This website uses cookies to improve your experience navigating our site. By continuing to browse, you are agreeing to our use of cookies.

OK, I understand

A Former Paddock Turned Vibrant Botanical Wonderland In Regional Victoria

Gardens

It’s hard to believe artist and garden designer Ralph Bristow only started working on this flourishing garden in regional Victoria three years ago.

Tucked away on a six-acre block in Barwite, near Mansfield, the neglected paddock has been transformed by Ralph into a spectacular botanical wonderland filled with Indigenous trees, biannuals, bulbs and shrubs, plus a vegetable patch and a perennial garden!

The colourful landscape changes magnificently with the seasons – witnessed from his strawbale family home. Take a closer look at The Barwitian Garden in all its autumn beauty, before it features in the annual Open Gardens Victoria program later this month.

6th April, 2022

Ralph’s amazing family home is shrouded in plants! Photo – Ralph Bristow

Ralph’s partner Nicky designed and build the strawbale property with the help of Chris Rule from Spacebale. Photo – Ralph Bristow

‘I tentatively started the garden in a small way about three years ago. It has dramatically expanded to about 2.5 acres. Most of the garden, besides some trees, are only around one or two years young,’ Ralph says. Photo – Ralph Bristow

The property is nestled into a small spot on the river flat, open grass lands and paddocks along the Broken River. Photo – Ralph Bristow

‘Between the house and river is a shallow bed with lower planting, which enhances the view from the house, and a stretch of mown grass, then wild mix of grasses, rock, with some indigenous tree planting; including Red Box (Eucalyptus polyanthemos) and natives; Eucalyptus gregsoniana, and Eucalyptus scoria, punctuated by Grass Trees (Xanthorea glauca hybrid).’ Photo – Ralph Bristow

There’s also a ‘decent sized veggie garden’, surrounded by plants, fenced off from marauding deer and kangaroos and access around the garden is facilitated by lawn and steppingstone paths. Photo – Ralph Bristow

‘The early morning mist, light and frost give a true gift in giving the garden a sense of drama and sublime intimacy,’ Ralph says. Photo – Ralph Bristow

Ralph says there are ‘too many’ perennials to mention! But some include Agastache, Echinacea, Mackleaya cordata, Salvia, Helenium, Persicaria, Achillea, Yucca, Euphorbia and Astilbe. Photo – Ralph Bristow

It’s a wonderland filled with vibrant natural colours and textures. Photo – Ralph Bristow

The lush outlook changes every day! Photo – Ralph Bristow

The shrub planting features, Physocarpus, Cotinus, Ceratostigma, Berberis, Sambucus, Viburnum, Hamamelis, and Daphne. Photo – Ralph Bristow

Ralph says watching the garden changes as autumn crosses into winter is his favourite. ‘The plants wither and die back to steel themselves for the cold long winter.’ Photo – Ralph Bristow

Ralph amid his masterpiece! Photo – Ralph Bristow

Christina Karras
Wednesday 6th April 2022

‘To be able to connect with people through the garden is something I cherish.’ – Ralph Bristow

Before artist and garden designer Ralph Bristow (of Ralph Bristow Garden Design and Services) overhauled the 2.5 acre garden nestled beside a stretch of Victoria’s Broken River at his Barwite home, it was a simple paddock filled with metre-high weed grasses.

‘The land had been grazed for a very long time and was cleared of almost all of its trees. There was no trace of any other native flora,’ he says.

For Ralph, creating the landscape was a very intuitive process, much like his painting practice. He worked without a brief, leaning on his ‘deep love’ of plants and made decisions based on colour and texture in response to the area’s existing natural surrounds.

‘I had to trust my process and let it evolve. I also let the garden tell me what to do,’ Ralph explains.

Three years later, the thriving Barwitian Garden now features a diverse range of plants and an abundant eco-system of birdlife, insects, amphibians and reptiles.

Between the house and river is a shallow bed featuring a combination of grasses, rock and Indigenous trees such as Eucalyptus and Tristaniopsis laurina (Kanooka/Water Gums). The rest of the land surrounding the property comprises a semi-wild perennial garden filled with colourful flowers including ethereal purple Agastache (Giant Hyssop) and pink Astillbe (False Goat’s Beard).

