Ann Harris.

Acanthus mollis edges the pavestone path. Photo – Jessie Ann Harris.

In the back garden, the planting palette is limited to the perimeter. Its job is to conceal the fence from view and wrap the lawn and pool in a lush green embrace. Photo – Jessie Ann Harris.

There are so many layers and textures to this garden! Photo – Jessie Ann Harris.

A deep pocket is complemented by a concrete bench. Photo – Jessie Ann Harris.

Standing on the rear lawn looking at the pool there is borrowed landscape from the neighbour’s garden beyond. Plus a massive palm tree! Photo – Jessie Ann Harris.

This could be a completely different garden! Photo – Jessie Ann Harris.

Ferns and grasses create texture and excitement along the pool’s edge, concealing the fenceline. Photo – Jessie Ann Harris.

A terrace overlooks the pool and pool house at the very bottom of the property. Photo – Jessie Ann Harris.

Chris calls the side passage a ‘passive garden’. Photo – Jessie Ann Harris.

A curved concrete bench signals the end of the lawn. Photo – Jessie Ann Harris.

Peeking down the passage garden is like looking into a secret garden. Photo – Jessie Ann Harris.

When walking down the side garden you can glimpse the expanse of lawn beyond. Photo – Jessie Ann Harris.

The passage garden conceals the side entry from view. Photo – Jessie Ann Harris.

A curved concrete and timber batten vestibule envelopes the second entrance. Photo – Jessie Ann Harris.

The house is set far back from the street, meaning the front garden was ripe to become a ‘horticultural riot’. Photo – Jessie Ann Harris.

Echinacea in the front garden. Photo – Jessie Ann Harris.

Ferns, grasses and low-lying greenery create a layered, textured garden that is a feast for passersby. Photo – Jessie Ann Harris.

The street contained crepe myrtles but there were none in the front garden when Christopher took over the project. He planted some immediately in order to create some dialogue with the local character. Photo – Jessie Ann Harris.

Bursts of colour create a sense of lavishness and tropical texture. Photo – Jessie Ann Harris.

The front garden is generous and welcoming to the street, while the rear is private and more functional. Photo – Jessie Ann Harris.

Sasha Gattermayr
Monday 11th October 2021

‘I wanted to talk to the heritage elements of Haberfield as a suburb, the cultural legacy, and lean into the nostalgia I had felt on my first visit.’ – Christopher Owen

‘When our clients invited me to see the property they had purchased it was evident that the previous family had loved and lived in this home for a long time,’ explains landscape designer, Christopher Owen of Fieldwork. ‘Perfect roses in the front garden, perfect lawns, fruit trees, a giant old pizza oven and a vegetable garden larger than a swimming pool. It was a time capsule, and it was difficult for me to stand there and know that all of it would change.’

Rather than totally reinventing the space, Christopher decided to interpret the garden based on these first impressions.

‘My clients have a young family and what I saw was history repeating,’ he says. ‘I wanted to talk to the heritage elements of Haberfield as a suburb, the cultural legacy, and lean into the nostalgia I had felt on my first visit, but also embrace the fact that a young 21st century family were going to live here.’

The site was very deep, meaning there were multiple opportunities for landscaping in and around the house. Christopher envisioned the front garden as ‘a conversation with the street and the community’, so he planted three crepe myrtle trees to mirror those planted along the street. Grasses, lowlying greenery, towering acanthus mollis and soft purple perennials create a cushiony and textured lower layer.

A passage along the side of the house became a passive garden leading to the side entry. While Christopher characterises the abundant front garden as ‘a horticultural riot’, pavers and trees guard this subtle entry to the residence from the main street view.

Once inside, a internal courtyard sits amongst the communal areas of the house (renovated by Sam Crawford Architects). A sweeping curved concrete wall (by landscaper Rhys Smith) frames the calm space, which is filled with a cortex steel pond, stone steppers and large trees. This section is a soft, delightful pocket of the garden – still packed with plantings but secluded and more private than its front counterpart.

The passage garden continues along the side of the house to the backyard, sustaining the same continuous palette throughout. In this rear section of the garden the plantings remain along the perimeter of the fence, wrapping the lawn and pool in a leafy embrace.

For such a vast, multi-functional and decorative space, there must be a mixture of influences. A few touches of Japanese design principles are mixed in with the philosophies of designers Wolfgang Oehme and James Van Sweden, who encouraged the replacement of lawns with ornamental grasses and perennials underpin the structural design.

But most of all, Christopher’s vision for this garden was intuitive. ‘I wanted it to be clothed in plant life and have a feeling of abundance,’ he says.

That he has achieved with splendour!

See here for more projects by Fieldwork.

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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