Asian retreat: review
Melbourne writer and landscape designer Yvonne Pecujac visited Ross Uebergang's Asian-inspired garden retreat in Mitcham.
MELBOURNE designer Ross Uebergang has an ongoing fascination with rocks. It’s there in his use of rocks as land forms, steps, ledges, seats, pathways and even hollowed out as water bowls.
Landscapes such as the award-winning residential front garden he designed in Melbourne’s Eastern suburb of Mitcham using Western Highlands slate to evoke a Japanese forest retreat. Autumn foliage lends vibrant colours to the peaceful green haven amid Spruce, Yew, dwarf Conifers and Black Pines. The rock creates steps to a clearing, ledges to sit on and bulwarks for the secluded retreat. Look closely and you’ll notice patterns drilled into a rock ledge, a rock shaped to collect water and underfoot a parquetry of precise geometrical timber shapes blending seamlessly into the rocks. Up ahead is a towering Japanese gateway - an ionic shape silhouetted against the sky - created solely by hand without nails or glue. Inquire a little further and discover that the parquetry underfoot and the archway are seated into the ground using traditional methods without concrete. A private forest retreat where you can read a book in peace, enjoy the afternoon sun or gaze at the stars. Remarkable considering the garden fronts a street that is only metres away.
Ross’ clients had asked for seclusion and privacy - an inward-looking garden. Taking his cue from an existing blue conifer and Japanese Maple, in the winter of 2016 Ross created an inviting but secluded Japanese retreat.
Having won second place the year before in a garden design competition held in Japan, Ross was intrigued to observe and be involved in traditional Japanese rock work with a team working under third-generation landscape designer Yousuke Yamaguchi.
“In Japan they’ll have a truck delivering rocks, another one right behind it, some excavators, and a few men guiding the strapped rocks into place all under the direction of one person who is standing back with the big picture in his head,” Ross said.
Ask anyone who’s tried to create a naturalistic rock setting to discover how hard imitating nature really is to get right - a skill the Japanese revere both as a contemporary practice and featured in centuries-old temple gardens that are meticulously maintained.
Ross brought Yousuke out to Australia for the 2018 Melbourne International Flower and Garden show where they created a garden together based on the dry sparse bush of the Northern Grampians, a place of childhood memory for Ross, whose family owns 130ha of the sparse scrubby bushland.
Featuring charred local Allocasuarina trees and grassy tussocks in stark relief against white granite rocks, the garden evoked the bush after bushfire with the garden contained by a ring of charred timber. Spare, elegant and restrained, the show garden featured outdoor dining, a water rill and suggested an outdoor home office with just a laptop and some cushions in a modern take on a pergola - a permeable cylinder rendered to suggest baked, parched earth. Fittingly titled the “Unity Garden”, the blend of western outdoor lifestyle and eastern restraint created an evocative and unique garden that looked to our fragile, threatened landscape for inspiration.
While Yousuke was in Australia, both he and Ross gave public talks at the residential garden retreat.