Thursday, 19 December 2013 02:39

International Influence

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International Influence

Holidaying at home leaves a lot to be desired if your outdoor spaces are more barren land than Garden of Eden. From the greener pastures of England to the Zen gardens of Japan, Rachael Harrington takes a trip around the world to discover the best of international garden design.

While you may not be living in a château in the French countryside or by the sea in a tropical Balinese villa, you can transport yourself to the other side of the world without leaving your own home by looking a little further than your neighbour’s yard for design inspiration.

Drawing ideas from international gardens goes beyond using plants indigenous to that area and incorporates the time-honoured distinctive elements of the style to create a harmonious space that will transform your outdoor area.

À LA FRANÇAISE

Our journey around the world in six gardens begins in France with the French formal garden or jardin à la française. Arguably the most wellknown example of this style is the extraordinary Gardens of Versailles. Centuries-old, these gardens are still a source of landscape inspiration today and perfectly illustrate the distinct style of the French formal garden.

As the name suggests, order and symmetry lie at the heart of the French formal garden. This style begins with a strong axis of symmetry that is centred on the house, with a symmetrical arrangement of features on either side of that axis. French formal gardens were designed for strolling, with wide paths for walking and admiring the view of the château, rather than sprawling lawns for backyard cricket.

Paths are gravelled and edged with neatly clipped hedges and topiary in symmetrical, and often intricate, patterns. Close to the house, planting is kept low with parterres, while further from the house, trees are planted in straight lines to add perspective and reinforce the symmetry of the garden.

French formal gardens are known for their cool colour palette, with an emphasis on white, blue, pink and mauve. These were the only colours available in the 17th century when many of the French formal gardens were created. Red, yellow and orange plants weren’t introduced to Europe until about 1730.

Trees used in the Gardens of Versailles that can be used in the gardens that surround your own castle include beeches and elms, while box, lavender and rosemary can be used for clipped hedges.

Even without the 800 hectares and intricate patterns of the Gardens of Versailles, the essence of the French formal style can be recreated in your own backyard by using straight lines and symmetry. However, the formal nature of this style means that gardens can be high-maintenance.

THE BEST OF BRITISH

While French landscape designers saw the garden as an extension of the architecture of the home, English landscape designers were inspired by paintings. The great French-inspired gardens of the 17th century were ornate, extravagant and precisely laid out in mathematical patterns. In response, English critics agitated for a change towards a more ‘natural’ garden style.

Contrasting the French formal style, an English landscape garden is characterised by sweeping vistas across rolling lawns, creating a peaceful, park-like setting. The English landscape garden is not to be confused with the cottage garden style, with masses of uncontained annuals and perennials.

While the French favoured straight lines and symmetry, one of the hallmarks of the English landscape gardens is the movement away from geometric garden beds toward serpentine shapes. Rather than rigid, lines in the English landscape garden are curved and meandering.

Another key difference across the channel is lawn. Creating a park-like feel means a large lawn that comes right up to the house, often at the expense of a flower garden. As well as a lawn, key features of an English landscape garden include stately trees and a sense of flow between every part of the space.

The ornamentals and parterres of the French formal gardens are replaced with ponds and lakes and copses of trees to draw the eye into the distance. Plantings of varying heights, shapes and colours are used to construct lines of sight.

Lush greenery is a must in an English landscape garden. However this is obviously easier to achieve in rainy England than it is in droughtprone Australia. Water tanks can come in handy when there’s no rain to keep the garden green, or alternatively look for drought-tolerant plantings to replicate the look.

MEDITERRANEAN MARVEL

Perhaps better suited to the Australian climate is a Mediterranean-inspired garden, which is lush, inviting, and generally low-maintenance, with drought-tolerant plants. A Mediterranean garden is designed for year-round enjoyment. Capturing the summery, hedonistic feel of Spain, Italy and Greece, it’s easy to understand the appeal of a Mediterranean-inspired garden.

Contrasting the lush greenery of the English landscape style, in a Mediterranean garden, plants (soft landscaping) are secondary to the hardscape (hard landscaping). This style is defined by patios and courtyards. With an emphasis on relaxation, outdoor furniture and overhead shade are essential.

The hot, dry climate of the Mediterranean renders it unsuitable for lawns. Instead, ground surfaces are paved or covered with gravel. Durable, earthy materials like stone, concrete and ceramics are found in abundance.

Plants are hardy and drought-tolerant, often with silver-grey foliage typical of drier climates.

Citrus trees, olive trees, rosemary and lavender have grown in the Mediterranean for thousands of years and are almost essential for creating a true Mediterranean feel. These could also be complemented by Australian natives, which have the drought-tolerant capabilities necessary for this style. Shrubs, perennials, annuals, herbs and grass-like plants are also popular choices.

While earthy tones lay the foundation for this style’s colour palette, splashes of bold colour are also sometimes used, with colourful mosaic tiles or brightly painted walls. Commonly-used terracotta pots add colour to the space, while in keeping with the earthy look.
Water can be used as a feature in a Mediterranean garden, but unlike the nature-inspired ponds of the English landscape garden, these come in the form of a fountain or small courtyard pool.

In some ways, a Mediterranean garden is more about evoking a feeling than recreating a look, with the key ingredients being light, warmth, simplicity and, most importantly, relaxation.

