When it came to creating this dynamic, multi-level garden in Sydney's North Bondi, architect Andy Harding drew on a surprising philosophy handed down from his parents: “If you become a gardener,“ they often said, “you become a thief.”
Andy prefers to think of it as rescuing plants rather than stealing them, and his garden is full of plants salvaged from demolition sites all around the eastern suburbs – Bondi and Vaucluse in particular.
“I'd talk to the demolition crew as they were finishing work on a Saturday and ask them what was going to happen to that frangipani or some other tree when they returned. If they said they were just going to rip it out, I'd say ‘Well, I'll come and take it then.'”
So Andy would return on the Sunday, dig up the tree and take it home. Occasionally these rescue missions led to some hair-raising adventures, such as the time he drove home with a tree in a mate's ute. The root ball was on the bonnet, with the rest of the tree straddling the cab and spreading out through the tailgate.
It's obvious that Andy is a person who needs to live with a garden. Before he and his family moved to North Bondi, they lived in a fourth-floor flat where he crammed the balcony full of potted plants, all the while hankering for a proper garden space of his own. That opportunity came 10 years ago, when he and his partner, Louise Bell, bought this property in partnership with their good friends Phil Moore and Caroline Quaine. Andy, Louise and their daughter Grace, 11, now inhabit the lower half of the duplex while Phil, Caroline and their two children live upstairs. It's an arrangement that gives everyone the benefits of communal living with an extended family when they want it, and privacy when they don't.
“We might go a week without seeing each other,” says Andy. “But we do lots of things together. We have dinner together regularly and go away on holidays together. The kids go to the same school and they're almost like siblings to Grace.”
Andy and Phil are both architects – Andy's a principal of Stanic Harding, Phil of Melocco & Moore – and have known each other for 20 years. Together, with input from Caroline and Louise, they have transformed the duplex from a dark and charmless dwelling, with no view to the backyard, into the attractive, light-filled modern residence it is today. The garden, revamped to an equal degree, is a particular source of satisfaction.
“The great thing about gardening is that you can get something for nothing,” says Andy. “You put a bit of effort in and you get back heaps.”
What he gets back, he says, includes “sanity, joy, vitality and pleasure”. Hard work was definitely called for in the creation of this garden, especially in the establishment phase. After hiring an excavator to chop into a rock ledge, in order to make shelves and steps connecting the two levels of the back garden, Andy and Phil worked up a fair sweat shaping the rock further with a jackhammer. They also moved plenty of sandstone blocks into place to make retaining walls and steps. The result is an urban wonderland, with distinct planting zones at the front, rear and side. Even the nature strip is now home to a couple of flowering eucalypts, underplanted with feathery grasses donated by a neighbour.
The front garden is “gorgeously in flower”, says Andy, from November through May, when the frangipanis keep giving a great display. Strong colour is provided here by gazanias, echiums, salvaged native orchids and the stunning tangerine blossoms of Eucalyptus ficifolia, which was purchased rather than rescued. “You can't transplant eucalypts,” says Andy. “They just die.”
Frangipanis have become a personal favourite and Andy now has quite a collection: a dozen at last count. Most bear white flowers, the type best suited to the Sydney climate, but red- and pink-blooming varieties are also represented. Other plants in this chock-full space include an edible fig as well as datura, yukka, bromeliads, agaves, flowering kalanchoes and aloes, most of which were rescued.
The back garden has a stronger emphasis on native plants. It's tightly planted around the edges with native guava, eucalypts and blueberry ash, with an understorey featuring more agaves, bromeliads and clivia. The two families often catch up here on weekends. Seated around a table on a paved level area, shaded by palm, brushbox and flame trees, they raise a glass to their garden paradise.
If you want to move a frangipani, try to get some of the root ballout by digging carefully underneath the tree. Leave the arterial roots as long as possible.
Plant trees into a hole filled with a bag or twoof potting mix. Add a dose of rooting hormone: half a jar to a bucketof water is good.
Keep watering freshly transplanted newcomers.
Succulents and other robust plants with hardy roots are the easiestto move; more fragile specimens need much more care before, during and after transplanting.
Allow succulent cuttings to dry out well – for three or four weeks at least – before planting them into well-drained soil.
Cultivate friendships with mates who own utes to help you ferry the plants home!