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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
There were at least four cosy seating areas tucked into little nooks and crannies; incredible when you consider the petiteness of the garden.
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.
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’.
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
Also see my latest post on GardenDrum here for an overview of the Hidden Design Festival gardens.