Plant/Life: The Eckersleys

Words by
Georgina Reid
Images by
Eve Wilson
| June 18, 2014

This garden in the Melbourne suburb of Surrey Hills is a real family affair. Owned by Ross and Ann-Maree Eckersley, it was designed by Ross’s brother Rick, of Eckersley Garden Architecture fame, in 1989. Ross and Rick also work together, as co-owners of Eco Outdoor, a company specialising in the supply of exterior products such as paving, walling and outdoor furniture. I guess it’s no surprise then, that they have created such a beautiful, timeless garden at Ross’s family home in Surrey Hills, with their combined design flair and outdoor know-how.

Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) grows along the top of the verandah, whilst a row of hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) underplanted with Periwinkle (Vinca minor) create a sense of separation between the driveway and house. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files and Georgina Reid/The Planthunter.
An Eco Outdoor sofa sits on a simple paved platform with brick detailing. A silver foliaged euphorbia (Euphorbia spp.) creates colour contrast within the garden bed, and the lush crimson glory vine (Vitis coignetiae) growing over the arbour provides a sense of seclusion. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files and Georgina Reid/The Planthunter.

When it was designed 25 years ago, part of the brief for this garden was to accommodate Ross and Ann-Maree’s three young boys – Tom, Will, and Lewie. ‘We wanted space for them to play and explore. A cubby house, swing and sandpit were included, as was a grass area for tumbling and kicking the footy. As the children grew, a trampoline and basketball ring were incorporated into the garden,’ says Ann-Maree. The cubby house, trampoline and sand pit were eventually removed when the boys outgrew them, creating space for outdoor dining, relaxation and rest, rather than childhood pursuits. In response to 10 years of drought, many of the plantings here have also been updated over time – water hungry plants have been replaced with dry tolerant plants, and grass has been replaced with gravel.

One of the most wonderful things about gardens is that they’re in a constant state of flux – changing every minute of every single day. This aspect of change and evolution brings a richness (and challenge!) to the pursuit of gardening, which is unlike any other. Nurturing a garden for 25 years must be such a brilliant lesson in patience and adaptability, and hugely rewarding for Ross and Ann-Maree to see the space grow, change, and mature as the years roll on.

Ross and Ann-Maree share gardening duties, although Ann-Maree says it’s really not too much work at all. ‘Believe it or not, because the garden is so well planted, it is quite low maintenance. All we really do is seasonal weeding, cutting back, mulching and watering when required’, she says.

For Ross and Ann-Maree, being outdoors is a a way of life. Their garden is a natural extension of their home, offering both a calming sanctuary, as well as a versatile outdoor space for family and social gatherings.

The garden is an oasis for us’ says Ann-Maree. ‘It has a meditative effect, we feel relaxed and immediately calm as we step outside the back door. There is nothing more pleasurable for us that to gather with family and friends and enjoy good food and company here.

Good garden design is so much more than simply creating a pretty outdoor space. At it’s core, designing a great garden is really about understanding and working with change rather than against it, to create a dynamic outdoor space. It is also about providing structure – a framework within which plants can do what plants generally do – grow, mature, reproduce, and die. The longevity of this Melbourne garden is a real testament to the timelessness of good garden design, as well as great gardening. Those Eckersleys are quite a team!

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Informal gravel pathways meander through the garden. The planting is a mix of drought tolerant plants such as the purple foliaged Chinese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii ‘superba’), rusty red flowers of Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, and the strappy foliage of butterfly iris (Dietes iridioides). A tall NZ Cabbage Tree (Cordyline australis) punctuates the space. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files and Georgina Reid/The Planthunter.
Ross and Ann-Maree in their Surrey Hills garden. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files and Georgina Reid/The Planthunter.
Meandering gravel pathways connect different spaces within the garden. Spiny matt rush (Lomandra longifolia) provides a low maintenance filler plant, contrasting with the dark carpet-like clumps of mondo grass (Ophipogon japonicum). Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files and Georgina Reid/The Planthunter.
The silver blue foliage of the Mexican Lily (Beschornaria yuccoides) provides a bold contrast to the soft, dark foliage of the crimson glory vine (Vitis coignetiae) covering the arbour. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files and Georgina Reid/The Planthunter.
An Eco Outdoor sofa sits on a simple paved platform with brick detailing. A silver foliaged euphorbia (Euphorbia spp.) creates colour contrast within the garden bed, and the lush crimson glory vine (Vitis coignetiae) growing over the arbour provides a sense of seclusion. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files and Georgina Reid/The Planthunter.
Gravel has replaced lawn in this garden, making for a low maintenance, less water hungry garden. The outdoor setting provides the perfect spot for summer meals in the garden. The Chinese tallow tree (Sapium sebiferum), to the left of the gravel area, will grow to provide summer shade and autumn colour. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files and Georgina Reid/The Planthunter.
A lounge chair from Eco Outdoor sits amongst informal planting. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files and Georgina Reid/The Planthunter.
Textural contrast in the garden. The spikes of a Yucca (Yucca filamentosa) balance the fine dark foliage of an English box (Buxus sempervirens), and the leafy green of the crimson glory vine (Vitis coignetiae). Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files and Georgina Reid/The Planthunter.

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