Falling in love

A funny thing happened to me on Sunday. You see I don’t like begonias. Never have done. All those gaudy, mottled pink colours, over the top variegations and rangy forms just shout ‘granny’s garden’ at me.

But it is a bit of a problem; here in Sydney it is a mainstay plant. The obvious ‘go to’ shade-flowering genus with literally hundreds of species and cultivars to choose from, most of which absolutely thrive in our climate. So I have this recoiling experience garden after garden, when I turn the corner and the begonias jump out at me.

I’m convinced I will grow to like them; I’ve changed my mind on many plants over the years. But at the Hidden Design Festival in Sydney this weekend, with 17 gardens open for viewing, again and again I looked at the begonias with puzzlement.

Until, that is, I stepped into the dark passageway at the side of Stefanie’s St Peters’ house. It was dark, it was a passageway, and it was the first bit I saw of her garden. Begonias, staring straight at me.

Begonias at Brendan Moar's St Peter's garden. Janna Schreier

Begonia ‘Red Dragon’ at Brendan Moar’s St Peters’ garden

That’s when the funny thing happened. I smiled. I LOVED them! How could this be?

Perhaps, because they were a nice, solid, red colour. Perhaps because the leaves were a simple, glossy green. Perhaps because they were neat and compact. Or maybe it was the the overall planting that worked so well. Really, I didn’t care why. Hallelujah! I like begonias. I was sure this was the start of something big.

In fact, the start of something big in two ways. Firstly, this was the opening up of a whole new range of plants to add to my palette; which felt pretty exciting in its own right. But I also had this immense eagerness to see the main part of the garden. I just had this feeling that it was going to blow me away. After all, if this garden could make me like begonias, what was the rest of the garden, with plants I really did like, going to do to me?

Stripy shed at Hidden Design Festival garden. Janna Schreier

So many features in such a small space. Notice the fire pit on the far right. The zigzag chains adding a sculptural element to the climbers. The seating nook behind the bamboo. And yes, you have probably already noticed that magnificent shed!

The answer is that I pretty much died and went to heaven. A tiny nine by nine metre courtyard, but wow, did it pack a punch?

Bright pots at Brendan Moar's St Peter's garden. Janna Schreier

Such simple staging, but in a trendy, slightly industrial area, it is a perfect fit (and the colours are divine)

That shed, counterbalanced by staging of edibles and flowers, all grown in bright pots of complementary colours. Enough of each colour that no one aspect dominates – you just see a fantastic, bright, overall effect.

Colours and textures in Brendan Moar's garden. Janna Schreier

Densely packed colours and textures make a small space feel much bigger

And more plants than I have ever seen in such a small space. I did worry a bit about how they would fair in the long term, being packed in much tighter than full growth would allow, but really they looked too good to be side tracked by such technical details for too long.

Wonderful planting at Brendan Moar's St Peters garden. Janna Schreier

Another seating nook amongst the plantings in St Peters

There were at least four cosy seating areas tucked into little nooks and crannies; incredible when you consider the petiteness of the garden.

Bamboo and climbers softening a high wall. Janna Schreier

The garden is practical too, with plenty of space for entertaining

And then I met the life of the garden itself. Stefanie. Stefanie lives here with her partner and gorgeous baby. About a year ago, they engaged Brendan Moar to help with the design and whilst Brendan clearly deserves much praise, I couldn’t help but feel that Stefanie was the real star of the show.

The lovely Stefanie in her beautiful St Peters' garden. Janna Schreier

The lovely Stefanie Leung in her beautiful garden. So sadly, the WestConnex road is now planned to go straight through this amazing garden, despite her having undertaken much due diligence at the time of buying the house

Stefanie knew exactly what she wanted from the garden. She wanted to grow her own edibles, she wanted an interesting sculptural element, space to cook and eat outside (lucky her, her partner is a chef) and she wanted something with ‘spunk’.

Simple, elegant and yet interesting pots. Janna Schreier

Simple, elegant and yet interesting collection of pots; perfect to brighten but not overwhelm this little corner

Well, I think Stefanie got all that she wished for, and probably more. I loved the fact that she held her own with Brendan, choosing black and white cushions that he hated, adding yellow stripes to the shed against his wishes, tweaking the design to make it truly hers. I think it’s a sign of a great client!