TURNING JAPANESE

Heading east, Japanese gardens follow a similar vein as the Mediterranean style, in that they act as an antidote to the hectic pace of modern life.

Designed with quiet contemplation in mind, Japanese gardens are focused on tranquillity and harmony, imitating the natural countryside on a miniature scale.

There are four essential elements in Japanese garden design – rocks, water, plants and ornaments. When selecting and placing these elements in your own Japanese garden, it’s important to keep in mind the principles of asymmetry, enclosure, borrowed scenery, balance and symbolism.

Japanese gardens tend to be very green, with foliage, form and texture being of greater importance than flowers. For that reason, trees and evergreen plants are very common. However if colour is present, it is likely from Japan’s unofficial national flower, the cherry blossom; the leaves of the maple tree, or azalea flowers.

Additional plants that can be used to recreate the Japanese look at home include bamboo and silver birch. Japanese gardens are designed to be enjoyed year-round so the space needs to be carefully planned in order to look equally beautiful in all seasons.

Another common feature of Japanese gardens is moss, used because of its versatility and resilience. Moss is able to survive and remain green even in harsh conditions, but adequate shade is required for it to really flourish.

Unlike the fountains of the Mediterranean garden style, water in a Japanese garden is made to look natural, with ponds mimicking miniature lakes or streams. Koi ponds have also become a muchcopied element of Japanese garden design.

Sometimes a Japanese garden may not have any water features and rather, water will be represented by pebbles, stones, raked gravel or sand. Sand and pebbles are also often used as paving, while larger boulders may be scattered throughout the space. Stone is also commonly found in the form of stone lanterns, which provide the perfect finishing touch to a Japanese-inspired space.

BALI HAI

Staying in the east but heading a little closer to home, our next stop is the Indonesian island of Bali. A much-loved holiday destination for many, it’s no surprise that many Australians are inspired to create their very own tropical paradise reminiscent of Bali in their own backyard.

In a Balinese garden, plants are used to create a look of lush, tropical greenery. Foliage plants such as cordylines, palms and ferns can be complemented by aglaonema and dieffenbachia, as well as the beautiful, bright colours of heliconias and gingers. A tropical look with palms and colourful understorey planting can be achieved almost anywhere in Australia by choosing foliage plants to suit the climate.

To keep a Balinese-inspired garden lowmaintenance, choose self-cleaning palms such as bangalow or foxtail so that the fronds fall cleanly from the tree and do not require pruning.

The sound of water is used to give a Balinese garden a feeling of tranquillity and peacefulness. If a swimming pool is being incorporated, a water feature is the perfect way to add the calming sound of running water.

Perhaps the most easily-recognised Balineseinspired garden element is the much-copied Bali hut. Usually open sided with a thatched alang alang grass roof, Bali huts are great for poolside shelter. The area that the Bali hut covers can be as elaborate or as simple as you like, from simple Balinese-inspired outdoor furniture to a full-blown outdoor kitchen.

A Balinese garden will often feature statues carved from timber or stone, placed in niches or scattered among greenery. Larger sculptures are also sometimes found in the centre of the garden.

As well as sculptures, Balinese temple flags and umbrellas can also be used as features.

Like in a Japanese garden, bamboo is often used when landscaping in the Balinese style. Bamboo is not only planted, but also used as a material for fences and screens.

AUSTRALIANA

Our journey ends on home soil with Australian native gardens. This style has earned an unfair reputation for being harsh, straggly, grey and even ugly – however it is certainly possible to achieve a beautiful garden using Australian natives.

Native plants got a bad name in some people’s minds in the 1970s after mistakes in suburban gardens. This was often because little thought was given to the suitability of a particular plant to the chosen site or because low-maintenance plants were treated as maintenance-free.

Nowadays, lessons learned, when carefully chosen and placed, native plants can be used to create an enviable garden with year-round appeal not just for humans, but also birds and other animals.

A popular inclusion in a native Australian garden is the macadamia tree, with its soft pinky-white flowers among its evergreen leaves. After the flowers finish, macadamia nuts are formed, often attracting visiting cockatoos.

Another popular and widely-recognised choice is the kangaroo paw. There are many varieties available in differing heights and flower colours.

These can be complemented by wattle, grevillea, banksia and bottlebrush. One of Australia’s most admired flowers and the state floral emblem of New South Wales is the spectacular waratah, producing bright red flowers in spring and attracting a wide variety of
birds.

Native Australian garden design would not be complete without eucalyptus trees. There are more than 800 species available to create your home among the gumtrees, ranging in size from immense, single-trunk, forest trees to the multistemmed shrubs called mallees.

Sydney Water has found that gardens use up to 25 per cent of all household water. Traditionally an icon of the Australian outback, a water tank is now also a must-have in Australian gardens, creating a visual reference to the outback and allowing the garden to be maintained, even in times of water restrictions.

Whichever international style inspires you, when planning your garden it is vital to select plant species that are suited to the soils and climate.

While the species used in your favoured style may not be suitable for your backyard, the look can often still be achieved with alternative varieties.

Whether incorporating select elements of a design style or following the principles to the letter, instead of dreaming of faraway places, take inspiration from any of these unique styles to transform your outdoor space into your dream destination.

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