Boat’s End, in South Australia, is a world class naturalistic garden; with a difference. It achieves a seamless connection with the surrounding landscape but with one very unusual feature. I would estimate that more than 90% of its plants are non-Australians. Of the hundreds and hundreds of Australian gardens I have visited, it is one of a kind in achieving this unusual combination.
Sarah and Roger Budarick have created this incredible space over the last nine years. Which is no mean feat, considering the infertile soil, extremely low rainfall (approx. 400mm per year) and scorching heat that bears down on the slope of the land. But instead of digging and fertilising and conditioning and mulching, Sarah has chosen to plant species that actually want to be there. Not in ‘improved’ soil, but in the natural soil found on the property.
Which is a pretty obvious thing to do; except for the fact that I could count on one hand the number of Australian gardeners I have met, who actually practise this technique.
The views at Boat’s End are quite spectacular; my photos in no way do them justice. And whilst the views add to the splendour of the garden and help to demonstrate the faultless fit with the landscape, the concepts that Sarah has applied would work equally well in a completely enclosed garden, anywhere in the world.
In essence, she has listened to the land. She has taken note of the colours that surround the property, whether they are those of virgin bush, the blue of the ocean or the green of neighbouring farmland. She has experimented to discover which plants thrive in her microclimate and soil conditions and used this knowledge to her advantage. She is not battling the conditions, she is harnessing them.
By selecting plants with the base colour palette of the surrounding landscape and retaining the subgroup that thrive, Sarah’s plants, Australian or not, appear perfectly at ease in their setting. They meld into the distance, seemingly extending the garden’s boundary for miles out to the ocean. As the winter rains arrive, the fields and the garden green up. During the hot summer, the fields and the garden brown off, both perfectly in sync with each other.
But there is much more to this garden than simple colour matching. The detail of the planting is exemplary. Sarah allows a good deal of (controlled) self seeding, but she also has the talent to plant to replicate this look, too.
The proportions within the large beds are also first class; similar heights are grouped together for a contemporary look and she manages the spread and groupings of plants to provide a perfect balance of interest and cohesion; never an easy one to achieve.
The garden is very bold, both in texture and in form and yet it is entirely harmonious; no one element dominates. This harmony is also achieved through the use of local, rustic materials: crushed local stone, recycled timber and nautical rope. There is no terracing, aside from a small area adjacent to the house; benches and chairs are placed throughout the garden in little nooks and crannies, but the whole garden is relaxed. Nothing is forced.
One hectare, or 10,000 square metres, of the property is gardened. It’s enough to frighten most of us off. And yet Sarah has no outside help; she keeps it to this standard working approximately three days a week, with plenty of well deserved breaks! By my calculation, that is the equivalent of about three hours per month, if you scale it back to the average sized garden. Three hours. Less than most people spend just mowing the lawn, let alone pruning hedges and actually doing ‘gardening, gardening’.
So why on earth aren’t more people following this philosophy in our country of typically poor soil and harsh weather?
I think people assume that drought tolerant gardens are drab, bare, boring and spiky. And we can’t really blame them for this; after all, most of them are. But they really needn’t be. This garden isn’t world class because it has a team of eight mollycoddling it. It is world class because it has an exceptionally talented owner.
And whilst we are not all exceptionally talented, gardens like Boat’s End do the hard work for us. They show us the way. They inspire us.
Sarah, humble to a fault, has not promoted her garden heavily, but would love nothing more than for people to embrace this method of gardening. She would be honoured if people copied her ideas; we don’t all need to reinvent the wheel when we have clever and generous people like Sarah.
The key lesson is to take your lead from your surrounding landscape. If you don’t have a grand view from your property, visit an elevated or open spot close to home and take lots of photographs (or simply make friends with Google Earth). Examining these, you’ll easily be able to pick up on your local base colours. Experiment with plants that fit this colour palette and see which thrive; then repeat, repeat and repeat again.
We all love green, green gardens, but green, green gardens only look great in green, green surrounds. It would be boring if gardens throughout the world all looked the same, so gradually, plant by plant, evolve your space to have its own local, unique feel about it. Be inspired by Boat’s End and have belief that a garden, perfectly attuned to your climate, will be more beautiful, more fun and more unique than ever.
So ditch the watering can and the mulch and listen to your surroundings. You could discover gardening on a whole new level.