Creating a tranquil garden

Why do people use the same old boring plants to create gardens that are as inspiring as an accountant’s suit“? (with apologies to all our colourful accountant readers)

Over the holiday period I had the privilege of seeing a re-run of ‘Australian Story’ on ABC TV, featuring Dame Elizabeth Murdoch. Certainly an intelligent and compassionate woman most Australians are proud of.

Whilst being inspired by this woman my attention was focused on the way she described her garden which she has been creating and loving for over 70 years. According to Dame Elizabeth, a garden should be a place of tranquillity, not a centrepiece. What a statement of profound proportions when considering garden and landscape design.

Westringia fruticosa used formally to create impact and to blend a water tank and pump into the landscape
Westringia fruticosa used formally to create impact and to blend a water tank and pump into the landscape

If our quest in life is to be creative and compassionate whilst providing positive benefits to family and community, what better place to recharge our energies and have inspiring focused thoughts than in a tranquil garden. Psychologists tell us that the mind needs to be relaxed to create original acts of genius. We all enjoy the benefits from past creative thoughts originating from great human minds. Were it not for the tranquil space provided by the shade and fruit of a graceful apple tree on a hot day Isaac Newton may never have formatted his Laws of Gravity.
My mind went into overtime asking many questions which included:

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  • Why is our Shire being overrun by centre- piece gardens and landscapes putting at risk our reputation as a haven and retreat from the stresses of city living and business?
  • What drives people to create gardens that are based on rigidity and statements?
  • Why use old boring plants creating gardens that are as inspiring as an accountant’s suit? (for those accountants and bean counters out there please accept my apologies for the use of this rhetoric as I have nothing but praise for your ability to deliver required outcomes, in suits intended not to be colourful). I am of course referring to my pet hates of Leightons Green conifers, English Box hedges, red Photinia hedges, Silver Birch copses and the ever increasing use of Agapanthus borders.
  • Are not any lessons learnt from the past?
  • What principles of landscape design would make our landscapes more tranquil?


I could not answer many of these questions and gave up trying to comprehend the complexities of life. However I felt comfortable with the last question, and explored it further.

Principles of Landscape Design

I had to bring to mind my major design principles that contribute significantly to a sense of tranquillity while putting aside personal preferences and values outside the realm of normality. Some of my more binding principles are:

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    1. Blend your garden with the surrounding landscape rather than imposing upon it. You are part of your environment rather than the centre of it.
    2. Gardens should provide a sense of security by minimising risks associated with health and safety issues
    3. Natural elements such as stone, wood, metals and water should be incorporated where possible to give a sense of connection to the natural world.
    4. The garden should provide protection from extreme environmental conditions such as heat, cold and wind.
    5. Use strong colours such as silver, red etc sparingly allowing for more pastel colours to predominate.
    6. Form and function in the garden should be in harmony.
    7. Forms which are soft and rounded should predominate over hard lineal or horizontal lines.
    8. Places of privacy should be included to allow for solitude, reflection and composition of thought.
    9. The garden should attract an abundance of birds and other creatures providing enjoyment and a sense of wonder via observation.
    10. Your landscape should not be a burden to maintain and enhance. Ensure your plantings and insertions are sustainable – requiring minimal input of resources and energy.

Unfortunately in today’s world of fast food, convenience stores and backyard blitzes little emphasis is placed on creating tranquil landscapes. If you wish to create your own bit of tranquillity draw inspiration from other tranquil landscapes and temper your desire to create an instantaneous centrepiece.

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