RECYCLING AND STARTING SMALL CAN LEAD TO BIG THINGS IN THE HANDS OF A PASSIONATE GARDENER.
Years in the making, Brenton Roberts’ sprawling garden in South Australia’s Mount Lofty Ranges started with a small roll of turf and a few pots.
BRENTON ROBERTS AND his wife Libby were living in Melbourne when they bought an old house known as Ray Brodie Cottage, set on two hectares of garden and bushland at Aldgate in South Australia’s Mount Lofty Ranges. While they were waiting to move back to their home state, Brenton began planning his future garden on paper using skills learnt at a garden design course at Burnley School of Horticulture (now part of the University of Melbourne). “Since we moved in 2012, I’ve largely created the garden I planned,” says Brenton, 38, a national sales manager who also dabbles in garden design. “Some things have changed, but the basic plan has come into being.” Creating the garden has taken many years of work. The sloping site was one of the real challenges. Brenton tamed it with terraces: one for the large green lawn in front of the 1868 stone cottage, and one for the vegetable garden. To create the terraces a local earthmoving contractor dumped clean fill on the site over the course of 18 months. Once the first terrace was level, Brenton and Libby, 35, an occupational therapist, planted what is now a lush lawn. “We didn’t just order $1200 of turf,” says Brenton, who has created the garden on a budget. “We bought one roll of Santa Ana couch, a very fine-leafed couch, and cut it into hundreds of sprigs that we painstakingly planted into the soil.” The sprigs were spaced about 20 centimetres apart, but regular watering (the property has access to bore water) and weeding meant that it didn’t take long to create the beautiful green lawn that’s a feature of the garden and a favourite play area for the couple’s two young children — nine-year-old Lachie and five-year-old Maya — and dogs Thorby and pup Bruce, who are Kelpie crosses. “I probably wouldn’t do a lawn that way again,” Brenton admits, but adds that doing it that way gave him $1000 he could spend on other things for the garden. Time and patience have been key factors in the garden’s development. The boldly planted driveway is another example of Brenton’s ability to plan, save and then plant. Originally engulfed with low, bushy plants that were a fire hazard, the driveway is now lined with 70 Manchurian pear trees under-planted with a sea of the herbaceous succulent sedum ‘Autumn Joy’. “About four years ago I bought four or five pots of ‘Autumn Joy’,” says Brenton. “I kept taking cuttings from the plants, gradually building up their numbers to around 800, and saving thousands of dollars in the process.” When it came to planting, it was a matter of making a hole and dropping in a stem. Each plant has grown and the effect is striking, as the colour and form of the succulents mirrors that of the trees above through the seasons. >
“Through winter, both plants have a straw colour, but in spring they develop bright-green new growth that matures over summer before the sedum sends up tall heads of pink flowers,” says Brenton. “By autumn the sedum flowers have deepened to red, which reflects the autumn colour of the ornamental pears.” Four pear trees left over from the driveway planting have been transformed into living sculptures. Brenton has trained them as espaliers against the walls of the house. “The horizontal lines of the espalier softens the stone, but doesn’t hide it,” he says. A knee-high hedge of edible fig offers the same effect and Brenton prunes it every 10 weeks to keep it low. “The idea of the low hedge was to soften the look of the house, but also to direct people to experience the garden before stepping onto the lawn,” he says. Brenton has also directed his infinite patience to shaping two Mexican cypresses (Cupressus lusitanica ‘Private Green’) into topiary spirals as a gateway into the garden. “It has been a labour of love — if I’d bought these as mature potted plants they would have cost $800 or $900 each,” says Brenton. Found objects have also been incorporated into the garden. Sticks collected from the one-hectare of stringybark woodland beside the house have been used to form a 1.5 metre-high stick fence around the vegetable garden. The gate, too, was found on the property and dragged up to its current position. “Then I found some rusty reinforcing mesh lying around on the property and used it to make the column that we filled with sticks and bark collected on walks,” says Brenton. “It’s a bit of fun and the whole family created it.” The vegetable garden is part productive and part planted for looks, admits Brenton. “I love the appearance of a healthy vegetable patch, so I often grow plants that are structural and colourful, like purple cabbage and artichokes.” While he is delighted with the way the garden has come together, Brenton has lots of plans for its future. The recent discovery of a pre-1930s plan of the property in an old drawer has fuelled a new development. The plan shows the site of the original orchard and has set Brenton to designing and planting a new orchard on the site of the old one. For Brenton, part of the pleasure of creating this garden is to share its progress and his passion for gardening on social media. Using Instagram, he has documented the changing face of the garden and plans to chronicle the progress of the new orchard as it gradually reaches fruition. Follow@brentonrobertsgardendesigns on Instagram.
ALDGATE SA GARDENBrenton Roberts purchased Ray Brodie Cottage in 2012. Set on a steep block, the gardens and pathways were overgrown and hadn’t been tended to for more than 20 years. Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ is peppered along the side and front of the house. A number of Mexican cypresses (Cupressus lusitanica ‘Private Garden’) have been shaped into topiary spirals as signposts to enter the garden.