It’s cold, wet and windy, we’ve been waiting for rain for so long and I’m not complaining which has given me the opportunity to get writing. I’ve been out walking around the garden this morning making slight adjustments to plantings. I get about questioning myself if this or that plant combination is the best I can do?
Are the shapes, colours and forms and each part of the partnership singing – do they compliment or contrast sufficiently. I can see what it looks like now but this is about stretching my knowledge and memory as to how it will look in one month, two or three and in each season. I aim for longevity in a garden and if it’s not growing in increasing beauty every year it’s not good enough. It’s complicated, yet I find it a delicious distraction and it’s this which I do almost every day of my life – I look at the garden I’m working on, get to understand what each garden owner is hoping to achieve, assess their microclimate, architecture, budget and a half a zillion other factors to achieve the best result and it’s one of the reasons why to me work isn’t a chore.
In the studio we are producing some seriously beautiful designs and – many have been influenced directly and indirectly to our recent holiday in France. Cathy and I spent the best part of summer based in the beautiful home of friends that live just outside the walls of this ancient village where Picasso once lived. To become familiar with a place to have to live like locals and we absorb ourselves in everyday life. When we create a garden it’s not just about plants it’s about creating atmosphere, and in France this is tangible.
For many years I’ve wanted to go to the Galerie Maeght sculpture park at St Paul de Vence but have never quite got there – and this time I succeeded and I’m so pleased I did. To walk in a garden where it feels as if Joan Miro is with you is an uplifting experience!
I’ll wait patiently for someone to give me a call with a request to create a garden that features sculpture and I’ll show them what Ive learnt.
We stopped by the home of an old friend that lives in Opio to have a glass of champagne and lend a hand with her garden.
and we took a few days at Chateau Nerf du Pape to gather wine supplies and had a great lunch outside a cafe in the shade of ancient pollarded plane trees and discovered some wonderful wines in the co-op next door, and it’s these memories of tastes, sights and smells that I’ll be bringing with me as we work through our designs this Australian summer.
Sorry I’ve been tardy, neglecting my blog and Facebook page but hopefully I’ll get some time to rectify this soon. To get kick started I’ve attached a link to an article by Louise McDaid that featured one of our Terrigal gardens in Inside Out Magazine in May. We love this garden which was constructed and is maintained by Cornerstone Landscaping and the amazing images were taken my friend Brigid Arnott who took all the images in our book Disobedient Gardens.
Costa Georgiadis and the Gardening Australia Crew visited our garden recently for Episode 4 of Series 29. We took a tour (along with the dogs) and talked plant combinations and the knowledge gained from 30 years of gardening on our 2.5 hectare plot.
2017 was a big year for Michael Cooke Garden Design. We’ve completed some really rewarding designs and the landscape contractors we work with have been implementing them beautifully. Time flies, and Mark finished up working with me after seven years and Ben swiftly moved in to fill his shoes. After studying and working in London, and more recently Dubai, Ben brings with him new enthusiasm and perspectives with some very clever computer skills, and as a result, Ben, Kaiya and I will begin presenting some our garden designs in new ways in the New Year.
We’re very lucky to have the opportunity to work with extraordinary architects, builders, artists and tradesmen in locations which are sometimes breathtaking whilst others are more homely and we enjoy working on them all. From the country to the coast – local and interstate we get to meet people from all walks of life. To be able to improve the quality of someone’s day by giving them a beautiful garden is what we love doing the most.
I’m so proud of the work the contractors and their teams produce – without them our work is just ink on paper so I’ve put together a small collection of some of this year’s projects with before and after images. Usually I don’t show the gardens we design before they have had a few years to grow and look at their best, but I thought it may be interesting to watch their journey.
After a well deserved Christmas break we recommence work Tuesday next week on some really exciting projects to kick off the year.
The first set of images are of one part of a project at Curl Curl by Matthew Woodward Architecture which was constructed by JTCD and Verduous Gardens. I’m besotted by the breeze blocks, off-form concrete and second hand bricks used in this project and the way they enhance the cottage. A mature frangipani was transplanted from one part of the site to another transforming the courtyard.
Curl Curl Home – before
Rear courtyard under-construction
Second hand bricks used on steps with breeze-block feature wall
Curl Curl Garden by Night with fire pit in the foreground
This next garden at Wamberal is to be a staged project, and as access will be tricky the owners opted to get the back garden built before they began building. The garden will grow alongside a renovation by White Dickson Architects. The garden was constructed by Box Building and Landscaping, levels were tricky and the stone and rendered walls negotiate it well.
