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A contemporary Australian garden

A contemporary Australian garden

Garden themes provide stylistic elements and ideas which serve as guidelines for you to build on. A theme will help you coordinate your plant choices and layout. This produces a sense of harmony in your design so that you can create a practical and beautiful garden for yourself.

Some themes can be combined, making the most of your space with a garden that is both ornamental and productive.

Almost any garden theme can be used when creating a productive food garden as many food plants also make attractive ornamentals. Fruit trees, olive trees, nut trees, grapes, chillies and herbs can all be used in formal garden styles and also informal styles like cottage gardens. Bay trees make great specimens in containers in formal gardens and can even be turned into topiaries! They can also be allowed to grow as a shade tree in the garden.

Lilly pillies make great hedges and topiaries and plants like lavender and rosemary can make great informal hedges and borders. Even a tropical style garden could include a few tropical fruit trees and perhaps some interesting food plants such as gingers. A bush garden can also be a bush tucker garden, and it is great to incorporate bush tucker plants into any Australian garden, particularly Contemporary native, rainforest and wildlife attracting gardens.

Contemporary native gardens

Garden themes

Contemporary native gardens are a more formal style of native garden, with clean minimalist layout, striking feature plants and interesting modern ornaments. This theme is best kept simple and pared back, with one or two elegant feature plants and a sparse mix of interesting foliage plants. Clean and simple is the best way to approach this kind of theme to avoid a messy or chaotic effect. Colours should be bold and simple, and you should work to a refined palette, choosing one or two colours for a striking and modern visual effect. Massed plantings can be very effective in this theme as a backdrop for feature elements, for the visual interest of repetition and also to create a sense of depth and space. This garden theme is quite low maintenance with minimal water requirements and can be adapted to any sized area. Excellent for small areas as this theme makes a very striking display garden even in container gardens or courtyards.

Decorative features: Modern sculpture or ornaments, simple water features, plants in containers can be good statement features, stick to containers clean lines and geometric shapes.

Plant list: Plants with strappy or grassy foliage make great borders and features in a contemporary native garden. Think Kangaroo Paws, Grass trees, Dianella and Lomandra, native Ferns, Palms and Cycads and any native plants with interesting or attractive foliage such as Westringia. Flowering plants like Conostylis fit nicely into this kind of garden as long as you stick to a strong and simple colour scheme.

Bush gardens

Bush themes

Bush themed gardens are very much informal in style. This kind of garden has few design rules, and is more about creating patterns similar to those found in nature. This theme is very low maintenance, has minimal water requirements, and is a very sustainable theme for your garden, fitting in seamlessly with the natural landscape. This theme can be applied to a small area or is also exceptional for landscaping larger spaces. This is a great theme for attracting wildlife to your garden, and can also fit an edible theme as you can include interesting Bush tucker plants.

Decorative features: Bush rock, rockeries, natural features such as fallen branches and interesting rock mulches fit well in a bush garden.

Plant list: There are endless options when selecting plants for a bush garden, some great plants to include are Paper Daisies, and other native daisies including Brachyscomes. Other interesting flowering natives like Scaevolas, Conostylis, Fringe Lilies, Feather Flowers (Verticordias) and also native grasses and tussocks such as Dianella and Lomandra all make great inclusions. There are many interesting native shrubs and trees which make great feature plants. These include Bottlebrush, Waratahs, Grevilleas. You can even include a stunning flowering gum tree (Corymbia), there are new dwarf varieties available now which are suitable even for those with smaller areas.

Mediterranean gardens

Mediterranean gardens are a formal style of garden design which has become quite popular in Australia because the climate is so similar. This Mediterranean style is particularly well suited to coastal areas. It is a very water efficient and low maintenance garden theme.

A Mediterranean themed garden is an excellent choice for any sized space, and is well suited to small areas such as courtyards and container gardens. The Mediterranean theme can easily be combined with an edible or fragrant theme as many of the plants suited to this style are edible or scented.

Decorative features: terracotta pots, of herbs, tiles, water features (small fountain etc) outdoor living furniture

Plant list: Citrus, Lavender, olive trees, bay tree, fig, pomegranate, grape, basil, thyme, lemon verbena, geraniums and bougainvilleas, natives like westringia also fit well with this theme.

