April 23, 2020

In the garden: California dreamin’

A style of water-wise planting discovered on an overseas holiday became the inspiration for this rambling Kingswood garden.

As you step into Simon and Kerry White’s garden, the sounds of trucks and cars from the nearby main road fade away, replaced by the chirping of birds who call the surrounding trees home. It’s a delightful, yet unexpected, oasis in a busy suburban area.

The White House has undergone a few major transformations in the 25 years it’s been owned by Simon and Kerry. The existing area was sparse, with just a few fruit trees in the back yard. The garden’s first life with the Whites was rose-heavy, but 60 bushes were ripped out years later when the drought hit. The lawn was reduced and the focus became more water-wise.

Kerry gathered ideas on tours with the South Australian Mediterranean Garden Society, of which she is a member. Kerry’s ambitions climbed to another level when she returned from a trip to California in 2017.

“I was very impressed with their mass plantings,” Kerry says. “There were not a lot of different plants, but similar plants in large groupings.”

Into Kerry’s garden went a host of grey plants — perfect for drought-tolerant gardens, and for adding an interesting layer. “They’ve become a real feature with their colour.”

The garden offers something to inspect at every turn. When visitors arrive, Kerry takes them on a tour, beginning at the same point each time. “The eye leads you around to different areas and you want to keep walking and wandering because you can’t see everything at once. It’s the expectation of what’s coming.”

The garden was taller before the last transformation, but Kerry has deliberately brought most of it closer to the ground to allow for a better borrowed view of the neighbours’ towering gums. There are still a few roses dotted about the garden, but the majority of the old plants didn’t survive the cull. That simple act has given the illusion of ample additional garden area.

Tall fountain grasses adds a stimulating element to the garden. One of Kerry’s favourite things is to sit and watch the calming movement as the breeze gently makes them sway.

Static, sculptural components of the garden also stake their claim. Leighton green cypress hedging lines the perimeter, and great and small succulents pop up everywhere.

The aim from the beginning was to have a low maintenance garden, which Kerry has managed to achieve. She doesn’t spend time and energy trying to make plants thrive if it’s not happening. “If plants don’t look after themselves, they’re out.”

There are no big gaps, because Kerry’s plants tend to spread and explore. And if stray plants pop up where she hadn’t intended them to, Kerry just takes it as a sign that it will do well there and leaves it be. “The people who aren’t gardeners don’t notice and the people who are gardeners, don’t care — so you can’t lose!”

Weeds don’t tend to be a problem because there are lots of covered plantings and the garden beds are mulched heavily in spring. While there is a certain rambling quality, there’s order in the design. Clever garden rooms have been created to best showcase all the different areas.

The Whites are able to truly sit and admire their work, with ample seating throughout the garden. There’s a formal dining area under the veranda and another dining table under the garden’s centrepiece — a giant golden elm gifted by Kerry’s sister after she held her wedding in the garden more than 20 years ago. The elm has its own seating; a bench wraps around the entire trunk for 360-degree views of the garden. Kerry’s favourite place to recline is at the back of the garden, with a book and a cup of tea as the sun rises in the morning.

From there, she has a perfect view of how Simon’s two veggie patches are coming along. There are plenty of other edibles in the garden; from fruit trees to a range of herbs.

Not all is living in the garden. Art is an important part of the landscape and holds strong family ties. One of Kerry’s three sons is a boilermaker and, together, they design pieces for the garden from metal scraps they happen upon. There’s a cross of nuts and bolts, a large chain sculpture and a piece inspired by a neighbouring tree. “He’s been overseas four of the past five years and I’d like him to come home because I’ve got some more ideas.”

A gabion wall forms an arch around a fruit tree, utilising the stone that came from an extension to the home a few years ago. The wall provides even more seating for gatherings. The warm stone mimics the gravel brought in to replace the previous bright white gravel, which Kerry says could be a bit harsh on the eye and glary on sunny days.

The nearby wetlands provide a soundtrack for the garden, and plenty of visitors too. Kerry has met ducks, koalas, bluetongues and kookaburras. Though the family’s dog Chilli ensures they don’t stay long.

This year, the Mediterranean Garden Society will travel to Greece, and while she’s thinking of going, Kerry jokes her family may not agree. “They’ll try to keep me here so I don’t get more ideas and ask for more help!”


This story first appeared in the Autumn 2019 issue of SALIFE Gardens & Outdoor Living magazine.

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