‘The planting merges into the paddocks beyond, which are dotted with ancient Redgum trees,’ Ralph says.

He notes how the feel of the garden changes dramatically with every season, with the cross over from autumn into winter being his favourite time of the year.

‘The early morning mist and light – and sometimes frost – give the garden a sense of drama and sublime intimacy,’ he explains.

‘My favourite part of the project is the theatre being played out before my eyes, coming outside every day and being amazed at the constant energy and change. To be able to connect with people through the garden is something I cherish.’

Buy tickets to see The Barwitian Garden in person during Open Gardens Victoria on April 23-24 here. Learn more about Ralph’s art here, and his garden services here.

This Week

Studio Visit

Designer Jordan Fleming Makes Playful ‘Creatures’ That Double As Lamps

Her handcrafted pieces are like towering, functional sculptures as tall as people – that look like they could come alive at any moment!
Christina Karras

Interiors

A Clever Reworking Of A 70sqm Cottage In Hawthorn, Melbourne

Despite being limited to this home's tiny frame, interior designer Rosanna Ceravolo has impressively made the most of its diminutive size.

Interiors

A Coastal Oasis Designed + Built By The Owners

Lauren Patista-Trickey and Jonathon Patista admit being both client and builder/designer was 'a journey', but the result made it all worth i...

News

New Melbourne Brand Saule Have Created The Dreamiest Robes, Just In Time For Summer

Local creative Sally Tabart has designed the ultimate robe for the home, beach and beyond – and it’s all made here in Melbourne!
Christina Karras

Architecture

An Architect + Interior Designer’s Coastal Home, Grounded In Nature

This Sydney family home is like a private treehouse by the beach, with views at every turn, and unexpected interiors.
Christina Karras

Creative People

Meet The Small Melbourne Brand Reinventing The Humble Gumboot

From a humble farm in South Gippsland, Merry People has grown from a grassroots start-up, to a successful brand sold across the globe!
Christina Karras

Sustainable Homes

A 1980s Bushland Home Built Entirely From Recycled Materials

A mudbrick home in Healesville, Victoria handmade by the owners using salvaged materials.
Amelia Barnes
  7 hours ago

Sustainable Homes

‘Future Ready’: Inside One Of Melbourne’s Newest Sustainable Developments

Mirvac are hoping to encourage sustainable living with their innovative 'future ready' display home in Melbourne's inner west.
Christina Karras

Design Eye

Balancing Form + Function In Garden Design, With Peachy Green’s Frances Hale

Landscape designer Frances Hale of Peachy Green shares how outdoor furniture can turn garden spaces into useable living areas, immersed in g...
Christina Karras
  15 hours ago

Stays

Escape To This Magical Tiny Home In The Gold Coast Hinterlands

Step inside an adorable, off-grid getaway on a farm, with 'no distractions', limited phone reception and a wood-fired hot tub.
Christina Karras

News

A Summery New Collection By Australia’s Oldest Textile Mill

Shop Waverly Mills’ beautiful new range of blankets, rugs, and throws, with all fabrics made at their century-old factory!
Christina Karras

Interiors

The Central Coast Home Of The Block Alumni Kyal + Kara

The Australian coastal meets Mediterranean family home of former The Block stars Kyal and Kara Demmrich, on the NSW Central Coast.

Architecture

A Renovated Fitzroy Home, Inspired By The Candied Colours Of Italian Dessert

This Edwardian brings a delectable taste of Italy to Melbourne with its stained-glass windows and peachy pink interiors!
Christina Karras

Shopping

Bonnie & Neil's Sunny New Collection Is Inspired By Mediterranean Beach Clubs

Bonnie & Neil are bringing the colours of the Italian coast and Grecian-style prints to our home with their new summer collection!
Christina Karras

Homes

A Glamorous Update For An Exemplary Ernest Fooks Mid-Century Home

Modernist architect Ernest Fooks designed some of Melbourne’s outstanding mid-century properties, including the 1960s home of Ilana Moses

Similar Stories

Gardens

A Semi-Formal Bayside Garden That Blooms Year-Round

Overflowing foliage and formal hedging meet in this Black Rock, Melbourne, garden by Andrew Panton Design.

