It’s Bold, it Fits and it’s spilling over with Character

Perfect Strelitzia flower. Janna Schreier

Perfect Strelitzia flower. When they poke out from beneath a shrub, as it does here at Bells, you really do think you have seen a bird of paradise out of the corner of your eye

There are three ingredients I see in all my favourite gardens.  They are bold, they fit and they have character.

All have a distinctly BOLD design.  Hard and soft landscaping both designed to generous proportions. It’s not fiddly and bitty; each and every component has impact and confidence – each component very definitely meant to be there.

The best gardens also have ‘FIT’. Fit with their immediate surroundings; fit with any nearby buildings; fit with the region and country they find themselves in. They look comfortable in their surroundings, almost as though they had always been there.

Finally, they have CHARACTER. For me a garden can’t be like every other garden.  One that reflects the personality of its owner in some way, has quirky features or some other uniqueness about it, always has more appeal. It transmits the thought and love that has been put into it; it tells a story. An unloved, vanilla garden never feels the same.

Peeling birch bark. Janna Schreier

This peeling birch bark at Bells looks good enough to eat (or is that just me?)

There are thousands, if not millions of gardens that contain two of these three ingredients.  And they may be pretty nice for it. But when you see a garden with all three, you really know it. A total novice would pick how exceptional it was.

Agave at Bells. Janna Schreier

Bold Agave, deep Magnolia and fine Juniperus. Perfectly complementary textures and colours at Bells

In my last blog, I explained how the garden at Bells of Killcare taught me something new about connections.  If we can find enough commonalities between plants, the most unusual combinations can work fantastically well.

Bells was also one of those special gardens that has all three of my favourite ingredients.  And all three in spades.


Everything about its layout and plantings are bold and confident.

Timber and rope bridge at Bells. Janna Schreier

A rustic bridge straddles a stream at Bells of Killcare

These timber posts and chunky rope really hold their ground and yet they fit perfectly with this more rustic part of the garden.

Stream feeding the lake at Bells of Killcare. Janna Schreier

The stream then feeds down to the lake around trees and past shrubs

These tightly clipped balls, sharply edged paths and unifying mulch give very deliberate definition to this lake side setting.


The garden is also cleverly integrated into the surrounding bush and morphs into more formal styles close to the buildings, with everything in between.  The fit is seamless wherever you go.

Ground covers help the transition from garden to bush at Bells of Killcare. Janna Schreier

Ground covers and mulch help the transition from garden to bush at Bells

Entrance to Bells reception. Janna Schreier

The entrance to Bells reception is suitably formal


And I just adore its character. Most hotel and restaurant gardens, if professionally designed, have a distinct lack of character.  They may be ‘perfect’, but sometimes perfection is a draw back. Perfection looks like every other perfect garden. There is rarely anything special or unique.

Scarecrow in the herb garden at Bells. Janna Schreier

What’s not to love about this scarecrow in the veggie patch?

But Bells has an open herb and vegetable garden, with its own resident scarecrow, in a prominent location, not hidden back of house.

It has a little peach tree that you look out on to from the restaurant, surrounded by cheery, bright orange dahlias. There is nothing formulaic about these plantings.  There are just there for pure pleasure! You can’t help but smile when you see them.

Delectable, furry peaches. Janna Schreier

Delectable, furry peaches outside the restaurant window at Bells

Great skill, immense thought and a bit of playfulness has gone into these gardens. Around every corner you get a lovely surprise.  Something new, something, no matter how many gardens you have visited, that you have never seen before.

Bold. Fit. Character. My big three. Any other biggies that you think I have missed?

Cheery Dahlia at Bells. Janna Schreier

Cheery Dahlia at Bells

Some of my favourite photos of Bells show the outstanding use of Australia natives. Truly some of best examples of native plantings I have seen to date.  So one more blog post from Bells, exploring how we can translate their ideas for residential gardens.  Until then…..!

4 thoughts on “It’s Bold, it Fits and it’s spilling over with Character

  1. Adriana says:

    Love the combination of Agave with the Juniperus! I like the idea of Bold, Character, and Fit a good way to analyse your own efforts or gardens in general. I think that the best gardens are created by amateurs that are passionate about their gardens – these gardens always have ‘soul’ and I find this missing in many ‘designer’ gardens I see today. It is easy to create (what look like) great gardens when you have lots of money to throw at them, but to make a garden without all the fancy paving and expensive structures and still have Bold, Fit and Character plus Soul is an art. These gardens always have a special quality and atmosphere that is missing in their (expensive) counterparts.
    Was that Agave attenuata Janna, do you know? Would love to use that somewhere.

    • jannaschreier says:

      I completely agree with you on ‘soul’. I think in my mind I wrap it up with character, but that is maybe too simplistic. Soul is very intangible – I wonder how consistently it is felt by different people? I have the feeling it is more important to some (like us) than others. Interesting.
      It is indeed Agave attenuata. You might need to be careful with frosts but they grow wonderfully here.

      • Adriana says:

        Agreed Janna – re the soul, it is subjective and to my mind is about the type of atmosphere you feel (I think) when you enter a garden and spend some time in it.Sometimes you need to ‘hang around’ a while to get the feeling (I find), it doesn’t jump at you like character does. A garden can seem ‘ordinary’ at first glance but as you wander around you realise this garden was built with more than design in mind – it was built by someone that loves this garden. And because of that the garden takes on a new dimension, you realise there is complexity there that you had perhaps not noticed at first.
        And of course the Agave would be problematic in frosts, hadn’t immediately thought of that – thanks – got carried away with that image! I might try it in the shelter of trees (dry semi-shade) I grow other succulents such as Sedums, chalk sticks (Senecio), Cotyledons etc, in these conditions so it might work for the Agave too. No harm in trying I guess.

        • jannaschreier says:

          I wonder if soul is also something to do with the passing of time. I can’t imagine an instant garden could have much soul, regardless of how much it was loved. I find the same with buildings – older ones appeal to my emotions far more, regardless of whether I know anything about their history or not. It’s such a fascinating topic. Good luck with the Agave – it sounds like you have a good chance with it.

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