Traditional flair

Melbourne garden designer Ross Uebergang reflects on his love of working with wood and his unique approach.

I’ve always really enjoyed timber work. I find it relaxing. I love the sound when you are working it with hand tools and the smells connect me to another time. It takes me away from city life for a while.

I was really lucky on this job to have be given free reign. The brief from the client was “I trust you, do what you think is best.”

When I arrived on site there were a few bones to the existing front garden structure that immediately decided the direction of the space: a large blue Conifer shrub, a couple of Maples and a Magnolia. The garden was not something I ever would have set out to create if it was a blank slate but here it made perfect sense.

I was able to break all the rules and create something that worked in the space.

Making the arch in this garden was really important to me. I had always admired joinery that didn’t use nails, screws and glue. I wanted to make something as it would have been made before I was born. The timber we used was Cupressus macrocarpa milled down from old windbreaks on farms. We used really large sections and then carved the timber to get the curves on the beams.

When we started to stick all of the pieces together in situ it was such a rewarding and unnerving experience. Luckily everything locked together nicely. The sound of the pieces slotting together solidly when we knocked everything into place was one of the bests sounds I’ve ever heard.

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We didn’t use concrete for the footings, instead we used basalt that we found on site as sole plates. We placed them one metre down in the ground and dropped the posts on top of them. We then coated the posts to protect them from fungal decay and rammed the earth back in around them. Above ground we coated the posts in Black Japan and a rusty solution to “age” the timber and give it an antique feel.

Often when I’m creating hard floor surfaces in low-use areas I’m trying to minimise the area to the minimum required. As this is a small space it had to become an art piece to get the most out of the space. The pavers we made on site from the same timber we used for the arch cut into wedges about 100mm deep and assembled into a pattern. There are also slabs of stone cut and inserted into the pattern. These were laid on a crushed gravel and sand base without mortar. The pattern bleeds out into the surrounding boulders with chips of the same slate.

The arch has been oriented back facing the house side of the driveway. It’s supposed to be seen from the street without opening up the whole space to those walking past. It keeps the space feeling like the client’s own little spot while still showing it off. Two years after we finished the garden it has grown a lot and really developed into a private retreat.

I wanted some way for the water to trickle off the rock so I added some routed detail by hand. I purposely dropped rocks to show their sedimentary layers, which is not a traditional Japanese rock method. We tried to place the majority using levers rather than machinery and then turn and hand place them. It was nice not being bound to any traditional style when tackling it so I was able to break all the rules and create something that worked in the space. This was a functional space that you could almost have stumbled across.

Ross UebergangMitcham