French & English traditional gardens

English & French style gardens

Formal: potager, knot garden - all are high maintenance but can be adapted to the needs of Australian gardeners. These kinds of garden themes incorporate many highly formal elements, including hedging and topiary, and patches of highly maintained lawn. These gardens often have high water requirements to keep them looking lush in the harsh Australian sun. These traditional garden themes are best suited to small areas due to their intensive watering and maintenance requirements, but they can also be planned on a grand scale where the resources are available. Very visually appealing, these are the quintessential show-off garden, usually serving as gorgeous and very ostentatious display gardens in for large properties.

Informal: The English Cottage gardens theme is informal in style, featuring mixed plantings of colourful and fragrant plants overflowing from garden beds. A variety of groundcovers, flowering annuals and perennial flowering shrubs and climbers throughout the garden create an unplanned effect bursting with variety. This theme is similar to the Bush garden theme in that the idea is to create a natural effect, similar to a woodland or field of wildflowers. This theme is quite low maintenance, and can be a waterwise option depending on the plants chosen. A cottage garden often includes a kitchen garden or potager for growing vegetables, herbs and fruit. This kind of garden can be adapted to a container garden or courtyard, and is very well suited to larger properties, requiring little maintenance once established. These gardens are great for attracting wildlife and insects.

Informal English cottage gardens

Formal English gardens

Japanese & Chinese gardens

Japanese and Chinese style gardens: These kinds of gardens are highly formal in style, the design is minimalist, usually quite sparse and simple. The effect is to create a highly stylised “natural” landscape, these gardens are well suited to small spaces such as courtyards, and also make stunning gardens for large areas where water features and other decorative elements can be showcased. Common decorative elements are rocks, ‘zen’ gardens, water features and small buildings such as pergolas and moon gates.

Japanese & Chinese gardens

Persian courtyard garden

Persian courtyard gardens are another formal style. The Persian courtyard garden, as the name suggests, is best for smaller areas. These gardens are visually appealing and are designed as a whimsical retreat or oasis.

Decorative elements include fountains and other water features, tile mosaics, trees and trellises and also features of the building that enclose them, providing shade. These gardens often feature exotic edible fruits and do not have intensive water requirements so are well suited to the Australian climate.

Tropical gardens

Tropical gardens are informal in style, with a relaxed unplanned feel. This theme is great for coastal areas, and is a very low maintenance option. Tropical gardens suit any sized area and have medium water requirements, depending on the plants selected. Tropical plants with lush green foliage and showy floral displays are used to create a jungle like effect. Palm trees and cycads are used with smaller plants such as Birds of Paradise (Strelitzia), Gingers both edible and ornamental and climbing vines all help to create a sense of depth.

Rainforest gardens

Rainforest gardens

The rainforest garden theme is similar to the tropical theme. These gardens are lush and green with a natural feel to the layout. Wildlife friendly, and with low maintenance and high water requirements, these gardens are best suited to areas where rainfall is high, and are most suited to larger areas where they can blend into the landscape around them. Many interesting native plants can be grown in a rainforest garden, including some of our more interesting Bush tucker plants. Lemon aspen, Davidson’s plum and Native ginger all work well in this kind of garden, native trees rainforest trees and climbers are great feature plants for these gardens.

Desert or rock gardens

The Desert or Rock Garden theme is a very minimalist and informal theme, this kind of garden is designed to mimic natural desert landscapes. Very low maintenance, very low water requirements and suited to any sized area. These gardens can make great display gardens, using interesting succulents and cacti with rock or gravel mulch. Features such as larger rocks may be used sparely to create a natural feel. Many succulents and cacti have interesting growth habits and are quite striking planted in this kind of garden. Flowering is not often but when it does occur many of these plants have spectacular blooms.

Food forest/permaculture gardens

These are informal ‘food forest’ gardens. Many people are becoming interested in growing their own food, and permaculture principles are a great way to create a productive food garden in any sized area. This kind of garden is sustainable, provides a great outdoor activity and hobby, and the interactivity of a food garden is great way to engage kids in the garden. Food forest gardens are medium maintenance, with very rewarding results, and water requirements should be minimal once the garden is established. A well designed food forest can be a very pleasing space, great for entertaining and relaxing.

More garden theme ideas

Themes can be combined to reflect your personal style. Many plants have symbolic meanings which can be tied into your theme. Some themes that can be combined with almost any other garden theme and help to guide your plant choices are:

  • Colour wheel garden or any colour based theme garden
  • Wildlife attracting garden
  • Night blooming garden
  • Fragrant garden
  • Romance garden
  • Rose garden
  • Children' garden