Gardens

Heide Museum’s Enchanting New Healing Garden

Heide Museum of Modern Art opens a new healing garden – a therapeutic space to benefit the mind, soul, and body.

Creative People

Creating Original, Ever-Changing Gardens With Kep Horticulture’s Andy Kepitis

Kep Horticulture founder Andy Kepitis talks how to create dynamic gardens, and his aversion to 'certain' plant palettes!

This Week

Sustainable Homes

‘Future Ready’: Inside One Of Melbourne’s Newest Sustainable Developments

Mirvac are hoping to encourage sustainable living with their innovative 'future ready' display home in Melbourne's inner west.
Christina Karras

Studio Visit

Designer Jordan Fleming Makes Playful ‘Creatures’ That Double As Lamps

Her handcrafted pieces are like towering, functional sculptures as tall as people – that look like they could come alive at any moment!
Christina Karras

News

A Summery New Collection By Australia’s Oldest Textile Mill

Shop Waverly Mills’ beautiful new range of blankets, rugs, and throws, with all fabrics made at their century-old factory!
Christina Karras

Stays

Escape To This Magical Tiny Home In The Gold Coast Hinterlands

Step inside an adorable, off-grid getaway on a farm, with 'no distractions', limited phone reception and a wood-fired hot tub.
Christina Karras

Interiors

A Clever Reworking Of A 70sqm Cottage In Hawthorn, Melbourne

Despite being limited to this home's tiny frame, interior designer Rosanna Ceravolo has impressively made the most of its diminutive size.

Homes

A Glamorous Update For An Exemplary Ernest Fooks Mid-Century Home

Modernist architect Ernest Fooks designed some of Melbourne’s outstanding mid-century properties, including the 1960s home of Ilana Moses

Creative People

Meet The Small Melbourne Brand Reinventing The Humble Gumboot

From a humble farm in South Gippsland, Merry People has grown from a grassroots start-up, to a successful brand sold across the globe!
Christina Karras

News

New Melbourne Brand Saule Have Created The Dreamiest Robes, Just In Time For Summer

Local creative Sally Tabart has designed the ultimate robe for the home, beach and beyond – and it’s all made here in Melbourne!
Christina Karras

Architecture

A Renovated Fitzroy Home, Inspired By The Candied Colours Of Italian Dessert

This Edwardian brings a delectable taste of Italy to Melbourne with its stained-glass windows and peachy pink interiors!
Christina Karras

Shopping

Bonnie & Neil's Sunny New Collection Is Inspired By Mediterranean Beach Clubs

Bonnie & Neil are bringing the colours of the Italian coast and Grecian-style prints to our home with their new summer collection!
Christina Karras

Design Eye

Balancing Form + Function In Garden Design, With Peachy Green’s Frances Hale

Landscape designer Frances Hale of Peachy Green shares how outdoor furniture can turn garden spaces into useable living areas, immersed in g...
Christina Karras
  15 hours ago

Sustainable Homes

A 1980s Bushland Home Built Entirely From Recycled Materials

A mudbrick home in Healesville, Victoria handmade by the owners using salvaged materials.
Amelia Barnes
  7 hours ago

Architecture

An Architect + Interior Designer’s Coastal Home, Grounded In Nature

This Sydney family home is like a private treehouse by the beach, with views at every turn, and unexpected interiors.
Christina Karras

Interiors

A Coastal Oasis Designed + Built By The Owners

Lauren Patista-Trickey and Jonathon Patista admit being both client and builder/designer was 'a journey', but the result made it all worth i...

Interiors

The Central Coast Home Of The Block Alumni Kyal + Kara

The Australian coastal meets Mediterranean family home of former The Block stars Kyal and Kara Demmrich, on the NSW Central Coast.

Similar Stories

Gardens

A Semi-Formal Bayside Garden That Blooms Year-Round

Overflowing foliage and formal hedging meet in this bayside Melbourne garden by Andrew Panton Design.

Gardens

Heide Museum’s Enchanting New Healing Garden

Heide Museum of Modern Art's new healing garden is a therapeutic space to benefit the mind, soul, and body.

Creative People

Creating Original, Ever-Changing Gardens With Kep Horticulture’s Andy Kepitis

Kep Horticulture founder Andy Kepitis talks how to create dynamic gardens, and his aversion to 'certain' plant palettes!

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