Plant/Life: The Eckersleys
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.
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!