Plant/Life: Chris Cobbett & Family
It’s not every day you come across someone who loves plants so much they buy the vacant block next door to their home, knock down the dividing fence and build a garden. This is exactly what Chris Cobbett and his partner Jonathan Cebon have done. They definitely seem like my kind of folk!
Chris and Jonathan have lived in this house in Melbourne’s Clifton Hill since 1980. They bought the block next door a number of years ago, and in 2005 they started planning the garden. They engaged the help of landscape designers Rick Eckersley and Myles Broad of Eckersly Garden Architecture to design the space, and in 2006 the garden was built.
At the front of the block stands a tall metal pavilion, with star jasmine growing over it. This structure provides a sense of scale next to Chris and Jonathan’s two storey terrace next door, and also works as a sort of ‘destination’ within the garden, creating a designated seating area from which to sit and enjoy the view beyond. A pathway of huge bluestone steppers connects an entertaining area at the rear of the house with this purpose built structure.
Nestled at the rear of the garden is a large vegetable patch and a very special ironbark tree, given to the couple around 20 years ago, posthumously, by their friend Barrett Reid, who was a close acquaintance of John and Sunday Reed, and lived at Heide after their deaths in 1981. Barrett promised Chris and Jonathan an ironbark seedling, and had propagated it for them, but ended up sadly passing away before having the chance to pass it on. The tree is now around 10 metres tall, and serves as a daily reminder of Chris and Jonathan’s dearly departed friend.
One of the great successes of this garden is the careful balance between structure and softness. While the lines of the design are quite strong and angular, the softness of the planting and the irregular bluestone steppers weaving through the garden create a real sense of groundedness. The space has a strong and modern energy, yet it feels warm, inviting, and so well loved.
Wherever a beautiful garden exists, you usually find a designated gardener in the household, and in this case, Chris the passionate plant man. This garden is his pride and joy. He says:
The garden is absolutely my passion. It’s what I have always wanted. I love the act of gardening. The digging, the smell of the earth, the plants.
Chris has maintained and built on his family’s beautiful outdoor space over the past 8 years since it was first planted. He spends much of his spare time in the garden, weeding, pruning, and planting. Everything that comes off the garden gets put back on the soil as mulch, in conjunction with compost and Lucerne hay. ‘I just chop the prunings up and put them back onto the garden. My elderly mother who lives down the street hates it. She thinks it looks like rubbish!’
This is how it goes in Chris’ garden. The natural cycles of the plant world are respected, and plants are left to live out their lives in fullness (within reason, of course!). He says, ‘I like things to grow and stay and die and decay. Like the artichokes, for example. They’re still there at the end of autumn, looking like dried out old sticks. They are just so beautiful.’
At its best, landscape design can be a really powerful tool. It can translate the client’s needs and desires into an outdoor space that is both functional and beautiful. But design can only go so far – the hard work is often done after the garden is built and planted.
The real magic happens when the client understands the aesthetic vision of the designer, and is keen to get their hands dirty nurturing it and making it their own, as Chris has done here. As a landscape designer, it’s a joy to see a garden so well maintained and well loved, almost 10 years after it was first designed. Exemplary work, Chris and Jonathan!
This story was produced in collaboration with The Design Files.