Boat’s End: A world class naturalistic garden

Walking down the driveway at Boat's End, you know you are in for a treat

Walking down the driveway at Boat’s End, you know you are in for a treat

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.

The twisted bark of this gum and bright colours beyond form a stunning scene

The twisted bark of this gum and bright colours beyond form a stunning scene

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.

Mass planting and repetition give a cohesive, comtemporary feel to the garden

Mass planting and repetition give a cohesive, contemporary feel to the garden

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 over bush and farmland to rivers and the ocean at absolutely stunning

The views over bush and farmland to rivers and the ocean is absolutely stunning

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.

The huge variety of textures and forms meant that flower colour was a bonus rather than an essential part of the garden

The huge variety of textures and forms mean that flower colour is a bonus rather than an essential part of the garden

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.

A view across the garden at Boat's End

A view across the garden at Boat’s End. You can see the areas of lawn are allowed to brown off naturally to blend with the surrounding landscape. Even bowling-green-loving Paul noticed, unprompted, that this was a huge asset to this setting

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.

Annuals and vegetables were the one part of the garden where soil conditioning occurs. It was just as beautiful as the rest of the garden, despite Sarah saying she was ashamed of it!

Annuals and vegetables in the veggie plot were the one area where soil conditioning occurs. It was just as beautiful as the rest of the garden, despite Sarah saying she was ashamed of it!

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.

At the edges of the garden, the plants seem to fade naturally away

At the edges of the garden, the plants seem to fade naturally away

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.

Echium (Pride of Madeira) are repeated extensively through the garden, like a signature plant

Echium (Pride of Madeira) is repeated extensively through the garden, like a signature plant

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.

A small area, close to the house, was terraced for a table and chairs; the rest of the garden embraced the slope of the land

A small area, close to the house, was terraced for a table and chairs; the rest of the garden embraced the slope of the land

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’.

These pastel pinks and white create a romantic feel, despite the bold textures and forms

These pastel pinks and whites create a romantic feel, despite the bold textures and forms

So why on earth aren’t more people following this philosophy in our country of typically poor soil and harsh weather?

Despite much grey-green foliage, the bright light ensures this garden is anything but dull

Despite much grey-green foliage, the bright light helps ensures this garden is anything but dull

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.

Different parts of the garden have different colour themes, but none feel overly rigid or contrived

Different parts of the garden have different colour themes, but none feel overly rigid or contrived

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.

Cute, booted succulents at Boat's End!

Super cute, booted succulents at Boat’s End!

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.

Cotinus (smoke bush) brings a strong constrasting foliage colour; it was the plant Sarah had most queries about at the open garden

Cotinus (smoke bush) brings a strong constrasting foliage colour; it was the plant Sarah had most queries about at the open garden

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.

So many of the Agave americana had tall flower spikes. They punctuated the planting with much grandeur

So many of the Agave americana had tall flower spikes. They punctuated the planting with much grandeur (and were very hard to squeeze into the frame when there was so much else to capture beneath them!)

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.

Where garden met bush, wilder plantings blurred the boundaries; these screens worked wonderfully along this bank to add structure and interest

Where garden met bush, wilder plantings blurred the boundaries; these screens worked wonderfully along this bank to add structure and interest as the garden became bush

Sarah has many quirky pieces of sculpture, including this nautically theme life ring next to a sea of pigface

Sarah has many quirky pieces of sculpture, including this nautically themed life ring next to a sea of pigface

So ditch the watering can and the mulch and listen to your surroundings. You could discover gardening on a whole new level.

At a nearby beach, you can see the same greys, greens, blues, browns and sandy shades as Sarah has planted in her garden

At nearby Victor Harbor beach, you can see the same greys, greens, blues, browns and sandy shades as Sarah has planted in her garden

3 thoughts on “Boat’s End: A world class naturalistic garden

  1. Adriana Fraser says:

    A very clever gardener indeed Janna with fabulous results especially in such a harsh environment. We all need to try and work with what nature deals us rather than against it. I am also an advocate of planting plants that suit the soil and not messing too much with it (the soil that is). Experience has taught me that often times you end up doing damage. Adding lots of composts is fine, if you always keep the soil moist – if not you vastly ‘improve’ the chances of creating hydrophobic conditions. The last long drought exacerbated this to no end. In how many places in Australia can you really keep soil moist over summer? Especially if you have more than just a tiny garden. Sarah has proven that leaving well alone and choosing plants to suit the site and not changing the site to suit the plants (my teaching mantra!) works. We could all take a leaf out of her book.

    • jannaschreier says:

      I have been amazed at how hydrophobic my sandy soil is, here in Mosman; I really need to buy shares in Eco-Hydrate! I have fed it homemade, beautiful compost but it doesn’t thank me for it. I’ve now owned properties with heavy clay, shallow sand and everything in between and learnt the hard way with each. I’m most definitely ready to embrace what I should have done from the start and not tried to stretch the limits of each so far!
      Sarah also told me that she really thinks pH is ‘over-played’. She has plants that ‘should’ like alkaline (lavender) and plants that should like acid (natives) conditions growing happily side by side. I think it goes to show that if you plant for appropriate moisture and light levels, plants can cope with an awful lot.

  2. Adriana Fraser says:

    Agreed Janna – I have found the same thing with all but the true acid lovers which will show signs of chlorosis if you take it too far.

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