Dream Come True

Kathleen Murphy Landscape Design took a once inhospitable country Victorian backyard and turned it into the place to be for family and friends.

On a quiet autumn morning in the regional Victorian town of Woodend, this family’s back garden is a serene tableau brought alive by fresh rain that still permeates the air. The roughly 20-metre by six-metre space is perhaps more characteristically suburban in scale, but a posse of ducks ambling down the street is a reminder that the big smoke is a while away.

The easygoing ambience of the garden does well to obscure the site’s unique challenges. “You could see all the boundaries in one hit,” details Kathleen Murphy of Kathleen Murphy Landscape Design. Add to that three different fence lines, plus an easement running through the site to which the council requires access. Clearly, this space needed to be not only attractive, but savvy on a practical level.

“The design really had to take into account that everything could be dismantled or moved. For a small garden, it’s quite technical,” Kathleen reflects.

The clients, a working family with two children, asked for a functional garden that lured them out of the home regularly to enjoy it. For starters, this involved levelling the backyard and doing away with rocks that once menaced bare feet. The clothes line was moved to a narrow space around the side of the property to make more room. Landscape construction was handled by Pride Landscapes. “The brief was a family-friendly garden [with] useable space,” Kathleen summarises.

Friendly, indeed – the new garden offers multiple spaces for entertaining, child’s play and relaxation. In one corner, tiered corten garden beds are topped with frost-resistant bamboo (slender weaver, to be precise) and Liriope. They are also home to the family’s productive garden which, at the time of writing, featured tomatoes, lettuces and cascading strawberry plants. These beds, tended by the family, are designed to accommodate a rotating cast of fruit and veggies as the seasons change. The three-year-old family member is reportedly quite the zealous gardener.

Nearby, society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea) adds its lilac flowers to the space’s colour scheme and its tangy leaves to the family’s salad bowl. Above, a lemon lime tree similarly serves aesthetic and functional purposes, reveals client, Tracey Strong: “We’ll be able to take fruit off it and put it in our gin! [Kathleen] really thought about the client.”

The next space is a grassy expanse (drought-tolerant “tall fescue”), the perfect stage for endless hours of cavorting. A nearby path of exposed aggregate references the colour palette of the home and wraps around a lush crop of New Zealand rock lillies (Arthropodium cirratum), a view additionally enjoyed when looking out from the kitchen area.

Also framed by these windows are two vibrant Japanese maples – behind them, reinforcement mesh coaxes climbing jasmine up the wall. These killer views are no happy accident: Kathleen shares that they did their due diligence by taking photos from inside the house looking out, to understand exactly what the clients would see.

Over in the other corner stands the crowning glory of the garden: a fireplace-cum-pizza-oven custom designed by Kathleen Murphy Landscape Design and crafted from corten by Neil Tait of Castlemaine’s Tait Decorative Iron (who also made the raised beds). “We created the look and he makes it work!” Kathleen laughs. A border of corten planters and cantilevered seating gives the fireplace space a sense of intimacy – here sawn bluestone tiles are a textural departure from the other areas, while still tying into the tonality of the existing home.

Locally-sourced materials were a priority for this project: the shale is from Victoria, the timber for the cantilevered benches and deck is spotted gum.

Kathleen remembers: “Once before, when you looked at this garden, you had nothing to look at.” Now, the compact garden boasts multiple activity spaces with a rich material and plant palette – a treasured place that unites family and friends.



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