January 27, 2023

The lie of the land

Socialising and sanctuary are high on the list of wants when it comes to our gardens, according to these top South Australian landscape designers.

An outdoor space designed by Lee Gray, using plants she “knows and loves”.

Lee Gray
Lee Gray Landscape Design
What garden trends have you noticed recently?
With everyone at home more over the past two years, clients are wanting their gardens to be more than a showpiece. Garden spaces are being utilised not only to complement the home, but to create a relaxing sanctuary to bring back memories of family, holidays and good times.

What plant choices are in vogue at the moment?
Japanese box clipped into spheres and flowering infills such as jasmine ground cover are always popular. Dichondra looks great and also helps to soften the spaces between paving and stepping stones. For dense, shaded garden areas, the tractor seat plant is currently in vogue due to its unique leaf shape and lush appearance. Clients are also requesting lifestyle plants such as lemons and limes to accompany food and beverages.

Do your designs share a visual signature?
My planting palette consists of plants I know and trust, which can be used in a variety of styles and configurations. Most of my designs involve incorporating a tree canopy and a series of layered underplantings. For example, around a pool area I may use a hedge of magnolias accompanied by shrubs and groundcovers. I also aim to reflect the personality of the owner within each design by highlighting unique areas of the garden, drawing the eye to features special to the client.

Do you think Adelaide’s gardens have a particular style?
Adelaide’s Mediterranean climate inspires people to install pools, alfresco areas, and cool, shaded lawns. The ability to enjoy the outdoors year-round encourages owners to create lush, calm and peaceful spaces that reflect Adelaide’s relaxed lifestyle.

Lee says people are spending more time at home and want their gardens to be relaxing sanctuaries.
Lee Gray’s designs include plants she “knows and trusts” that reflect the owner’s personality.
Lee’s pool landscaping includes hedging, shrubs and ground cover.


Tim Keenihan
Tim K Gardens
What garden trends have you noticed recently?
The pandemic has certainly adjusted people’s views of how important their personal garden space is. Some have been completely re-landscaped or tended to a lot more!
Trends that are becoming more evident are more diverse planting choices and more intricate design. Less space has meant those spaces need to have multiple uses. Curves are cool, as is “growing your own” vegetables and herbs, and I’m a big supporter of this. I’m currently working on a venture with charitable organisation KickStart for Kids in SA and plan to help create an interactive space for kids to learn to grow their own food.

What plant choices are in vogue at the moment?
Diversity in planting has seen the arrival of hardier perennials such as sage, salvia and grasses, and edible plants plotted into beds – not only for their beautiful colour, but as great additions to lunch and dinner. Buxus, lilly pilly, murraya and viburnum are still very staple additions.

Do your designs share a visual signature?
I think in some form there will always be an encouragement to grow food intertwined through part of any garden I design. So many plants are edible and beautiful. The other key is pollination. We must make sure we provide a habitat for all insects to thrive and survive, so I encourage plenty of perennials and natives and I always plant trees to reduce temperatures. In a world where every human being must reduce their carbon footprint, growing your own is not only better for your health, it is an education for children and helps our environment by dropping each person’s carbon footprint.

Do you think Adelaide gardens have a particular style?
Well-designed Adelaide gardens always have a well measured approach to trees and shade. There is a tendency to have less lawn and more garden these days, which means less constant maintenance and more of an environment for nature to flourish in whatever space we have.

Tim Keenihan and a recent garden he completed in Rose Park. Curves, edible plants and shade are all important components of Tim’s designs.
The changing colours of another garden created by Tim, who says well designed gardens have a measured approach to trees and shade.


David Baptiste
David Baptiste Garden Design
What garden trends have you noticed recently?
The tendency now is for spaces that are less rigid and formal with garden beds that blend more seamlessly into the hardscape of paving and decking. We find we are using more curves and softer lines, generous steps and much softer planting beds. Fire pits and vegetable gardens are more popular and, overall, we find that gardens are being used more thoughtfully and purposefully now, perhaps as they are getting smaller.

What plant choices are in vogue at the moment?
Clients don’t mind much brighter combinations of leaf form and flower colour, and there is far less resistance to the use of Australian natives. Cloud-pruned trees are also very popular, as are grouped plantings of balled buxus, westringia and pretty well anything else that will form well. Grasses are more common now as they’re easy to grow, do well in massed clumps and provide a delicate movement in the breeze.
After everyone rediscovered agave and yucca a few years back and then realised why we stopped using them, new varieties and older forms of cacti and succulents are being used both within the garden or as potted specimens, with great results.

