Success in designing small-space gardens generally requires restraint. So my usual mantra is ‘less is more’. But when it came to Sean Cook’s garden we went in the opposite direction. Sean’s brief was loose but it was clear he wanted an urban jungle to balance his new, sleek renovation.
In his work as one of Sydney’s leading florists, Sean has his pick of the choicest blooms at his fingertips. So in contrast, his garden oasis is about foliage in all its contrasting shapes, textures and tones. We chose plants with strappy, sword-like, architectural, tiny or massive leaves in colours of grey, green and gold in a rich and layered planting scheme.
Sean had requested a pond and a mirrored back wall and our response was a contemporary, rectilinear mirror set behind a small pond. The mirror lends extra depth to the garden and reflects it from various angles. In front of the pond we installed large organic-shaped, blue stone stepping stones and surrounded them with a planting of kidney weed (Dichondra repens).
The funky but stark minimalist interiors created by Burley Katon Halliday flowed outside, in the form of polished concrete flooring and wide steps. Against this we brought together a range of performance plants with strong textures and forms to soften the lines and envelop the space with planty magic.
The boundary walls were greened up with creeping fig (Ficus pumila) and planted with mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata) with a pendulous, succulent-leafed night-flowering cactus (Epiphyllum sp.).
In the borders around the paving we planted the shade-loving groundcover Plectranthus ciliatus, which has purple-backed leaves and dainty spires of lilac-tinged flowers in autumn, as well as its cousin from the Australian rainforest, Plectranthus argentatus, which is one of the few silver-leafed plants that grows well in shade. We added dwarf cardamom, Alpinia nutans, which has deliciously fragrant foliage, Philodendron ‘Congo’, and the graceful Brazilian walking iris, Neormarica caerula.
To add another layer of interest we paired Sean’s splendid collection of unique old pots and hero pieces that he’d bought from us over the years with interesting plant choices. Next, a huge staghorn went up on one of the boundary walls.
That left just one more thing. An existing gum made a lovely natural canopy over the dining area, and was the perfect spot for a final bit of fun – a disco mirrorball!