Charlie's 'See What's Possible' Garden

Go behind the scenes from this year's Australian Garden Show with our resident gardening expert Charlie Albone.

During the first weekend of September Sydney held it’s inaugural Australian Garden Show and I was lucky enough to design and build a garden for the LifeStyle channel called ‘See what’s possible’

I am always inspired by the textures and colours found in nature and think these tones are a great place to start a design.  I started wanting to use massive slabs of sandstone from Gosford Quarries; 2meters long, 900mm wide and 50mm thick and weighing in at 300kg apiece for the paving.  The issue I had was trying to make such huge bits of stone in a square plot seem inviting.  This led me to my central circular stone block wall that made the design inviting whilst allowing me to have some sunken beds filled with silver lady ferns to add some drama.  These beds also ensured the whole garden couldn’t be seen all at once.

Over the main entertaining area was a recycled timber pergola supplied from The Colonial Trading Company.  In fact all the timber used in the design was supplied by them and each piece had an individual story.  Collected from South East Asia this timber has come from villages, fishing boats and old warehouses so its great that it has a new lease on life and is being used to inspire people to create beautiful gardens.  I think sandstone and recycled timber are the perfect combination to give a design some character and rustic charm.

Under the pergola area was an enormous table made from a single piece of sandstone, 2.4 meters long, 1.2 meters wide and 100mm thick weighing well over 550kg.  Under this table was a rill of water that trickled under the feet of the people dining, working like old-fashioned air conditioning cooling the air around the table.  This rill cut across the design and finished in a pond opposite the table.  Before it reached its final destination the water flowed under an enormous feature copper pot from ‘Elements I Love’, when working with such dominant natural materials I find it really important to balance these elements with beautiful decorative features like this pot.

In the far corner of the design I had a pavilion for reflecting and simply enjoying the space.  The frame was made from recycled timber, the roof was a green roof of Australian lavender called ‘Sidoine’ and the internal walls were clad with an external cedar shingle from  I used this shingle to match the colours of the stone, and for its pattern, texture and smell.  This pavilion was dressed with an amazing leather chair I found and some antique tools I have collected over the years.

The rear wall of the design was clad with an amazing stripped woven willow I actually found in Bunnings from a company called Eden brand.  I have been searching for a screening product like this for ages as it gives a great rustic backdrop for planting but can also be used to clad raised beds or trim it up to make raised garden edging.  Eden also made all the tee pees that were used throughout the garden beds that I had wisteria growing up - forming young standards.

The planting was made up of plants I love and ones that all grow happily in my garden.  The trees were Magnolia Grandiflora ‘Little Gem’ acting as a hedge across the rear wall.  Tristaniopisis laurina ‘Luscious’ acting as a shelter behind the pergola from the hot western sun and ornamental ‘Bradford’ pears as flowering features in the garden beds.  A mixture of shrubs like Indian hawthorn, Buxus and Chinese fringe flower gave the beds structure whilst flowering plants like Foxgloves, Delphiniums and Aquilegia gave pops of colour.    

Whilst in London this year filming Chelsea’s Greatest Garden 2013 I was lucky enough to meet a landscaper named Mick Conway from Conway Landscaping and Design.  Mick was building Philip Johnson’s ‘best in show’ winning garden and somehow I persuaded him to come and build my design at the Australian Garden Show.  Watching Micks team of landscapers tackle a project like this where massive pieces of stone and timber had to be precisely constructed into a highly detailed design was awe-inspiring and I can honestly say Conway Landscaping is one of the best landscape installers in the whole country (there is a reason why an English designer has asked him back to build a garden for him at next years Chelsea!)

A great part of the Australian Garden Show Sydney was the fact it was open in to the evening so people could come and enjoy the gardens at night.  The lighting on my garden was designed and installed by ME lighting.  ME have won gold medals at Chelsea for their lighting design and avid fans of Selling Houses Australia will remember the amazing job the did on a house we made over in Neutral Bay NSW. 

The design highlighted the features like the trees, water and sunken beds whilst casting ambient comfortable light over the relaxed areas of the garden.

I think we need to spend a bit more time considering the lighting we use in landscape design as its such a great tool to set the mood in a space and as a nation of entertainers we tend to use our gardens at night as much as we do during the day, so why not make it look a amazing the whole time.

This project wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the following suppliers, thank you so much for all your help.

Conway Landscape and Design:

Gosford Quarries:

Colonial Trading Company:

Eden Brand:

Cedar Sales:

Elements I Love:

Me lighting:


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Posted by Marian12Report
Would be nice to get a list of plants to group together. The info on selecting plants was kind of inadequate if you are wanting to redo garden areas. What is in? In WA WE NEED HELP FOR VERY DRY SANDY SOILS AND PLANTS THAT CAN COPE. PLEASE HELP.
Posted by garden-plants.infoReport
Thanks for sharing the information. Photo 3 is good. Is it a kind of fire pit there? And also the ancient armchair looks great.