Wamberal Garden before
Wamberal Garden after – planting is very fresh but the walls and steps sensational
On this second Wamberal project we decided that the approach to the front door was all wrong, sometimes we have to look at things with fresh eyes and in new ways, so we demolished part of the existing entry court wall and created a new series of steps and paths to lead visitors to the front door. We saw that the house had a retro vibe and we enhanced this with plants to accentuate the mood. This project was executed by Cornerstone Landscaping – I can’t wait for the plants to grow and either can the owners. I’m loving the off-form steps and stone walls which positively glow at night with the garden lighting by Gardens at Night.
Wamberal 2. before
Wamberal 2 with custom step detail
The third set of images is a unique home by architect Peter Stutchbury – a home in the country at Paynes Crossing for clients I’ve known since they shopped in my nursery in Sydney. The rammed earth courtyard which is central to the home was where the owners elected to begin their garden and Stuart from Eyb Gardens began by constructing the exposed aggregate interconnecting path and then laid a combination of second hand common bricks and recycled clay pavers to our design. A labour of love, this will be a landscape that develops over the years.
The sinuous line the driveway took as it snaked it way to the house site was one of our design leads.
Windows with cinematic qualities…
The courtyard (before) is an integral and central part of the home
Texture and pattern create interest to the eye and bare feet
The fifth project is on an acreage at Duffys Forest, the house was reconfigured by Fineline, then it was gutted and refurbished and we moved fence lines, changed the garden, added a custom swimming pool fence and reconfigured entries and access. As with almost all our work, we like to establish long-term relationships with the garden owners and we will soon be embarking on a new design for an existing dam on this property. Steve from Shakkei Landscaping has done all the work on this one…
The front of the house before work began
Secondhand brick was used extensively for the new driveway
New swimming pool with our custom fencing detail.
The 6th and final `before and after garden’ in this post is at Pittwater and one where we have re-organised existing plants, made roof gardens, created new areas and added lots of new plants. Mature palms have been an important part of this project where an instant effect was what was required. This landscape was constructed – as was the home itself by JGroup Projects. Koichi Takada Architects
Mature Cereus peruvianus was potted near the entry
An old crepe myrtle was carefully lifted into position to provide some privacy to the outside living area Image – JGroup Projects website
A sensational view – but we opted for this mature crepe myrtle to give a degree of privacy to the outside living area
It seems like nothing is growing – and then all of a sudden it happens. I like to think of the plants in my garden as a room full of people at a lecture; the speaker asks if there are any questions and most of the attendants stare blankly into space, then one tentative hand goes up and then another and before you know if there are people busting to speak.
This is my garden, nothing happens and then one little plant puts up it’s hand, it’s game on and they’re off.
As you know I love a bit of wildness in the garden. I appreciate order but I want to know that the garden is alive and has a mind of its own.
The trick is to know what to let go and what to rein in…but if you’re like me and you think it’s just too hot two control the disorderly you can also let it go until cooler autumn days
It’s stinking hot today – too hot to do anything outside. Ive already been to Bunnings early for supplies, whipper snipped the edges and watered the needy. Now I’m in the studio where I’m cool, so I’m just going to splash out with some images from my garden because I have the time to do so…
Salvia leucanthe, Miscanthus Cabaret (variegated leafed grass), Dracaena draco and Miscanthus nepalensis
From front to back Miscanthus Adagio, Rosa Autumnalis, Xanthorrhoea glauca, Foeniculum vulgare Purpureum, Japanese box swirls, horizontal elms and Magnolia grandiflora
Miscanthus Cabaret with Cereus peruvianus
A dwarf crepe myrtle I have no name for with Cereus peruvianus, tall Agave weberi in flower and a lot of other wild flowery things…
Miscanthus nepalensis, Protasparagus meyerii, Kalanchoe orgyalis and Agave vilmoriniana
It’s so hot today so I’m hanging out in the studio in the air conditioning where making adjustments to posts that I’ve had in my drafts box for ever
I’ve been lucky to establish relationships last year with two new colleagues that enrich my life artistically. I’ve long been an advocate of sculpture – and even more so if it will enliven my gardens.
The lovely Denese Oates brought to life an idea that I’ve had ticking away in my head for a few years in a courtyard garden at Mosman. This narrow space is an important area as the living room and kitchen look directly onto the boundary wall and the strip is too desolate to plant successfully. The owner has a wonderful collection of paintings and Denese and Diane were an ideal match. In concept I imagined a vine growing about the wall – and rather than dictate how to, this original concept idea became the departure point from which Denese began and it has been a wonderful ride.
