Overlooking a waterway in the historic Newcastle suburb Tighes Hill, The Watershed is a contemporary house complemented by a garden which announces its creators’ love of the natural environment in all its forms. In just 3 years, an almost-bare block has been transformed into a haven for people, birds and animals. This garden integrates beauty, elegance, restraint and sophistication, into a distinctive aesthetic which reflects the owners’ values and lifestyle.
“Before” photos- vacant block, 2014; beginnings of the east garden, 2015
East garden, 2017
On entering the front gate, the visitor is irresistibly attracted by a meandering pathway leading to a secluded corner and an inviting bench seat made from a gabion basket. The bench is often decorated with a display of natural “found” objects – wood, stone, sculptural fallen plants- which enhance and add points of detailed interest. Towering trees form a shady canopy and maintain seclusion. The casuarinas whisper in the breeze. When visiting, I’m always compelled to take a sneaky detour, to enjoy the visual delight of this part of the garden, before I ring the front door bell.
Beautiful bleached remnant flowering body of a palm tree
This part of the garden evokes balance, harmony and tranquillity, largely due to the well- considered plant selection, and is enhanced by glimpses of water through the foliage and beyond the fence line.
The selection of plant varieties has been approached holistically. Flowers are generally subtle and subordinate to the colour, form and habit of the foliage. All plants have at least two significant attributes- such as striking or contrasting foliage, interesting or distinctive flowers or seed heads, coloured berries, and attractiveness to insects and birds. This ensures that the garden maintains interest and integrity in all seasons, even when there are few plants in flower.
There are two main “ornamental” gardens which wrap around the front and sides of the house, in addition to raised vegetable gardens at the rear of the block. The ornamental plants are overwhelmingly Australian natives.
Xanthorrhoea (“grass tree”)
The East garden colours are dominantly red and green, enlivened in late winter with flourishing crimson red kangaroo paw and heliconia. These flowers are in dynamic contrast with the various colours and shapes of the greenery- wispy and strappy grasses, tall lime-green sword-shaped leaves of the crinums, diminutive native violets carpeting the spaces between the larger plants and spilling out onto the paving stones.
Clockwise from above: New Zealand Christmas Bush “Pohutukawa” (Metrosideros), ornamental ginger, prostrate Grevillea
Heliconia angusta ‘Red Christmas’
On the western side of the block there’s a more subdued mauve-blue-pink garden. Here there are small, delicate rose-coloured tea trees growing beneath three tall blueberry ash. There are lime green rafts of erigeron, with its delicate ferny leaf structure and pale blue daisy-like flowers, spherical specimens of the hardy grey-green leafed westringia (“coast rosemary”) and clumps of strappy leafed dianella with its deep blue and yellow flowers and bright blue berries.
Erigeron and native violets
Blueberry ash and dianella
Tea tree and blueberry ash berries
The garden continues outside the fence, adjacent to the footpath along the waterway. Here there’s a variety of land and water birds and an abundance of passing people, cats and dogs. Many kinds of grevilleas, bottlebrush and melaleuca provide nourishment for native birds and insects, and a water bowl is kept filled to refresh thirsty dogs.
Grevillea, native grass
Casuarina in flower, laden with pollen
Insects and birds are welcomed and celebrated.
Clockwise from left: Cotton harlequin bug with a clutch of eggs, hover fly, mantis
Net casting spider web, pink flowering Brachychiton
Huxley the vigilant cat, gabion basket bench
I thank my friends Anne and Bruce for allowing me to photograph and write about their beautiful and inspiring garden. I have learned a great deal from studying their plant selections. The garden will be spectacular in a few years’ time, when all these relatively young plants will have grown and flourished under the thoughtful stewardship of two creative gardeners.