Steph and Jason King, owners of King’s Gardens & Pools, bought this Ocean Grove property on Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula in 2016. At the time of purchase, the property hosted a 1970s house, 1980s pool, grass tennis court, and two cedar cabins built in the 2000s — but very little surrounding garden.
The couple’s first order of business was to establish a thriving garden to surround these built structures (which they’d later renovate as their family home and separate accommodation, The Woods.)
Steph and Jason spent the first few months stripping back the weeds and prevalent pittosporums. The next stage was experimenting with the right mix of plants to complement the site’s existing 100-plus year-old Bellarine yellow gums, found only on the Bellarine Peninsula.
Steph and Jason are landscape and pool designers, but they ignored the advice they so often tell clients on this project. Rather than designing a masterplan from the outset, they tackled the garden one section at a time to ensure all the spaces could connect and coexist in all seasons and times of day.
‘We were too impatient and planted out the garden section by section basis after we observed certain areas thrive or fail,’ explains Steph. ‘Every two years, a different section of the garden would evolve. For example, plants in a particular garden bed would fail due to poor light conditions, so we would transplant them elsewhere.
‘The garden still looks remarkable — it just took longer to get the result and cost more!’
The garden today covers several established zones: the west garden; south garden; north garden; woods garden; and pool area.
The west garden is what Steph and Jason call a ‘true woodland garden’ focusing on evergreen and shade planting. The area features large trees and fleshy lush evergreen waxy plants such as tractor seats and elephant ears, with botanicals including hydrangea, wind flowers, and silvergrass (Miscanthus sinensis).
Dotted along the U-shaped driveway is the ‘magical perennial’ south garden. The planting in this garden is repeated, so the colours are consistent, and the space feels organised and formal. Round westringia balls are hedged for shape and interest, and the soft curves offset the sharpness of the straight house lines.
Steph and Jason wanted to create ‘a real wow moment’ for the north garden, which is the most visible outdoor space from inside the home. This has been achieved through an abundance of colour and green foliage including sages plants (Salvia species) such as catmint and Russian sage. ‘Karl Foerster’ grass (Calamagrostis) provides height and gentle movement in the wind.
The original 1980s concrete pool on site leaked and was inefficient to run, so it needed replacing. Even with Steph and Jason’s pool expertise, this turned out to be the biggest challenge of the project in order to capitalise on the existing plumbing.
‘The demolition was painstaking — removing the old concrete and boulders one by one to avoid damaging the pipes underneath,’ says Steph. ‘Inevitably, we did strike a pipe, and in the end, we upgraded the gas line and all pipes to avoid further issues down the track with 30 to 40 year-old plumbing infrastructure.’
The new above ground concrete pool and spa was designed to look like a water feature, with black glass tiles that create a mirage effect. Exotic lush planting surrounds the space to ‘swallow’ up the pool. ‘When you’re swimming and leaning over the edge, you feel like you’re floating in the garden,’ says Steph.
Last but not least is the woods garden designed for guests staying at the onsite accommodation to enjoy. The Woods consists of two cedar cabins (built 15 years ago by carpentry students at the Geelong TAFE and craned into position) that were renovated by Steph and Jason into boutique, self-contained guest house.
‘We wanted more of a cottage feel and a picking garden for guests to interact with,’ says Steph of the woods garden. ‘A grapevine climbs over the arbour to soften it, and we enjoy the changing colours of seasons, especially the bright red in autumn.’
A grass tennis court and golf putting green mark the boundary between the main residence and the two cabins.
As a fourth generation Ocean Grove resident, Steph is proud to have enriched the town by establishing this stunning garden. ‘I love the biodiversity of the garden — the bees buzzing and butterflies dancing around,’ she says. ‘[There’s] many species of birds, from zippy, colourful parrots; to loud squawking cockatoos; and the resident magpie we’ve named Harry who taps on the glass door every morning and warbles away until you throw him a bite.
‘It still takes my breath away arriving home when the garden is in full bloom from November to April.’