This unique and contemporary home set in a waterfront suburb of Sydney’s lower North Shore draws inspiration from local architecture and relies on a well-considered use of plants to soften its edges and create a strong connection to the landscape.
How much of this is project was collaboration between you and the architect, and between you and the client?
We had virtually no involvement with the client at all on this project. The architect essentially was our client. This build is quite unique in that the architect, Clinton Cole from CplusC, has designed into the fabric of the architecture a lot of screens, wire mesh and other structures specifically for plants to grow on.
So, it wasn’t a normal landscaping project where they do the build and then they engage us to build a landscape around the house. With an architect that’s as great as Clint at integrating the landscape, we were brought in early. The initial discussions centred around that and what sorts of plants we could use to complement the materials on the build — what types of foliage, colours and textures would pick up the architecture.
The side passage area where all the succulent gardens are, was quite unusual. Clinton actually wanted me to come up with plants that were funky and unique, a ‘Mars inspired’, arid style garden. You can see that in the plant palette that we’ve used — decomposed granite for the path, and pebbles pick up the sandstone in the wall. Then we’ve used a lot of blues, greys and silvers in the foliage to pick up the corrugated iron. Everything is a direct reflection of the architecture.
After that initial discussion, Clinton basically said “right, now just run with it, I’ll see you at the end.” That is the level of trust he had in us, which was pretty humbling. I was extremely grateful because it is such a high-profile build. At that stage it was already turning a lot of heads and getting recognised in the industry as a spectacular build. So, to have one meeting and then be told to just run with it, take ownership of it and I’ll see you at the end of the project, was a pretty amazing level of trust. Obviously the pressure was on to come up with a garden that would do the build justice.
The colours around the climbing plants were quite an important part of it. We used blue, white, pink and orange flowering climbers. The orange flowering pyrostegia are at the back façade of the house. The reason we chose orange was to contrast the galvanised steel as it starts to rust with time. We’ve got pinks around the pool area which will contrast nicely with the ageing western red cedar… we’re always trying to continue that relationship between the landscape and the build. Clinton really wants the landscape and the architecture to merge and soften as it ages.
The architect obviously had a good idea of what he wanted?
Yep. And Clint’s like that. He has a good idea of the overall feel that he’s trying to achieve. Then once he’s confident that you’ve grasped that, he gives you the trust and the freedom to make the choices around what plants are going to achieve that look.
It’s one thing to have a vision in your mind, but then to actually get plants and foliage of the right size and scale to do that, it’s a different challenge altogether. That happens a lot with architects, where they’ll indicatively sketch something in the corner of a house; a shape or a colour, and they say, “What plants can achieve this?” Then we have to interpret that into a real-life growing structure that can fulfil that brief.
That’s the beauty of working with these types of architects that embrace the garden and see the value of it being an integral part of the build, rather than being separate. Clint is second-to-none in that regard; he probably embraces the garden and the landscape more than any other architect I’ve worked with.
How did you go about selecting plants for this project?
The one thing Clint really wanted was those grass trees out the front. There are three that feature against the front of the house. That was really the only plant he specified. I didn’t show him the design; I didn’t show him what I was going to do, like the curved pathway. We just worked that out as we went. It was a very fluid process. We came up with the palette we wanted; greys, blues and silvers. Then we basically got a whole bunch of plants delivered to site and basically made it up as we went.
And sometimes you get the best results doing gardens that way. I mean gardens aren’t built, they’re not bricks and mortar, so if you have the plants there and you can play around with the spacings, slight tweaks to where this goes and that goes can really make all the difference.
Rather than trying to stick to a design that might be drawn and have no flexibility, I think sometimes you achieve a better result if you’ve got a general idea of what you’re going to use and where it’s going to go, but to have a fluid approach when you’re on site actually doing the install, nearly always leads to a better result.
You’ve used predominantly native plants in this project. Yes, we’ve stuck to using predominantly native plants, but you know, they’ve just been used in a really non-traditional way. Almost juxtaposed to the other properties in the area, where they’ve used natives in more of a traditional way, but we’ve done them in a very contemporary kind of layout.
The project was a controversial one locally, why do you think that is?
It’s such a traditional suburb. There are a lot of federation homes and traditional style properties that blend in to the landscape.
We had people walk up to us while we were working there and ask us, “What is this? Is it a house? Is it a commercial structure?” We had some people that openly said they didn’t like it, and they’re probably the more traditional residents that may not be so embracing of change. There were definitely more people that came up and said it’s amazing. And I guess that’s great architecture isn’t it? Makes people talk.
The landscaping industry has come so far, are you starting to see more collaboration between architects and landscape designers?
Yeah, look we are. And I think people like Clinton are really leading the charge in that. You know, it would be our wish that more architects would embrace both the architecture and the landscape as a full package.
Because of the high density living in Sydney particularly, most people don’t have large gardens, they don’t have huge expanses of land to use. So, we’re starting to look at more innovative ways to bring the garden in. Vertical gardens are a classic example where people might have a small terrace, but they’ve got an internal courtyard. So rather than just putting a chair out there, there are things that can be done and people are definitely looking for ways to bring a garden into a small space… just to have a little bit of contact with nature in what is essentially such a high density, built environment.
We are doing a lot more vertical gardens, green walls, and even bringing potted gardens into courtyards where there’s no soft-scaping at all. I guess people are feeling the need for more direct connect with nature, particularly in this hectic lifestyle we’re all leading.