Riverside retreat: review
Melbourne writer and landscape designer Yvonne Pecujac looks at how an unpromising steep windy site was transformed into a coastal retreat.
A steep windy residential site in Geelong proved perhaps one of the most challenging sites facing any garden designer.
Perched 20 metres above the roadside, and at the end of a steep gully allowing bitter winds to lash the site, the new owners - who loved the area’s surfing coastal lifestyle - called Ross for help after their fruitless attempts to turn their steep, weed-infested rocky site into a garden.
Ross tackled the challenge by planting the steep slope at the front with semi-prostrate Rosemary, tying down the runners to root and stabilise the hill. The entire slope was thickly planted to suppress weeds and two terraces were built with different views and plantings.
The house is accessed by a series of steep boardwalk steps but actually creating the garden proved challenging and involved using buckets to get mulch up the slope, growing plants into chicken wire to stop the mulch from sliding down the hill, hefting giant railway sleepers up the steep boardwalk and milling all the woodwork on-site. The project, which was installed in stages over a few years, has been featured in the media, including on the ABC’s Gardening Australia.
A top terrace deck features a calm and lush Zen feel filled with bamboo and glorious views onto the Barwon River while a middle terrace showcases drier climate plantings such as Proteas, Leucospermum and Aulax surrounding a sunken curved ampitheatre with benching set around a fire pit. Curved organic shapes, dense planting and weathered wood introduces a softer tone to the garden and elements such as the reclaimed pier timbers lend an industrial edge to the garden and reflect the family’s coastal lifestyle.
The result is a house perched high like a ship on a bluff that has traded its exposed steep weed-infested slope for a series of gardens that wrap around the house forming lush and private enclosed terraces while allowing breathtaking views to the river below. Everywhere you look there are serene terraces, organic rounded shapes, weathered recycled material and bespoke artistic touches - from the end grain in a recycled timber screen to the framed ‘Ned Kelly’ style view of the river, from the Jasmine entwined around a soft curved metal support to the old train switches on the deck. The plantings feel easy and modern while the site is a harmonious blend of Ross’ sustainable ethos, love of recycled industrial material and artistic vision.