This is a south facing, steep bush block on the banks of the Yarra River in the inner-city suburb of Fairfield. A number of external spaces have been designed to make this native garden habitable. They are strung along a winding path that leads to the banks of the river.
The objective was to achieve a beautiful native garden that could be used by creating a number of destinations. The garden needed to feel like an extension of the Yarra River corridor. The design accommodates Summer and Winter experiences; it lures you from the comfort of the house into the Australian bush.
Eight years ago this steeply sloped 2650 square metre block was run ragged with weeds, snakes, rubbish and foxes. Three years of hand-clearing revealed the line of the land; the top half bare whilst the river corridor is home to established eucalypts, casuarinas and grevilleas. The new native garden that connects the house to the Yarra River has a winding path that link 5 main destinations: viewing deck, swimming pool, fireplace, boat store and campfire and finally the river pier. Residents now inhabit this site through all seasons. This is a place to escape city life for full bush immersion.
Strong geometry is used to create the form of these ‘destinations’. The pool is a circle surrounded by Castlemaine slate, at its centre the water is deep and chemical free. A stone bridge separates plants from swimmers. The pool’s colour was carefully selected to compliments the river bush palette. It is more pond when not in use, reflecting surrounding trees and overhead cloud. The fireplace is located closer to the river than the house. It is positioned so as to be ‘discovered’ or ‘stumbled upon’, much like a rural ruin.
It was a simple brief: ‘the location needed to be celebrated and amplified’. Designing destinations in a garden allow people to inhabit rather than just pass through. This is a garden you can get lost and spend the day in.
None of this would have been possible without close collaboration of Sam Cox Landscape and Natural Swimming Pools Australia. Sam Cox was apprenticed as a young man to the late Gordon Ford. His skill at rock placements and knowledge of Australian native plants unifies the entire site. The pool was an experiment. Wayne Zwar worked to adapt the Biotop natural pool to this circular form on a steep hill. It uses plants to clean the water. Swimming in this pool feels like being in a clean river; the water is soft and refreshing. The local birds seem to agree.
This native Australian garden was designed to disappear into its riverside surroundings. Indigenous Yarra corridor shrubs and grasses, propagated by VINC, do the job nature designed them to do; bind and protect the river bank system. The many other varied grasses, shrubs, ground covers and trees are now home to insects, lizards, snakes, possums and birds. There were no irrigation systems installed. The garden gets a drink when it rains. The swimming pool technology is the most interesting example of innovation in terms on environmental sustainability.