Brendan Moar sculpture at St Peters. Janna Schreier

Brendan Moar sculpture within the BBQ area in Stefanie’s garden

The sculptural element came in the form of bendy tubing, taken from Brendan’s award-winning 2013 show garden (see here). Stefanie adores it and I felt the style was a perfect fit for the garden, although I did want to add a colourful base to the structure, something to anchor it and connect it to the shed more directly.

The sun brings the limes of the foliage to life. Janna Schreier

The sun brings the limes of the foliage to life

But I digress, this garden was just superb, from start to finish. I was told that my eyes were bright as bright and my smile never left my mouth for the entire time we were there.

Abundant planting at Brendan Moar's garden in St Peters. Janna Schreier

Such a mix of species in this abundant planting; all working perfectly together, giving enormous depth to such a small space

In terms of my three point checklist, it had it all. It was bold. Very bold. It had a wonderful fit. With its owners, with the house and with the neighbourhood. And would you say it had character?

Sitting amongst the plants in St Peters. Janna Schreier

A couple of Hidden Festival goers enjoying a break sitting amongst the plants admiring the pots

It would be hard to find one with more. Thank you, Stefanie, for opening your garden, for being an inspiring bubble of energy and for allowing me the pleasure of not only succumbing to begonias, but through spending time in your garden, indulging me in the sensation of falling in love all over again. A truly wonderful garden.

Worm farm at Stefanie's St Peters' garden. Janna Schreier

There is even room under the tree for the worms in this perfectly formed, miniature garden

Also see my latest post on GardenDrum here for an overview of the Hidden Design Festival gardens.

6 thoughts on “Falling in love

  1. Adriana says:

    I too have always disliked Begonias Janna, but your photo certainly shows them at their best. Like you, I think it is the bold colour and clever use of lots of texture, leaf shapes and leaf colours as juxtaposition to the red of the begonias. I too love this small space. In fact love all of Stefanie’s garden. And I love the way she has added ‘soul’ to a ‘designery’ garden. I hope she does as well with her next one – would be interesting to see. It also makes me a bit ashamed that I still don’t even have one seating space in my acre of garden (yet!).
    I also admire the way you take a single thought and then build an entire interesting and inspiring garden story around it Janna – a real talent!

    • jannaschreier says:

      How kind you are, Adriana. And how funny that you are also a bit unsure of begonias. It’s good to hear that you could be converted too! Yes, Stefanie has added so much soul to this garden; I just adored it (as you may have already gathered!).

  2. mattb325 says:

    What a great garden! There is such an exuberance and generosity of planting – it makes for such a wonderful scene. You are right that such planting may be problematic as it ages, but there will always be plants that are more or less suited to the space and nature has a great way of editing the less successful ones out. Moar is a good designer; there isn’t evidence of excessive repetition or swathes of just one type of plant (which is most designer’s “go to” when presented with a small space) yet the result is really cohesive and the punches of colour are just brilliant….it’s such a shame about the west-connex destroying such a work of art 😦

    • jannaschreier says:

      Exuberance and generosity are the perfect words for this garden, Matt, and I agree, nature does work out what really wants to hang around. Glad you like it too; it really is such a fun garden!

  3. Catherine says:

    I kept trying to pimp begonias to you but it took most of the weekend to get there! If you haven’t already, I’d spend some time in the begonia garden at the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens. There’s a huge range of species there, including many you don’t often find for sale. I’m sure you will be further seduced….
    Re Stef and her garden – agree with everything you’ve said. Take a great designer (Brendan Moar), add loads of individualisation from the owner, and you’ve got the perfect garden.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Individualisation of professionally designed gardens is a really interesting topic. It is an essential part of both the initial design creation, and the evolving garden over time; a complex subject, involving a different approach for each and every project and client, with many balances to be found. I would say it is one of the aspects of garden design which takes the longest to perfect; listening, using intuition, taking on board client ideas, compromising in the right places, working out exactly what will hit the spot for that particular individual, knowing when to push and when not…..in fact I can feel a whole blog post coming on!
      And yes, I should get back to the Botanic Gardens and view the begonias again through my new eyes! I wonder what I will see.

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