Other people's gardens

A subtropical garden – fast!

Peter Nixon’s wonderful garden Seachanger at Forresters Beach on the Central Coast is one of three local gardens open on Saturday April 29 for Planty Fierce.  Get details here or search Planty Fierce Facebook. Meanwhile, here’s the story on the garden I wrote recently for Spectrum.

In the winter of 2104 garden designer Peter Nixon swapped the closet-sized courtyard of his inner city terrace for a corner block 10 minutes from the beach on the Central Coast. His new garden offered a typical suburban layout – a patchy lawn bordered by straggly shrubs expiring quietly along the perimeter fencing – and a big opportunity.

Not even a ghost of that hard-scrabble past remains. The garden spills over the fence with blue gingers glowing under the shade of the mature callistemons on the nature strip and bulky aloes contrasting with fine-leafed lomandra in the sunny areas. Inside the gate, all is lushness and colour, with Nixon giving reign to his enthusiasm for unusual plants from the world’s warm-temperate-coastal regions.

Seachanger, design by Peter Nixon

Around the house the deck is edged with easy-care, sun-hardy bromeliads. A large mirror, framed with a vertical garden, cleverly adds depth to the deck by giving the impression of an entrance to another part of the garden. There is more seating in the garden itself, on a floor of organic concrete shapes bordered with a cushiony groundcover, and roofed with a wavy bamboo screen. From this shady, relaxing den, the garden is all colour and texture, movement and change.

Seachanger, design by Peter Nixon


The key to this speedy transformation is, paradoxically, patience. Eschewing the urge for instant effects, Nixon’s first move was to spray the grass with glyphosate, let it dry off a bit, then lay the cardboard from his packing boxes over the top. On top of that he piled 300mm of an organic mix that included spent mushroom compost and composted manure and then he waited.

Seachanger, design by Peter Nixon

That’s not strictly true. Nixon is a self-confessed plant addict, so he didn’t only wait, he also scattered some annuals around to give himself something to look at. By the start of the New Year, the worms and microorganisms in the soil had broken down the cardboard and softened the soil. He boosted the mycorrhizal action with diluted worm castings, making the nutrients more available to his plants and finally started planting.

Seachanger, design by Peter Nixon

Nixon loves seasonal change in the garden, especially the ephemerality and dazzle of flowers. So first to go in were large flowering shrubs, including a Rademachera called ‘Summerscent’, which gets to about 2.5 m high and wide, with glossy green leaves and large bell-shaped flowers in palest lavender with a gold veining at the throat. This shrub does what murraya does, but without needing as much clipping.


The smaller shrubs and groundcovers came next, and given the importance of change to Nixon, there are annual and biennial treasures scattered all through the garden as well. So while the fullness and the well-smudged borders and edges make it seem much older than its two and a bit years, there’s still the freshness and thrill of the very new.

Seachanger, design by Peter Nixon


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