Drought as much as fashion has dictated straight-edged garden landscape design trends of the past decade, now the tide is turning toward naturalistic landscapes.
A creek gently cascades through a series of pools from the top of Rob and Kathy’s sprawling two nectare Sutton Grange garden, looking for all the world as if it had ever been. Rippling round worn granite rocks moss-edged by moisture, the water trickles down hill to a large dam where grebes dive with wings safely folded over the young riding on their backs.
“They are my favourite,” Kathy says as a bird pops up for air to our right. “They are not rare by any means. Practically every dam around here has a pair, but I find them fascinating. Their closest relative would you believe is the flamingo.”
It is not surprising to find the relative of this exotic bird in this oasis. When the psychiatrist and her stock broker husband first camped on the site watching their house being built they recorded 16 different types of birds. Now, the count is up to 55 different species with many newcomers attracted by the water and extensive planting of natives which has transformed a-once bare hillside.
As the third and most recent of the landscape artists involved in shaping the Gilbert’s vision, Luke Bullock’s contribution is the cascading creek. “Yup, I planted the rocks,” the landscape artist laughs. But jests aside, it is evident Luke is proud of what he and his team have brought to this magnificent garden – the ribbon of water isn’t just an adornment, but an integral part of this ecosystem. Fed by overflow from the tank of water drawn the windmill, the creek has spawned its own life of water insects and frogs among the algae and reeds.
Luke recalls arriving on the job. “Rob and Kathy had started to build a creek system up the top and it got a little bit beyond them and they asked if I could connect it from the top to the bottom,” he reveals. “There were some large rocks already in the garden which I thought were fantastic as a natural feature ready to work with and thought instead of a pretty straight channel from top to bottom why not turn it into a series of cascading ponds or pools to emulate nature.”
The rest of the rock was harvested from a granite outcrop on a neighbouring hill. “A lot of it had come down into the paddock where the sheep were and they wanted to clean it up a bit,” Luke says. He has no idea how many cubic metres of rock went into the project. “I can tell you it was lots and then we got to the point when we thought, ‘yeah, that’s enough’. It is all lined underneath to hold the water, but after that we basically played with the rocks until we were happy. ”
Now it looks like a natural feature of the landscape, but it did require a little patience on the part of the owners. “The thing with these sort of water features is that you install them and it takes probably two years for them to start to look anything like a natural water feature. They always look a bit contrived to begin with because of the amount of digging and earth that gets moved. Every thing looks a bit stark until things settle down and grow a bit of algae and weed.”
Luke loves the opportunity to do naturalistic garden landscape design. “It is such a contrast between the sharp lines and sleek edges of a lot of our work and shows our versatility and ability to create completely different environments,” he says. “We did another natural pond project up the road in Sedgwick to create a frog habitat which came up really well. But once again it is only nine months old and it needs time to establish and any landscape is the same. We plant it now and we install it now, but I am thinking of what it is going to look like in the future; giving plants growing space.
“Landscaping and gardening is dynamic, not static because there are always things growing and things dying. A job like this one is about working with the land rather than against it. You know you could actually do a small version of this on a domestic block, and have it recycling and fed by storm water,” Luke muses as a grebe dives in the distance. It’s a cool first glimpse of another pond somewhere.
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