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  • Sarah McLauchlan

Crafting Your Garden Sanctuary: A Garden Design Journey

My Personal Subtropical Garden Design Odyssey


As a professional garden designer embarking on a new life chapter, the transition from a temperate to a subtropical climate fills me with a blend of excitement and challenges. Nestled within the embrace of my new subtropical home, I find myself immersed in a landscape rich with potential and possibility. As I traverse my garden, I'm greeted by the legacy of its previous stewards and the intricate stories woven into its tapestry.


Among the verdant foliage, the youthful poinciana trees stand as hopeful sentinels in my front garden, their vibrant leaves dancing in the subtropical breeze. Yet, their proximity to the house and the absence of pruning to elevate their canopies raise questions about their long-term viability in the landscape. Can they stay or do I need to make some tough decisions and replace them with something more suitable?


Invasive couch grass, a persistent interloper, reminds me of the delicate balance between order and chaos in nature's domain. It will be a challenge to remove it from all of the garden beds, as weeding it out indefinitely is a recipe for garden frustration and unnecessary labour. Can the current lawn edging contain the grass or are drastic measures required? Do I really need such expansive areas of lawn in a climate where weekly mowing barely keeps it contained in the growing season?


As I survey the landscape, I am struck by the juxtaposition of beauty and neglect, with some plants thriving under the subtropical sun while others struggle to fulfill their potential. Perhaps the gardeners who came before me loved the extensive lily pilly hedging for the screening it provides, but I wonder if by taking some of it out I might open are more sunshine and airflow into my garden. And then there is the problem of the neighbours behind who have a lovely view into my private space. How can I achieve the privacy I crave without negatively impacting their views over the surrounding landscape?


The subtropical climate presents both opportunities and challenges, beckoning me to explore the cultivation of plants, both native and exotic, that are foreign to my temperate sensibilities. However, it demands a nuanced approach to gardening, one that embraces the unique rhythms and demands of subtropical ecosystems.


Amidst the discoveries and dilemmas, I am reminded of the importance of patience and observation. Before sculpting my vision into reality, I must first immerse myself in the seasonal symphony of my garden, allowing its rhythms to guide my decisions.




Garden Design: Nurturing Your Own Garden Sanctuary


Observing and Assessing:

Before diving into design decisions, take time to observe and understand your garden's rhythms. If you can, live in your space for a full year, witnessing its seasonal changes and evaluating its strengths and weaknesses. Note existing plants, their performance, maintenance needs, and aesthetic appeal. Consider how existing design elements align with your vision.


Understanding Site-Specific Factors:

Conduct a thorough site assessment to grasp the unique characteristics of your garden. Analyze soil quality, sunlight exposure, natural rainfall, wind patterns, and frost risk. Pay attention to microclimates and how they influence plant growth. This understanding will inform plant selection and design decisions.


Design Your Garden Sanctuary:

Define your garden goals and incorporate essential elements that align with your lifestyle. Consider outdoor entertaining areas, fire pits, swimming pools, water features, vegetable patches, and composting stations. Focus on layout, flow, and aesthetics to create a cohesive and inviting environment.


Leveraging View Lines and Focal Points:

Strategically emphasize or conceal views to enhance your garden's ambiance. Identify focal points, such as architectural features or stunning vistas, and design pathways or seating areas to draw attention to them. Use landscaping elements to frame views and create privacy where desired. If you have a borrowed landscape beyond your property boundaries aim to incorporate this into you design as much as possible.


Creating a Sense of Place with Thoughtful Garden Design:

Cultivating a garden sanctuary goes beyond mere aesthetics; it's about fostering a deep sense of connection to the land and its surroundings. Achieve this by embracing locally sourced materials, such as timber, stone, and gravel, which harmonize with the natural elements of your landscape. By integrating these materials into your design, you not only create visual cohesion but also honor the spirit of the place, anchoring your sanctuary firmly within its context. Consider the landscape around you as inspiration, allowing its contours and textures to guide your design choices. In doing so, you infuse your garden with a sense of place that resonates with both heart and soul, creating a sanctuary that feels truly rooted in its environment.


Strategic Plant Selection by Design:

Informed by observation and guided by principles of sustainability, embark on the journey of plant selection. Prioritize plants that not only suit the planting style that you would like to achieve, but that are also climate appropriate and hardy in your area. Depending on if a formal garden, native garden, tropical or a modern Australian style that blends foliage and flowers into a rich tapestry, the plants you choose will differ. The should however all be matched to the climatic and micro climate conditions in your your garden. Prioritize biodiversity and sustainability, incorporating native species and climate-appropriate exotics. Choose plants that serve multiple purposes, such as providing habitat, attracting pollinators, or offering visual interest. Can you incorporate some productive plants into your garden to create a edilbe oasis with structural evergreen foliage and visual appeal?


Seeking Professional Insight for Garden Design:

Recognize the value of expertise by engaging with a seasoned garden designer. Their guidance can refine your vision, offering solutions to challenges and insights into the subtleties of garden design. Together, you can weave a tapestry of beauty and functionality, each thread contributing to the rich fabric of your sanctuary. Whether you plan to create the garden yourself over time, or plan to engage a landscaping contractor to build it for you, there is nothing quite like having a great plan to achieve your garden dreams.


In conclusion, nurturing your garden sanctuary is a testament to patience, observation, and thoughtful stewardship. By immersing yourself in the rhythms of nature and embracing the unique character of your landscape, you can cultivate a sanctuary that nourishes the body, mind, and soul—a testament to the transformative power of the garden.



A home garden design with rich green foliage in filtered sunlight
Garden Sanctuary By Design


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