This project was a newly constructed house on an estate in Melbourne’s North. The block was 500m2 of clay, with a house that effectively created an L-shaped yard.
The brief was to create a space that had room for an entertaining area, a vegetable garden, ornamental garden space and play space for three kids and a dog.
Analysis revealed two key environmental factors that needed to be addressed prior to planning – the clay soil, exposed brick and lack of tree coverage meant the summer sun was extremely hot, with heat retained in the baked soil overnight limiting overnight cooling for the household.
Secondly, the lot was placed at the base of a small hill, and prior to being filled was most likely the lowest point in the immediate vicinity. Due to the poor quality of soils, during periods of rain the yard would flood and become a mud pit, before eventually draining through the side gate and onto the road.
To deal with this two swales were proposed and dug, each 40 cm deep and filled with scoria. One along the back fence and one along the side, both of which ran into separate rain gardens that sunk 1 metre and were filled with smaller grave and stones, and planted with reeds. One of these can be seen on the left of the above image.
Working with a restricted budget and an entirely DIY approach, a two year plan was devised that was eventually pieced together over 18 months – resulting in a lawn, pond, trampoline, a number of strategically placed trees, raised vegetable garden beds, vertical vegetables on an adjoining fence and a paved and decked entertaining area.
The outcome was a yard space that provided numerous spaces for activities, enabling children to play together or separately and allowing space for adults to entertain also. The garden responded to all seasons, and gradually came alive with frogs in the wetter months and dragonflies in the dry, as the backyard that retained and drained water as required. Despite record rainfall occurring in the following year there were no more incidents of flooding. Lawn was placed over the back swale, and a gravel and brick area (above) over the side swale, with vegetables in raised beds and grown along the fence line.
The space became a place where the children would play, explore and experience different textures and colours outdoors, within a limited yard area.