Layers add up to fresh appeal for houses on the market

THE Eucalyptus caesia had scale from lack of sun, the Agonis flexuosa 'Burgundy' were butting up against the house's eaves, the 20-metre-tall liquidambar fell to the ground, then heavy flooding necessitated the entire backyard being excavated. A new garden was a no-brainer.

When garden designer Lisa Ellis and her partner bought their then just-renovated Malvern East property in 2010, they hadn't envisaged tackling the outdoors so soon.

But by the end of the following year they had an entirely new landscape: already mature trees, an array of ground covers, hedges and climbers.

Layer upon layer of vegetation.

They also put in sunken courtyards, crazy paving and a spot of grass. Garden accomplished, they promptly got married in it.

It's a robust enough space to handle crowds but has a lush, verdant effect at the same time.

With the house being 1960s orange-brick, Ms Ellis says she was conscious about ensuring the garden complemented the architecture but in a timeless sort of way. It is by no means strictly '60s.

Along the front driveway there is box (cloud-clipped Buxus japonica), Gardenia augusta 'Florida' and a row of upright evergreen Alta magnolias as well as clumping bamboo (Bambusa textilis 'Gracilis).

The back is largely a food garden but a carefully structured one that relies predominantly on evergreen trees, and more cloud-clipped box (this time Buxus sempervirens 'Suffruticosa'). Tahitian limes are planted alongside an elevated deck, Washington navel oranges run along one fence and Lisbon and Eureka lemons beside another boundary line. Bay trees edge a central patch of grass.

Many of the bedding plants are productive as well: mass plantings of sorrel, radicchio, caraway, peppermint pelargonium and silverbeet and a great swath of prostrate rosemary that provides a loose, shaggy counterpoint to the clipped grass beside it. Similarly Dichondra repens has been left to its own rampant devices around her stepping stones, a "Miss Havisham look" as Ms Ellis calls it.

Just as the textures are by turns organic and tightly clipped, the layering of different plants is important here and Ms Ellis has been careful to create a variety of heights and backdrops of climbers, such as bougainvillea and passionfruit. Two jacarandas have been planted to establish an upper canopy, while two crepe myrtles create shade.

Ms Ellis says she wanted to establish "separate zones", some shady and some sunny, and while she considered introducing several other trees - including a quince, pomegranate or persimmon - ultimately she wanted to maintain "a sense of restraint".

"It's a difficult thing deciding what to leave out, but it's often what's left out that matters most," she says. "This house needed bold plantings and we are also playing to our love of food."

It also plays to their love of form and foliage, and Ms Ellis painted the existing paling fence black to accentuate the leaf colours.

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