Do you think Adelaide gardens have a particular style?
I was living in Sydney but moved to Adelaide decades ago after finding my life partner and new home here. I arrived here in January, so my first impression was the dry heat, gravel verges and ash trees. Most gardens of that era were based on the eastern states with birch, English box, camellia, pittosporum and the standout iceberg rose.
I think we’ve come a long way since then, we’ve embraced being South Australian and I feel it is being well represented in the way new homes are built, and older homes are being renovated and extended and combined with complementary outdoor spaces and gardens.
We embrace the long dry summers and cold winters with open fires, dining and barbecuing outside, swimming pools, roof and vine covered alfrescos and clever dry-tolerant plantings that appear green and lush. Adelaide’s garden design style is ever changing in a good way, and I feel we are finding our own look.

David, who moved to Adelaide from Sydney.
The different zones of David’s designs include “garden rooms”
A secret garden for the kids, complete with cubby house.
One of David’s stunning back yard designs – a former tennis court which was transformed into a space for year round enjoyment.
A home in Unley, where David says he played around with levels.


Dale Smith
Prestigious Gardens / Design by Dale
What garden trends have you noticed recently?
From my experience people are wanting to bring the garden closer to the home, to be immersed in and surrounded by it. It’s not just about being aesthetically pleasing, but more about organic structures and soft-scaping, less heavy hardscapes.

What plant choices are in vogue at the moment?
I get a lot of reference pictures from clients and at the moment these are mostly contemporary style plants – simple and minimalistic. Some examples are ligularia, foxtail fern, buxus, raphiiolepis, trachelospermum, dichondra, ornamental grasses and arthropodiums.

Do your designs share a visual signature?
I design gardens with soft edges and a loose, less structured transition from the organic to hard surfaces. My designs are driven by the client’s wants and needs, while also incorporating my expertise and knowledge to ensure the longevity of the finished product. Ensuring the use of climate-appropriate plants and locally-sourced materials is key to this.

Do you think Adelaide gardens have a particular style?
If I were to name a style, it would be a blend of Mediterranean, modern and contemporary with a natural feel – natural meaning lots of curves and soft edges, not so many harsh lines and materials. People are also wanting more contemplative and socially interactive spaces, such as sitting areas with firepits, pools and comfortable dining areas. I think this really reflects the current state of the world, with everyone spending more time at home.

Dale Smith says people are now wanting their gardens closer to the home, creating a more immersive experience.
Dale’s plant choices are driven by what the client wants to achieve, as well as what is appropriate for the local climate.
This design reflects the current trend for more contemplative and socially active spaces in the garden.


Nadia Matijevic
Adelaide Garden Design
What garden trends have you noticed recently?
There’s been a greater demand for more hard surfaces and built form because many people with busy lifestyles want low-maintenance gardens that offer spaces to relax and entertain outdoors. We are designing more pavilions with well-appointed outdoor kitchens, often in conjunction with a swimming pool or spa. For these elements to be complementary, we ensure good functional flow and a sense of visual cohesion. Shady pergolas for alfresco dining are still a popular option and incorporating a stunning selection of trees and plants helps to soften the extent of hardscape. 

What plant choices are in vogue at the moment?
Plants with a strong architectural presence, clipped topiary and soft contrasting foliage. We design low maintenance gardens featuring wonderful combinations of evergreen species that juxtapose with grasses and low-forming ground covers to provide textural interest to great effect. Various shades of green, grey and silver can provide year-round interest. Including some flower colour and autumn foliage in the design provides fantastic seasonal impact. 

Do your designs share a visual signature?
We consciously do not have a distinct visual signature, but to design gardens that are client driven, site specific and environmentally responsible. We respond to our clients’ needs, their lifestyle and architecture to create an amazing but tranquil space that will enrich their lives. We ensure that each garden, be it a courtyard, a balcony, a country estate or a coastal garden in either contemporary or classic style, will look and feel fantastic throughout the year with no aesthetic down time.

Do you think Adelaide gardens have a particular style?
Adelaide gardens are an eclectic mix of styles but often comprise a Mediterranean plant palette, which suits South Australian conditions and visually sits well in the local environment. Lawns are ever-popular for cooling and in the outer fire prone areas they can double as a fire break. Shade is integral to the success of outdoor living in SA. We have a wonderful variety of living and built shade options, also heating choices, including fire pits, creating a pleasant microclimate for outdoor living.

Landscape designer Nadia Matijevic, who says her gardens look and feel fantastic across the seasons.
Two of Nadia’s designs, which show soft plantings and shady trees with built forms. “Shade is integral to the success of outdoor living in SA,” she says.


This article first appeared in the May 2022 issue of SALIFE magazine.

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