Living

Step into an artistic Sydney courtyard from new book The Gardens of Eden

Reinvented as a living gallery, this innovative and eco outdoor space has an architectural effect.

When confronted with a client’s request to transform the dark and dreary entryway of their new home, Jane Stark of Sydney’s Stark Design took the challenge one step further. In lieu of ornamental flowers or traditional landscaping, her response was to create a living sculpture garden. 

MAIN IMAGE Cacti and succulents welcome visitors at the door, including prickly pear and Super Pedro, African candelabra and grassy Lomandra confertifolia rubiginosa Crackerjack. ABOVE For the Superba Courtyard Garden, artificial turf was selected over grass due to the lack of soil, and as part of the approach to reduce the amount of water needed to maintain the space. Drainage cells underneath the turf also reduce the overall environmental footprint.

The entryway floats on a suspended concrete slab supported by a timber frame creating shallow soil. Given the due-north exposure and Sydney’s hot, arid climate, Jane elected to work with plants that could achieve an architectural effect and also thrive in these growing conditions.
“We wanted a bold plant palette that shone at night as well as during the day,” she says. “Leaf shape and colour were important, given the lack of flowers. Shadow play of the leaf shapes was also a design criterion.” 

From the original entryway, Jane kept a narrow-leafed bottle tree native to the area and added a second to “give the garden gravitas” and provide shade. She dotted the garden with drought-tolerant, low-maintenance native shrubs and international imports that thrive in shallow soil, as well as cacti and succulents. A low planter made of Corten steel replaced a masonry planter.
Jane’s design choices were also informed by the desire to mitigate stormwater run-off and reduce the amount of additional watering needed. By reducing the hard surfaces with floating precast concrete platforms and increasing the surface area of the beds, rainwater can be naturally absorbed back in. Drainage cells were also placed underneath the artificial turf, which direct rainwater into storage tanks under the house for redistribution to the home’s lower gardens.

ABOVE This bottle tree (far right), which takes its name from the distinct shape of its trunk, is a leading focal element, surrounded by Senecio palinodes Ice Sticks.

Plant choice, cast concrete, and Corten steel create Jane’s vision of a living sculpture garden — and some of her smart choices can be considered when planning your own. Try mixing statement plants with low shrubs and groundcover to create contrast. Think through leaf shape and colour when opting for a limited palette, and consider the effect natural or artificial lighting will have, treating your plants like works of art and lighting your garden like a gallery.   

Edited extract from The Gardens of Eden: New Residential Garden Concepts and Architecture for a Greener Planet co-edited by Abbye Churchill (Gestalten, $120). 

Words Abbye Churchill
Photography Brigid Arnott