If you’re thinking about a refurb of your backyard, consider these three elements to make it your very own great outdoors.
Landscape designer Michael Bates has created numerous and diverse types of gardens in his career, including Japanese courtyard, native, tropical, formal, Mediterranean and a whole lot more. He can’t get enough of landforms. Bates’s landform phase started with a UK garden tour in 2015, when he visited 20 gardens in 14 days. “I do a garden tour every year,” he says. “I fell in love with the landform garden of Charles Jencks in Scotland. To look at them as a sculptural element is one thing. But it’s not until you walk through them that you realise their true power – elevation. The visual qualities change as you change elevation. If you can walk up along a landform and change your perspective, it’s magic. It’s like a good abstract painting.”
According to Bates, landforms are not hard to create if you know what you are doing, but you do need the right soil and geotechnical engineering. Access to the necessary equipment can also be difficult. However, if space permits, he believes that for the big visual statement they make, they are quite an inexpensive use of landscape dollar. For smaller plots, there’s the option of landforming. “We do landforming for inner city courtyards … with mounding, steel planters that pop up or floating stepping stones. Landforming is about viewing the ground as something that’s flexible and malleable. I do the initial concepts with plasticine. It’s fun.”
Whether it’s achieved with birds, water, fire, kids or pets, movement in a landscape is very important. “It brings life and energy into any space,” he says. In Bates’s own garden, he has a circular pond with an overflowing urn. Plants keep the pond healthy and provide a hiding place for the fish when the birds are bathing. “I chose an iris for the spears of foliage that are beautiful in the water feature, year-round.” For crisp nights Bates loves a fire bowl for injecting some movement. “It also keeps people outdoors longer – one of my missions in life.” He likes to include plants that attract wildlife to the garden for added movement, such as Magnolia ‘Vulcan’, grevillea and banksia.
The amount of sunlight is one of the strongest influencing factors of any garden. Bates says the trickiest gardens are ones that receive no light in winter and full sun in summer. For these, Bates recommends gingers and cardamoms. Gardens that are shaded for most of the year do well with rainforest plants like ferns, palms and cycads.