An Inner-City ‘Country’ Garden That’s Full Of Life

Seam Lam, principal designer and director of Saint Remy, paints a vivid picture of how her Thornbury, Melbourne garden once appeared.

‘The backyard was wall-to-wall synthetic grass. It squelched in winter, baked in summer, and was a joy to rip up.

‘Meanwhile, the side access path would have given the most pebbly beach in Europe a run for its money.

‘The front garden had a large tea tree trying to grow its way to the Mornington Peninsula and a high brick wall that wrapped around the front porch.’

Fortunately, the garden was in safe hands. Seam is the principal designer and director of landscape design studio Saint Remy, and her partner Cam Gilmour is the practice’s project director.

Their vision was to create a country garden in the heart of Thornbury, to accompany the weatherboard Edwardian house.

‘It’s elegant, historic, and a little rough around the edges,’ says Seam of the house. ‘The garden is similar; sharp and sophisticated in places, wild and untamed in others.’

Seam and Cam soon learned that they were ‘pretty demanding’ clients. They were asking a lot from their garden, which features a south-facing backyard and minimal open space due to a studio positioned at the rear of the approximately 200 square metre block.

‘We wanted a garden that felt open, soft, and flowed beautifully around the house like it had always been there,’ says Seam. ‘The inspiration came from our love of naturalistic landscapes, meadows, and perennial gardens that shift with the seasons.’

The ensuing backyard design highlights the journey from the house to the studio where the couple work. (‘It’s a great commute!’ says Seam.)

A dense array of trees and ornamental grasses sit either side of a central path made of reclaimed European cobblestone pavers, sourced from Eco Outdoor.

‘We were lucky to find reclaimed cobblestones that were laid 200-300 years ago on European streets’ says Seam.

‘The story goes that the cobblestones were becoming a trip hazard after a few centuries of foot and hoof traffic. Cities like Berlin removed the cobblestone, cut them flush, and relaid them.

‘What you see in our garden are the wobbly, character-filled tops of the stone.’

The lushness of the garden is owed to its height, texture, and Saint Remy’s ‘more is more’ philosophy.

Trees including Lagerstroemia indica x fauriei ‘Natchez’ (crepe myrtle white) and Acer palmatum ‘dissectum Seiryu’ (lace-leaf Japanese maple) sit alongside flourishing Miscanthus transmorrisonensis (evergreen feather grass), interspersed with Salvia yangii (Russian sage), Pycnosorus globosus (Billy Buttons), and Dahlia hybrid (dahlia hot shot) for colour.

Both the front and rear porches and backyard fence area are shrouded in Parthenocissus quinquefolia (Virginia creeper) and Parthenocissus tricuspidata (Boston ivy) that create the feeling of an urban jungle.

Seam and Cam use the garden as a testing ground for their client projects, so the plant life is always evolving.

‘We get the garden settled, it blooms, and our neighbours say, “Wow!” Then we change things for the next season,’ Seam says.

Regardless of what’s growing at the time, Seam says the best part of the garden is what it generates — from wildlife to edible produce.

‘It’s seeing bees and spiders busy at work, having cut flowers on our kitchen table, or snipping fresh herbs for a big pot of phô. That’s the good stuff.’

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