Showcasing Your Wares

The hardy garden of landscape designer Kathleen Murphy, under construction at her Gisborne home, is a place to trial plants, showcase product designs and work – in a tranquil design studio inspired by green that has increased her team’s productivity.

When Kathleen Murphy and her partner first bought their Gisborne property nine years ago she was flat out wrangling babies and toddlers while running her landscape design business from home. It wasn’t until three-and-a-half years ago that she finally found time to start building a beautifully integrated garden and design studio to replace a temporary office in the family playroom she shared with two part-time employees.

During the intervening years Kathleen developed her designs, taking inspiration from various green projects for the studio she owner-built last year with help from a local builder and handyman. She accumulated four years’ worth of free surplus soil and rocks from various sites and planned every step of the longterm construction process for maximum efficiency. “You just have to be patient if you’ve got a small budget,” she says.

When construction finally began at home Kathleen installed an underground waste water treatment system linked to house and studio, and built up soil mounds to soften the flat, exposed landscape and echo the undulations of the mountains beyond. “I love a lot of different styles,” she says. “But what I kept coming back to was [that] it has to fit in with the landscape and these Macedon Ranges and rolling hills.” Creating inspiring views to enjoy throughout house and studio was paramount. “I design as much from inside the house as outside,” she says.

Kathleen retained stunning gum trees throughout the property but removed a thirsty fernery and roses from the north-facing rear to make way for a “Mediterranean-ish” gravel courtyard with a low granite wall handcrafted by local stonemason Matt Ewing.

Like all collaborators on this project, his work is commemorated by a small, custom-made plaque.

Under construction beside the central courtyard is a generous corner kitchen garden with elegant, low corten steel edging, a custom-made iron gate by another local collaborator, Rob Roblewski, a recycled timber and corrugated iron potting shed for drying medicinal herbs, and a vertical wall of espaliered dwarf pink lady apples trained along tension wire. “I do this a lot on people’s places now,” Kathleen says of the productive vertical wall. “For people who are ageing it’s really easy. You’re not bending down, you’re standing up … and there’s just a little bit of care that needs to be taken. It’s a really simple, productive way of doing things.”

Elsewhere, other areas are taking shape too: a shaded sandpit beneath a towering gum that’ll be converted into a pond when the children are older; a path offering truck access that’ll transform into a side garden; and space for the family beehive. Kathleen credits Lambley Nursery outside Ballarat with a string of successful experiments in drought tolerant, frost resistant native planting that have given the varied garden-in-progress its unifying structure.

“Macedon Ranges is really tough,” Kathleen says. “It gets 40-degree days and then it gets the frost … potentially late into November. I really look towards Australian natives, structurally, as my first port of call. Then I choose Mediterranean, Californian – anything hardy, basically … because I want seasonal interest. I think that’s really important. For my garden I like a little bit of colour, and I trial most of the plants I suggest to clients in my garden first.”

Spiky lomandra grasses and olive trees edge meandering pathways. Long, loose masses of sticky boobialla (Myoporum viscosum ) screen boundaries and, in bloom, keep the bees happy. Striking sculptural elements like purpletop (Verbena bonariensis ) and sweet lili (Agastache aurantiaca ) provide a colourful backdrop for limited edition garden features like fire pits and birdbaths, which Kathleen designs and manufactures locally using recycled offcuts of warm corten steel.

Nestled between verdant mounds is the garden’s most recent addition: Kathleen’s east-facing studio, clad vertically in silvertop ash (plus a double layer of concealed cement cladding for added insulation). Simple plywood walls and oversized, commercial-scale glazing bring the garden inside, creating a serene, self-contained, visually arresting working environment she credits with propelling her business forward in ways she never anticipated. “It’s been our most profitable year by about 30 per cent,” Kathleen says. “The economy hasn’t improved by 30 per cent. And what we do is often very much connected to the economy and how people are feeling about spending money on their garden and design.”

“It’s actually got a lot to do with the people who work with me, and even myself, feeling great to be at work and enjoying the space. And clients can come and see something that you’ve started to achieve. They can feel more confident in maybe trusting you with something so important to them.”

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