‘It’s really special to me, this garden,’ says garden designer Sharon Harris. ‘It’s making has been a gorgeous ebb and flow between myself and the owners.’ The garden she’s referring to is one she’s tended for the last 25 years, from the very early days of her design career to the present. Its beauty is the clear result of Sharon’s talent and vision, and her client’s unwavering dedication to the evolution of the garden.
Located in Eaglemont, in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, the property is part of Mount Eagle Estate – a subdivision originally designed by Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin in 1914. When the owners bought it in 1992, there were already a number of established trees in the garden – lending the space a sense of timelessness, as well as influencing the direction of the design.
The garden has been developed over many years. There was no grand design masterplan but a series of interventions – some big, some small – in response to the changing needs and desires of the client. ‘This garden is all about longevity,’ Sharon tells me. ‘Its success lies in staying the course. It’s about constantly adding to and fine tuning.’
There are a series of different spaces within the garden, each with a different aspect and microclimate, allowing for a wide variety of plant types to be used.
Framed by mature copper beech (Fagus sylvatica), liquidamber (Liquidambar styraciflua), atlas cedar, the woodland garden features broad swathes of planting – designed to contrast texturally rather than florally. There’s liriope (Liriope muscari), Korean box (Buxus microphylla var microphylla), with curvaceous gravel pathways winding between the beds.
The pool garden is a bit younger than the neighbouring woodland – it’s around 15 years old and showcases a loose and sculptural planting of ornamental grasses including Miscanthus sinensis ‘Sarabande’, Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’, and the incredible Miscanthus giganteus, which reaches a whopping three metres tall!
Then there’s the succulents at the other end of the pool; Sharon has incorporated all sorts of interesting drought tolerant plants into this space, and her client has been more than happy to oblige her experimentation. ‘My client has always been willing to be adventurous,’ she tells me, ‘We often go on plant buying visits together.’
‘This garden is very different to a lot of other designed spaces,’ Sharon says. ‘Yes, it started on paper, but it’s evolved as a result of conversations between myself and the owner.’ This is a wonderful thing. From my experience, without consistent dialogue between a designer and a client, the integrity of a garden design can easily be compromised.
Whilst its important that a client takes on ownership of a space, the gentle hand of a designer can help steer the ship – guiding a client towards the best reflection of themselves within their garden space.
Gardens can, however, feel too designed – the hand of the designer may be clearly visible, but the heart of the owner is nowhere to be seen. This garden is a brilliant example of the magic that can occur as a result of a long-term creative partnership between owner and designer.
‘I feel immense pleasure being in this garden,’ Sharon says. ‘But I never feel that it’s mine. Everything in it is a result of the relationship I have with the clients. Ultimately the garden is fully theirs and I’m just lucky to be involved.’
The lush, green woodland garden. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.
Sharon and her team visit the garden every two weeks to maintain it. A few years back Sharon suggested to the clients they get bees. So they did! Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.
A double row of pleached pears (Pryus spp.) underplanted with hedges of box leaf privet (Ligustrum undulatum) separates the pool area from the house. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.
Aloe x spinosissima. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.
The woodland garden features curvaceous masses of textural foliage plants. The rusted metal eagle sculpture is by Tasmanian artist Folko Kooper. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.
The strong geometric lines of the pool are softened by abundant, textural plantings of perennials and grasses such as Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ and Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.
Sculpture is an integral, and often surprising, element of the garden. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.
‘I feel immense pleasure, being in this garden. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be involved in it for so long,’ says garden designer Sharon Harris. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.
The sculptural form of fan aloe (Aloe plicatilis) provides structure in the succulent garden. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.
Sharon Harris in the garden. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.