Fiona Brockhoff is one of Australia’s most celebrated landscape designers. Her subtle and thoughtful gardens are grounded in the landscapes which surround and inspire them. Subscribe http://ab.co/GA-subscribe
Fiona’s own garden ‘Karkalla’ is located on the southern end of Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, around 0.8 ha in size. It is adjacent to Mornington Peninsula National Park, a place from which Fiona draws much inspiration for her work. “Nature feels so much bigger than you are, and I just find so much calm in that. It’s really inspiring to come here into this environment and take some of these ideas of natural plant arrangements into the gardens that we are designing and building”.
Fiona has been designing gardens professionally for 35 years and developing this garden for 28. Positioned amongst a tertiary dune system, “we wanted to introduce that experience as you enter the property. As you come up the drive you come over these undulations, it slows people’s journey down into the property, but it also gives people time to leave the outside world behind and connect with this very old landscape”.
Fiona is renowned for her creative and experimental use of indigenous plants, with many pruned and shaped in this garden. Sea box, which has a naturally wild and open habit is clipped twice a year to create sculpted forms and anchor the garden. She-oaks have also, “suffered the indignity of pruning!” Fiona says that by shaping and sculpting plants, showing the hand of the gardener, she is creating some space, the void, between them. “You give them space to shine as their own character”.
As you move through the garden, towards the rear boundary with the national park, the hand of the gardener is less evident. Most of this area is pruned less, once every 1-2 years, to create a transition with the wilderness of the National Park.
This ambition, to design and build a garden that truly belonged to the wider landscape has also informed the materials used. Local limestone has been collected to build walls, timber salvaged from local piers, gravel is from the local Dromana quarry and other seaside decorations used. Fiona says that this approach can be used wherever you are developing a garden, anywhere in the world. “Working with what you’ve got and drawing on the unique character of that site is really important”.
While many of the plants used in the garden are indigenous to the area, other favourites have been used. Some from her childhood, others from friends. “Whether you’re a designer or developing your own garden, it’s very much about including plants that you connect to. Whether they’re from your childhood or someone gave you a cutting of, it’s about developing a situation where you have a sense that you belong and connect with the plants”.
The productive garden is also at the heart of Fiona’s approach, it feeds the family but also provides a space to process and make productive use of waste. It is also the place for Fiona to be a gardener! “Gardening is really important for people, it connects them back to nature. And for me particularly, gardening and nature is my medicine! I think it’s really important for people to get their hands into the dirt and experience the joy of growing things”.
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