RT Edgar is pleased to be able to share their exclusive interview with renown Landscape Architect, Robert Boden. For in excess of thirty-five years, Robert Boden Design has established itself as one of Melbourne’s leading design offices and their success is the result of recommendations of past clients, architects, interior designers and other consultants who appreciate quality, attention to detail and excellence in garden design. Robert shares his views on the importance of garden planning which consists of a number of stages that link together to ensure an orderly progression of works from conception to completion. He walks us through one of his projects at a stunning Toorak home that he has been appointed to design on numerous occasions.

How long have you been doing landscaping?

I fell into the landscape industry by accident after resigning from a marketing position with a multinational company and accepting a two-week position as labourer with a landscape company. The design process fascinated me. Two weeks labouring in 1976 lead to a career, which developed from a novice employee to the establishment of a design and construction business (Boden & Whitehead) in 1978 and then in 1990 our landscape design company, Robert Boden Design. My mentor in the early years was well known Melbourne landscape designer Prue Johnson, who happily imparted her knowledge of plants and traditional garden design.

How to prepare your garden for a Spring sale

As spring approaches, many homes are prepared for sale when gardens are often at their peak. Gardens are the frame surrounding your house, so it’s important to show them at their best by carrying out some maintenance work during winter. This should include pruning of old flower heads and weak growth, mulching, removal of weeds and general fertilising. Ensure that you have plants that will be flowering during the sale period and make sure that lawns are well manicured and paved areas are pressure washed to remove stains and moss etc.

What are the first steps you take in designing and landscaping a garden?

When beginning the design process it’s very important that you gather lots of information about the existing site – views, levels, major trees, soil conditions etc. These are the beginning of the design development and when matched with the clients wishes form the basis of good garden design. It’s important that both aesthetic and practical considerations are taken into account when preparing the concept design so that the garden will not only look terrific but it will also work well for the entire family (pets included!) on a day to day basis.

Water conserving plants to ensure they survive the Melbourne summer heat

Many people think that only tough, hardy plants such as grasses, flaxes and succulents are best when faced with the hot, dry conditions of summer. Recent droughts have shown us that many of the traditional plants such as Roses, ornamental Pears, Lily Pillies, Lavender, Rosemary and many of the Mediterranean style plants are well suited to the summer heat and require little water when they are established. Deep watering once a week is much better than frequent, shallow watering, which encourages shallow root growth. When choosing your plants at a nursery think about grouping or mass planting so that you don’t mix plants with completely different water requirements. Also, walk around the neighbourhood and observe what’s surviving well in other established gardens. This often provides a good indication of what plants are tough enough to survive the tough times.

Basic tips for a beginner – the little things you can do to make a difference in your garden

It’s often the basic tasks that ensure a good garden. I often say that plants are like people, they require food and grooming to remain healthy. Make sure that your plants are enjoying the right aspect (ie. shade, sun, wind protection) so that they can withstand the rigours of the elements. Always remove dead or diseased plants and limbs and prune after flowering to promote good growth. Develop a good composting regime so that the soil structure is always being improved and don’t be afraid to move plants that are not doing well to a better part of the garden where they might do better – there’s no point tolerating a plant that’s not performing.

Landscape design tips on a budget

Landscaping a garden can be an expensive but the budget can be contained a little by designing your garden with cost in mind. Spend the bulk of your planting budget on the bones or framework that gives the garden its atmosphere. This will set the garden style from day one and reinforce the design. Plants that grow quickly can be sourced in smaller sizes whilst those that are slow growers deserve a little more money. Choose simple features as a focus in the garden such as a seat or large pot so that the eye is attracted to them immediately. This gives the garden some immediate impact whilst new plants develop. Structure in the garden such as retaining walls, planter boxes, pergolas and water features are expensive. You can often achieve the same effect by using soft landscaping. Things like contoured lawns instead of walls, a simple bowl as a water feature, a well-placed light highlighting a focal point or garden beds with spade dug edges instead of constructed borders are all good ways to reduce costs.

Things you can do to create a low maintenance landscaped garden that still has visual impact

Traditional gardens often have a great variety of plants which all require different maintenance regimes. By mass planting large areas of garden with just a few complimentary species you can achieve great visual impact whilst reducing maintenance dramatically. Replacing lawns with textured surfaces such as gravel where appropriate can reduce the time spent mowing and weeding whilst still providing good aesthetics. Climbers generally need quite a bit of attention to keep them well trained and in control. Select climbers and creepers that are not too invasive and consider substituting them with small shrubs if space allows along fence lines. One very special tree in a garden can be better than many trees which require lots of pruning, sweeping up of leaves and height control.

In a small garden, how can you utilise space better to create a small sanctuary?

Small gardens are sometimes difficult to design so that they don’t feel restricted. Keep them simple in design and use larger format paving materials in clean patterns. Less is best so keep outdoor furniture scaled down and don’t clutter the area with multiple pots and ornaments. Keep the plant selection to a few species and use white coloured flowers or plants with lighter leaf colours in dark areas to lift the appearance.

Ways to create more privacy within a garden in the city

Courtyard gardens in the city are sometimes overlooked by neighbours and surrounding buildings. Where space is limited the planting of large screen trees is impossible, so think about using structures such as timber screens or mesh grids covered in creepers. Overhead beams on pergolas can also help provide privacy or a roofed structure to sit under and provide shelter could be considered. Self-clumping bamboo (non invasive) can also be utilized to afford a tall, evergreen screen which can be lit at night to draw the eye down to the light source.

Fantastic plant combinations for a garden bed

Sometimes certain plant combinations always work well. I love using Roses with Catmint, Lamb’s Ears, and small Lavenders in sunny garden beds, and there’s nothing better than a beautiful Coral Bark Maple under planted with Helleborus. Silver Birch always look terrific when combined with English Ivy so their white trunks rise above a carpet of dark green, and for seaside gardens it’s hard to go past silver leafed plants such as Santolina, Rosemary, Olive trees, Convolvulus and French Lavender, all the white, blue and mauve colours to compliment the sand and sea.