Whispering of mid-century Cali cool, strappy palms in graceful poses flourish under the limelight in a garden of glossy greens.
Glamorous, dramatic and redolent of Palm Springs, this streetscape and garden in Sydney’s eastern suburbs would look perfectly at home in that playground of Hollywood A-listers. As in that resort town of iconic mid-century retreats, landscape and architecture are intricately interwoven, the two engaged in a scene-stealing dialogue.
After returning home to Australia in 2017 following a stint living abroad the owners, a professional couple with young children, bought this handsome house near the harbour. Topping their wishlist for their new home were indoor-outdoor spaces that would make the most of that mild weather they had missed in their absence. But, while the house had been recently remodelled by architect Andre Baroukh + Associates and Paul Brough Design to spectacular effect, the garden had been left adrift and shortchanged the architecture. Its sparse vegetation, consisting largely of lawn and shrubs, was immature, making the home feel exposed and offering little privacy, with strelitzias along the back boundary one of the few vertical elements.
“The garden was also without a clear or defined entrance, with no real path to the front door,” says landscape designer Anthony Wyer of Wyer & Co who, with interior designer Cameron Kimber of Cameron Kimber Design, was hired to revitalise the garden and indoor-outdoor spaces. And the facade, while a headturner, was overpowering and in need of relief. “It was stark and in your face,” he says. “I wanted to introduce scale and softness, while framing and enhancing the architecturally designed house.
The owners also wanted spaces for enjoying time with family and friends. It had to be an entertainer’s garden, the design dynamic and engaging, taking advantage of the property’s north-facing aspect.”
Taking his cues from the Southern California resort town, Anthony designed a garden that is “contemporary, clean, simple and glamorous. With such an imposing facade, everything had to relate back to the architecture and build upon it.” His garden plan included simple yet lush massed plantings playing on contrasts in foliage shape and texture, combined with the soaring verticality of – in true Palm Springs style – palm trees.
As with that desert location, the landscaping was hampered by poor sandy soils, which Anthony rejuvenated with organic material. Then he, Cameron and the original architects, who were recommissioned, collaborated in melding home and landscaping.
There are three distinct garden rooms – the street frontage; an area to the side abutting a covered outdoor living area; and, to the rear, the pool and its surrounds. At the entry, three tiered “pads” of concrete create a grand entrance, leading to a black steel gate framed by a masonry canopy that opens to a floating staircase leading to the front door. The team tamed the facade by adding black slatted-steel screening and painting the garage doors black. Those stepped pads navigate layers of grouped plantings, including Philodendron xanadu, Ligularia dentata, Japanese star jasmine and Korean velvet grass (Zoysia tenuifolia) interspersed with massive boulders for added texture and rugged contrast.
(Raphiolepis indica (Strelitzia nicolai). Dichondra
Meanwhile palms, including a pandanus, dwarf date (Phoenix roebelenii) and kentia (Howea forsteriana), frame and create striking textural counterpoints to the modern facade. Swift-growing Slender Weaver’s bamboo (Bambusa textilis var. gracilis) in planters provides ready screening along the driveway, while beyond that, abutting the outdoor living area, a generous 50sqm lawn is flanked on three sides by dense swathes of yellowwood (Philodendron xanadu) as ground cover, with three cabbage-tree palms (Livistona australis) adding verticality. A hedge of Podocarpus falcatus provides screening and privacy.
Updates to the pool area included a new, lighter tile and the construction of a raised masonry planter wall, while roughsawn timber cladding, “lining the boundary for a unified look”, features in integrated seating and highlights a massive angled daybed. Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’ cascades down the wall, which encases swathes of giant white bird of paradise (Strelitzia nicolai), saved from the original garden and underplanted with Philodendron xanadu and Indian hawthorn (Raphiolepis indica ‘Oriental Pearl’).
The garden is a brilliant example of less is more for maximum impact. “We used mass plantings for drama and simplicity,” says Anthony. “It looks pared back, but look closely and there’s actually a lot of detail and layering. I was careful not to crowd the areas – it would have been easy to go overboard, but this way, we have achieved scale and balance.”
Rather than merely providing a backdrop, the garden has become one with the house, adopting a Palm Springs design philosophy by highlighting indoor-outdoor living and using clutter-free hardscaping and softscaping.
Somehow it looks just right, with garden and architecture in perfect harmony. “Now the house is grounded. With the mature plants such as the pandanus and lush underplanting, it looks as if the garden has always been there,” says Anthony. But, perhaps most important of all for a family garden, he adds, “It beckons you to come out and have fun.”