I took a short 10 second video to show you the scale of this work – click the link below to sneak a peek, and imagine how it looks at night when illuminated by the overhead LED lights!
Late last year our friends Gemma and Armando introduced me to Peter Lundberg – an accomplished sculptor that has won Sculpture by the Sea at Bondi – twice. Peter creates monumental public works in concrete and bronze and whilst Peter is overseas for a while I have a collection of his smaller bronze pieces here in my own garden where they can gently weather outside and I can enjoy them whilst I dream of the gardens to home them permanently. The sculptures come in a range of finishes, the one picture has a golden hue to it which looks great when shown against a backdrop of green foliage
The time is almost here to say goodbye to the old Agave at my entry gate. Agave are monocarpic which means they flower once and then die – now the buds have opened and the yellow blooms almost spent this will be it. The leaves which were once so spectacular are swiftly withering, yellowing and shrinking as they give all they have to it’s future offspring.
An Agave weberi stem laden with similar blooms fell onto the lawn yesterday afternoon when Cathy was mowing the lawn and I had to sever it at the base, and later this week week when it’s not so hot I will dig what’s left of the plant out of the garden with Adrian. I have a splendid collection of healthy young plants which have sprung from the base so I’m not too distressed – and if I were I could do absolutely nothing to prevent this from happening.
It’s been a while since I’ve had a moment to stop, chill and really relax like I now am, and I’m loving the luxury of sloth.
I usually wake up around 4am and go to the gym before I begin with my first appointment or I begin my working day in the studio. This morning I went to the gym early but I woke at first light rather than in the dark, and when I got home I turned on the sprinkler in the nursery, made an espresso and went back to bed to swipe my way through my daily Instagram feed, and then I slipped gently back to sleep. This summer I’m behaving as I would if we were away on holidays – but at my own home, and it’s not too bad at all. When I got out of bed somewhere close to 10am the biggest decision was what herb to use on the eggs and pan-fried left over Christmas ham.
I’ve taken to walking about the garden in contemplation, asking myself things such as `shall I move the lilies to a sunnier place next year’ and `I really should plant more grasses – but where would I put them? My mobile phone has been particularly quiet as it failed to re-boot from an update, and I’ll get it looked at before work begins on the 9th January.
What wine will I open tonight?
I may wash the car, spray the weeds on the drive – but then again I could jump in the swimming pool and contemplate these tasks again tomorrow…
At times I’ve had an urge to write that was so strong I couldn’t hold back – just now is not one of those times. So I’ve been a bit quiet on the blog, preferring the immediate reward of Instagram where I can post an image and get a response back from a hundred followers within a day or so.
We’re ridiculously busy designing gardens in the studio, which is another reason why my urge to write has been quelled, and it’s spring so the telephone never stops ringing!
We have Cathy’s sister and my brother in law from South Africa arriving in a few weeks and our good friends from France as well, and Cathy and I have been gardening, getting things ready for lazy afternoons, and new faux wicker chairs on the deck under the camphor laurel are tempting us to sit on them for long lazy lunches, games or petanque’ and glasses of rose’. Without rain the paddocks are parched and when you walk over them you hear the brittle leaf blades and stolons snapping. Trees freshly planted throughout winter need buckets of water carried out to them or they’ll soon perish and this is what we do – we show them the love now and they’ll reward us in years to come with welcome shade.
The familiarity of my garden is comforting and I like the repetition of seasonal jobs. Each year the lilies appear from the bare earth and this week I staked the, tied a stem to each cane and sat one of my treasured antique terracotta pots on top. Each week I will revisit the lilies and if they have grown sufficiently I’ll add another twist-tie.
Cercis Forest pansy and newly staked lilium
Zucchini have been planted in the vegetable garden and rocket seeds for summer salads – I just hope the possums don’t eat them before I do.
Hippeastrum are one of those old fashioned plants that appear in old gardens and these are just another plant I find hard to resist when I find one I don’t have. Usually I’m fanatical about nomenclature and want the correct latin name on every plant I have but with hippies I know a few, others are known as Gail’s hippie because that’s who gave me the bulbs and then there’s the cream and red stroppy one that reminds me of a big girl wearing a dress that’s too tight and bright on race day…take a look you can guess what one I mean.