Hillside, in Melbourne’s outer north-western suburbs, is experiencing a housing boom. New streets and homes are springing up everywhere.

But it’s one thing to build a nice house here; it’s quite another thing to establish a garden.

It’s a tough environment – rocky and windswept, and the area has a fairly low rainfall by Melbourne standards. An indicator of its harshness is the original native vegetation, which is grassland with a scattering of tough trees and shrubs.

The grasslands, for all their hardiness, contain the most incredible diversity of beautiful wildflowers, and during spring especially, grasslands are vibrant.

The areas of native grassland that now remain are protected and, according to local landscape designer Wendy Clarke of Dirtscape Dreaming, the new locals are getting curious about the plants.

Grasses and wildflowers that grow naturally in the area are being planted in the newer gardens, as landscape designers help owners realise that some of the more traditional exotic plants and even some native plants just aren’t going to survive.

Wendy explains that the key to plant survival is to have a big focus on preparing the soil well before planting with plenty of compost and mulch.

‘We always ensure a lot of recycled green waste is added to a site,’ she says. ‘In this garden, for example, around 75 cubic metres of mulch and many trailer loads of horse poo were added.’

The clients are Brian and Jackie and their children Anthony and Alana, and their new garden is barely two years old. Jackie and the children are pictured at top, with Wendy on the right.

‘Jackie did a lot of the soil preparation and the planting,’ says Wendy. (Being a hands-on client does help with keeping costs down!) Jackie is also very fond of antique farm machinery, which make for interesting garden ornamentation!

The planting, while including some native and local species, is quite an eclectic mix. Smaller plants and groundcovers include Statice (Limonium perezii), Scaevola aemula (pictured above), Myoporum parvifolium (Creeping Boobialla), as well as succulents such as Echevera (right), Sedum and grasses. They are all mainly massed plantings so over time the plants will clump and grow together, forming swathes of colour and texture.

The stand-out achiever in this landscape so far is the Creeping Boobialla (Myoporum parvifolium) (right), which has already formed a dense and lush green mat that highlights its worth as a groundcover in a dry environment.


At the time of visiting, the Statice (below right) was putting on a brilliant vivid blue display.

Some of the larger plants include a copse of Agonis ‘Burgundy’ (right). An elegant semi-weeping dwarf variety of this tree with, as the name suggests, strong burgundy-coloured foliage.

Informal paths of granitic sand bordered with local river pebbles (‘Sunset Blend’) wind their way through the garden and around the front of the house to the entrance.

Black slate has been used as a veneer to walling and Wendy confesses that this was a suggestion of the landscape contractor, TKKK Landscapes, as Wendy’s original plan called for Castlemaine slate but this was a bit more expensive.

It’s heartening to know that over time, landscapes like this will not only help to ‘green up’ a harsh environment, but when the larger trees grow, they will soften the effects of wind and sun.