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Book Extract | Claire Takacs: Three Visionary Australian Gardens

Photographer Claire Takacs and landscape architect Giacomo Guzzon’s new book Visionary: Gardens and Landscapes for Our Future introduces stunning private and public gardens from around the world that have addressed the need to be both sustainable and climate-conscious – with outstanding results.

Ahead of the launch at the museum on Tuesday 23 April, when Claire and Giacomo will be joined in conversation by Tom Stuart-Smith (livestream tickets still available), we’ve picked three visionary and inspiring Australian gardens from the book:

Chelsea Australian Garden at Olinda

Ten years after winning Gold and Best in Show at the prestigious Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Chelsea Flower Show, Phillip Johnson re-created his award‑winning Australian Garden in the Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden in Olinda. The new garden (jointly funded by state and federal governments and the People and Parks Foundation) is over 20 times the size of the original Chelsea Flower Show build and converts a section of the former Olinda Golf Course into a stunning botanic garden, supporting biodiversity and habitat creation.

It is a real homecoming for the garden – Phillip was originally inspired to create the Australian Garden by ‘Billabong Falls’, his own Olinda garden in the Dandenong Ranges. The Chelsea Australian Garden – off grid with no reliance on mains power or water – showcases sustainable and waterwise design, including an integrated bushfire protection system, solar power and the clever use of recycled and reclaimed materials (e.g. seating crafted from the Dandenong Ranges storm recovery program). It features 15,000 plants from over 400 native Australian species and includes rare and endangered species such as the Wollemi pine.

The Phillip Johnson team excels at bringing spaces to life that astound people, connecting them to nature and Country, while also allowing native birds, bees and other pollinators to thrive. A cascading waterfall (recirculated using solar/battery power), a rocky gorge and billabong provide new homes for local frogs. Stormwater runoff is captured to store and clean over one million litres of water, and to slow down the storm surge. This in turn prevents erosion and damage to natural creeks and gullies downstream.

In June 2023, Phillip told attendees at the official opening, ‘I hope visitors feel a sense of awe when they visit the garden, and I hope they leave feeling inspired to protect Australia’s special landscapes – and maybe even create something new in their own garden.’

The Family Garden

Designer: Jo Ferguson
Location: Flinders, Victoria, Australia

Jo studied native grasslands at Burnley Gardens, part of the University of Melbourne’s School of Agriculture, and has a passion for engaging with stories revealed in gardens and landscape – their family garden is situated on the ancient lands of the Boonwurrung people.

Before starting their family garden, Jo and her husband Simon Hazel considered what brought them most joy in a garden. For Simon, it was memories of observing insect activity and growing vegetables. For Jo, it was being immersed in nature, particularly native grasses. They agreed their garden should combine all elements; the feel more important than how it looked.

The Mornington Peninsula is on volcanic country and has a mild oceanic climate, cool winters, and clay soil with superb water retention (irrigation is rarely needed).

Jo and Simon planted native and exotic species selected ‘for love’ rather than a defined style or theme. Trees planted were chosen for their grey-blue foliage to ground the garden in its native landscape and create a strong sense of place. Resilient species were selected to tolerate a wide range of environmental conditions without the need for continuous attention.

Prominent native Australian species used include Eucalyptus latens ‘Moon Lagoon’, Austrostipa verticillata (slender bamboo grass), Austrostipa stipoides (coastal spear grass), Themeda triandra (kangaroo grass), Correa alba (white correa), Banksia drummondii and paper daisies Xerochrysum bracteatum ‘Lemon Monarch’ and ‘Strawberry Blonde’ intermingled with Dichelachne crinita (longhair plume grass).

For Jo, the garden is a source of joy and connection – a fantasy grassland matrix composed of tall native and exotic grasses interspersed with perennials and native shrubs for structure and year-round presence. The composition of plants could only work here, in an Australian naturalistic style defined by a bushland character with numerous species intermingled, allowed to self-seed and colonise bare ground.

Glenluce Garden

Designers: Michael Wright and Catherine Rush (Rush Wright Associates)
Location: Glenluce, Victoria, Australia

Catherine Rush and Michael Wright are founding directors of Melbourne-based landscape architecture firm Rush Wright Associates. Each with over 30 years of experience in the field, they lead a team of 15 landscape architects. Their weekend home in Glenluce, northwest of Melbourne, experiences extreme climatic conditions: hot summers, prolonged droughts, and regular bushfires.

In front of the tiny west-facing house, helped by their friend, fellow landscape architect Thomas Gooch, they created and built a garden inspired by the wind‑shaped dunes of Wyperfeld National Park, western Victoria. Finger-shaped, slightly mounded planting areas, reminiscent of the dunes, are interspersed with elongated, sand-covered paths.

A generous stone fire-pit area – the garden’s focal point, built with local rocks – is positioned to make the most of stunning views of the surrounding area, and, on a clear night, a vast, star-filled sky.

The whole garden is like a giant creek bed capable of acting as a reservoir, covered with a layer of 10 cm (4 in) of sand, below which there is a geotextile (permeable fabric), and 20 cm (8 in) of gravel under the paths. Underlying clay soil prevents rapid water infiltration and forms a perfect base for containing stormwater. Buff sand mimics the tones of dry grass covering the paddocks around the property, visually blending the garden with its surroundings, particularly in summer.

Fire retardant plants such as Atriplex nummularia (Australian saltbush) create a native, fire protective buffer between the garden and adjacent paddock, along with the iconic grass tree, Xanthorrhoea ’Supergrass’ a hybrid cross between X. johnsonii and X. glauca. Xerochrysum bracteatum (native drought-tolerant strawflowers, or paper daisies) provide colourful accents for months and self-seed freely. Resilient exotic species from the Mediterranean and US arid regions are planted closer to the house.

Michael and Catherine have created a low-budget garden that incorporates smart strategies for long-term success in a challenging, fire-prone environment. It also recreates the wow factor of the Australian bush in a small, designed space.

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Photos by Claire Takacs, text extracted from Visionary: Gardens and Landscapes for Our Future (Hardie Grant) by Claire Takacs and Giacomo Guzzon.

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