Plant / Life: Anne Atkins

Words by
Georgina Reid
| November 18, 2015

It’s easy to lament the lack of magic in urban spaces these days. Concrete, well-behaved hedges and car parks abound. While city streetscapes generally aren’t as wondrous as lovers of wild nature would like them to be, private gardens are often where the magic happens. Especially when the garden owner has a lifelong love of fairies and a fluorescent green thumb.

Anne Atkins has one such magical garden. Located on a quiet street in Fitzroy, her tiny backyard is overflowing with verdant greenery, brightly coloured annual plants, and fairies. Fairies everywhere!

Anne Atkins in her Fitzroy garden. Photo - Annette O'Brien for The Design Files x TDF
Anne Atkins in her Fitzroy garden. Photo - Annette O'Brien for The Design Files x TDF

Anne has lived in this 1850s terrace house for 16 years. When she first bought it, it had been used as a rooming house, complete with seven numbered bedrooms, one cold-water tap, no hot water, and only two power points. After completely overhauling the house, she began renovating the garden.

Anne commissioned a metal worker to make a series of steel archways running down the length of the rear yard. The property is just four meters wide – the rationale behind the arches was to make the space feel more expansive. A random cut bluestone pathway leads from a paved patio at the back of the house to the rear boundary.

‘I’m not an intellectual gardener,’ Anne admits. Her approach is to ‘mix the boys with the girls’ by planting hollyhocks and Canterbury bells in the vegetable garden, and allowing the plants to do their thing. This way the plants can self seed and spread as they wish. ‘It’s an eclectic mix,’ she says.

‘We get a lot of birds in the garden because of the birdbath. They bring seeds with them. A lot of plants have self-seeded.’

It’s a garden that keeps producing unusual things I hadn’t expected!

The metal archways were an inspired decision by Anne – not only to they help to break up the space, they also provide opportunities to hang plants from them. Like this little guy who could be a Convolvulus but I’m not 100% certain… Photo – Annette O’Brien for The Design Files.
The metal archways were an inspired decision by Anne – not only to they help to break up the space, they also provide opportunities to hang plants from them. Like this little guy who could be a Convolvulus but I’m not 100% certain… Photo – Annette O’Brien for The Design Files.
A mirror nestles amongst the foliage of a fern (Blechnum spp.) and a jasmine plant. Photo – Annette O’Brien for The Design Files.
A mirror nestles amongst the foliage of a fern (Blechnum spp.) and a jasmine plant. Photo – Annette O’Brien for The Design Files.

Anne’s garden is overflowing with fairies as well as greenery. She credits her love of them to growing up in the bush in Western Australia. ‘I got to know the fairies very well when I was a child in the bush. Now they’re in my garden and my house. They’re everywhere.’ Anne has actually made a living from fairies – she opened Australia’s first fairy shop, called Wonder Wings in 1990, and has since helped others open similar businesses all across the country!

Anne’s biggest challenge in the garden has been ensuring good colour and growth on both sides of the space. As the garden runs east–west, one side gets plenty of sun, while the other doesn’t. She thinks she’s finally nailed it, through trial and error, and with help from a few of her plastic friends. ‘We need colour in winter as well, you know! I have some fake tiger lilies and a banana plant, you wouldn’t tell it from a real one,’ she says with a laugh. ‘It’s all tongue in cheek, it’s good fun.’

Anne absolutely loves her garden. ‘I love the way everything grows over the archways. I love the hanging baskets. I love that it changes all the time. I’m totally besotted by this garden. I have a dear little dog and he loves it too.’

Anne Atkins garden is open on the 21st and 22nd of November as part of Open Gardens Victoria, a new state not-for-profit organisation taking the place of the recently closed Open Gardens Australia. Find out more about Anne’s garden opening hours, address, and entry fee here.

Huge double story windows look out onto the garden from the rear of Anne’s home. ‘I find gardening terribly therapeutic. Half an hour in the garden every few days would benefit everyone.’ Right on, Anne. Photo – Annette O’Brien for The Design Files.
Huge double story windows look out onto the garden from the rear of Anne’s home. ‘I find gardening terribly therapeutic. Half an hour in the garden every few days would benefit everyone.’ Right on, Anne. Photo – Annette O’Brien for The Design Files.
A bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae) flower against a backdrop of creeping fig (Ficus pumila). Photo – Annette O’Brien for The Design Files x TPH
A bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae) flower against a backdrop of creeping fig (Ficus pumila). Photo – Annette O’Brien for The Design Files x TPH
A cute cutlery wind chime. Photo – Annette O’Brien for The Design Files.
A cute cutlery wind chime. Photo – Annette O’Brien for The Design Files.
A fairy in the bird bath, framed by the blooms of a Begonia. Photo – Annette O’Brien for The Design Files.
A fairy in the bird bath, framed by the blooms of a Begonia. Photo – Annette O’Brien for The Design Files.

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