Subtropical Sydney Oasis

Blue Ginger, cycads and ferns. Janna Schreier

Dichorisandra thrysiflora (blue ginger) at Christopher Owen’s Vaucluse garden

Sometimes gardens invigorate you. Bright colours, abundant planting, striking artwork and sharp lines can all have this effect.

Sometimes gardens soothe you. They are a place of harmony, tranquility, cool colourings and simple, flowing shapes.

Christopher Owen's Vaucluse Garden. Janna Schreier

Truly tropical swaying palms and Frangipani

Sometimes gardens utterly confuse you and invigorate and soothe you all at the same time.

Stone pavers in lawn. Janna Schreier

Highly creative use of surplus stone from the garden provides a wonderfully pleasing effect across this lawn

Christopher Owen’s Vaucluse garden, opened as part of the Hidden Design Festival was one of these gardens.  We had trekked from inner Sydney, through the traffic, at the very end of two extremely busy garden viewing days. We were tired, we were pretty much ready to go home and as we drove along Vaucluse Road, looking (and failing to find) yellow balloons, there wasn’t much left in the tank.

Christopher Owen Landscape Design's Vaucluse Garden. Photo: Janna Schreier

Subtropical planting providing a full, lush, layered picture

We eventually shuffled through the gate, to be greeted with the widest smile in the world by Ceara, Chris’s gorgeous wife (who incidently, shockingly introduced herself simply as ‘Chris’s wife’). We were now inside the stone wall and tall Murraya hedge and we all took a deep intake of breath and sighed a huge, relaxing sigh.

Strelitzia, Agave, Bergenia, Frangipani and ferns at Vaucluse. Janna Schreier

Strelitzia, Agave, Bergenia, Frangipani and Adiantum surrounding a well placed urn at Vaucluse

The owners of the garden, Cynthia and Andrew, plus Chris, all welcomed us as if long lost friends having battled through snow for thousands of miles to get there. There were hugs and cups of tea on offer and excited stories of how the weekend had gone, as the last few visitors (but us) departed. Admittedly, Chris was a friend of Catherine’s, but that was where the existing connections ended.

Haworthia succulent pocket. Janna Schreier

Small nooks with small plants can look twee, but these Haworthia are perfect for this little pocket in the stonework – a great example of repeating a single species to great effect

Chris told us stories about how he had worked with Cynthia over the last 18 months and Cynthia, separately, told us the same stories from her perspective. There was an incredibly special relationship there. Both strong characters in their own ways, but both finding each other hugely stimulating in their joint passion to work with the existing framework to absolutely maximise the potential of this space.

Gingers, Tradescantia and Clivea. Janna Schreier

Ginger, Clivea and Tradescantia  provide pleasing contrasts along this pathway

We heard how Cynthia rejected some ideas, only to come back later, admitting that Chris was right. We heard how Chris, over time, warmed to some of Cynthia’s ideas. It was clear that the greatest respect was held in both directions and the passion for creating the garden was equally strong for both.

Rocks and pots form a cosy seating area. Janna Schreier

Rocks and pots form a cosy seating area in a corner at the back of the house

The feeling of soothingness came from the joy and comfort exuded from those there that day. It came from the harmony in the planting compositions – each plant having a clear place in the scheme and complementing all of those around it. It came from the sense of being in a secret oasis, behind that big hedge and solid wall; just a stone’s throw from the bustling harbour, but in a peaceful, tranquil, private retreat from the world.

Sydney subtropical planting. Janna Schreier

The underplanting added by Chris and Cynthia is complex and yet unified

The feeling of energy came from the passion, so obvious, in all three garden makers’ faces. It came from the fullness and lushness of the planting and the little, individualised quirks. It came from the life that the plants, so vigorous and so healthy, breathed out to the world. And it came from the inspiring atmosphere of happy people sharing a place that they loved.

Deep subtropical planting. Janna Schreier

Deep beds give a generous, lush feel with planting that has the perfect balance of fullness whilst retaining sight lines

The planting, so full of contrasting, yet complementary textures; unified in its boldness and lush, green colour. Layer upon layer of detail that draws you in and holds you there; something more to see with every look. You know a garden is good when it somehow meets all manner of seemingly contradictory objectives.

Beautiful basket of textures at Vaucluse. Janna Schreier

Beautiful basket of textures by Cynthia on a step at Vaucluse

As if by magic, when you do the BOLD, FIT, CHARACTER test, it just happens to come up trumps on all three. It is nothing if not bold, it is perfectly Sydney and there are plenty of quirks, varied plant material and integrated soul through its strong connection with its owners, that provide the necessary character.

Asplenium and Crassula textures. Janna Schreier

It would be easy to sit here all day on the rear lawn. Asplenium and Crassula textures are a beautiful combination

Sometimes gardens wrap you up and transport you away to another world. They give you the warmest, most content glow imaginable. The occasions when we get to experience that transportation are ones that we never forget. Everything feels right in the world for a moment in time.

Andrew's Vaucluse infinity pool. Janna Schreier

Finally, Andrew’s favourite part of the garden – his ‘infinity pool’ for the local frogs, which he installed many years before Chris arrived on the scene. Tucked into the natural rock formation, tadpoles were in full force amongst the irises, adding even more life and soul to the garden

5 thoughts on “Subtropical Sydney Oasis

  1. Adriana says:

    This garden appears so private and relaxing, yet I expect it has close neighbours – a great planting scheme. Also quite masculine, seems like the sort of garden most chaps would relate to – I love the pops of colour here and there.

  2. jannaschreier says:

    This is a large plot for Sydney but the planting is indeed very clever to screen out all that surrounds it. I think Sydney gardens are generally very foliage dominated. I’ve seen 16 magnificent Sydney open gardens in the last fortnight and I’ve got a few thoughts bubbling away in my head…..beware of these coming out in a blog post near you soon!!

  3. catmint says:

    What a superb garden. Even a frog pond … divine. But no native or indigenous plants that I noticed. Of course you can’t have everything. I love the layers and the fullness of the planting. I have great difficulty in achieving those things.

    • jannaschreier says:

      There is always a very fine balance between over and under planting, isn’t there? I love an abundant look but equally I think most plants look best when they are more or less at their natural size.
      No, not a huge number of natives, although most of the ferns were and you would definitely have loved the violet lawn (you can see a little of it in the tenth photo) – it was stunning!

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