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A Landscape Designer's Own Ever-Changing Garden!

GardensA Landscape Designer's Own Ever-Changing Garden!

There is something rather magical about the gardens landscape designer Kathleen Murphy creates. Balancing refined landscaped areas, with robust, textural layers of plants that appear as though they might have always been there, these are spaces which expertly complement the dwellings they surround. They’re gardens to be lived in, not just looked at.

We chat with the Irish-born, Gisborne-based landscape designer about her most personal project yet – her own studio garden!

Hey Kathleen! We really love the gardens you make. What are the key aspects you consider when approaching a new project?

Firstly I like to understand what the client is looking for and what their needs are.  

Secondly,  I like to link the house to the wider landscape where possible, taking into account views from each window ensuring your eye is always directed out into the garden. This then informs the design and its key accent lines and features.  

Thirdly it’s essential to link the architecture of the home to the landscape. I do this by using a similar colour palette in hard landscaping materials, like in the choice of paving, or in soft furnishings like outdoor furniture or pots.

Structural elements of the garden may draw on certain architectural lines of the house. I aim to have a harmonious conversation between the house and landscape, each complementing and enhancing the other.

Are there any major inspirations, references or plants that influence your designs?

The subtle hues and textures of Australian natives. I am drawn to soft greys, greens and purples as base colours – they seem to work well in the Australian light. Natural materials like rock, gravel, timber and water feature heavily in most designs, as do curves and asymmetry – however, an overriding theme is balance.

We try and design gardens that are unique, that feel special and engage clients with their gardens, inspiring them to be out in nature.

What kind of feeling/environment were you trying to create with this project – your own studio garden? 

My vision for my own garden was to frame the amazing view we have of the Macedon Ranges and to nestle the studio into the landscape. I designed the garden as much from what it looked like inside the house, looking out onto the garden. The steppers across the billabong have been positioned so that they can be seen from the kitchen sink!

This garden is essentially a family garden, catering to three kids with bikes, footballs and random running all over plants! Everything is tough, and drought and frost hardy. If it doesn’t survive, it doesn’t get replanted! I use this garden as a place to experiment with plants before I use them in other projects, hence it never looks the same and is always changing. Clients get to see first hand what some of the plants I am suggesting look like, and how they behave.

What are some of the key materials and plants you used here? 

The key plants are native grasses, such as Lomandra species, as they look good all year round and are low maintenance. I have used clumps of succulents and shrubs, like clipped Westringia and prostrate Rosemary, for texture.

Adding colour is often done in my garden through the use of perennial plantings, which require more maintenance and need to be cut back in winter, however, I just love the Verbena bonariensis, Salvia nemorosa and Pervoskia their purple hues which work well with soft muted greens and greys.

What was the most challenging part of this project, and how did you overcome it?

The most challenging part of the project was actually building the billabong. The sourcing of clay and rocks was difficult. The placement of materials required very large machinery to come through the garden without damaging areas already well established.  We overcame this by co-ordinating deliveries and aspects of the build to reduce the impact, and moved lots of river pebbles by hand so the finished result meant you couldn’t see where the machines had been.

Landscape designer Kathleen Murphy and her family in their ever-changing garden. Photo – Marnie Hawson.


Kathleen has designed over 300 gardens in 14 years! Photo – Marnie Hawson.


With the help of local handymen Matt Davies and Geoff Hines, Kathleen brought the studio she designed to life. Photo – Marnie Hawson.


Robust native grasses, along with succulents and shrubs are key to Kathleen Murphy’s studio garden. Photo – Marnie Hawson.


The garden captures a spectacular view of the Macedon Ranges. Photo – Marnie Hawson.


A garden to be lived in! Photo – Marnie Hawson.


Kathleen created a billabong running through the garden! Photo – Marnie Hawson.


Photo – Marnie Hawson.


The subtle hues and textures of Australian natives are constant references for Kathleen. Photo – Marnie Hawson.


Playful areas abound in Kathleen’s garden. Photo – Marnie Hawson.


Pink roses in the garden. Photo – Marnie Hawson.


Kathleen incorporates soft furnishing elements like outdoor furniture and pots into the balance of her design. Photo – Marnie Hawson.


A magical corner of the garden. Photo – Marnie Hawson.


‘We try and design gardens that are unique, that feel special and engage clients with their gardens, inspiring them to be out in nature’ says Kathleen. Photo – Marnie Hawson.


Photo – Marnie Hawson.

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