Book Review: The New Australian Garden: Landscapes for Living, by Michael Bates

With 30 years experience, Michael Bates looks at 18 gardens which he has built, a third of which he also designed and two from his own properties.

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Michael Bates has 30 years’ experience of making gardens, mainly in Sydney. In his first book he looks at 18 gardens which he has built, a third of which he also designed and two are his own properties. If you appreciate the landscaping in programs such as Grand Designs and Dream Gardens then you’ll like this book too.

I must admit to wondering whether a more appropriate subtitle would have been ‘Landscapes for the Wealthy’, as all the gardens must have cost a fortune to create when even the inner city courtyard garden boasts a lap pool.

Perhaps I’ve just got ‘garden envy’ but even if, like me, you have a small block and an even smaller budget you could still find some inspirational ideas in The New Australian Garden which, following in the spirit of the American landscaper Thomas Church, does not have any hard and fast rules on what makes a ‘good’ garden.

Gardens are for people to use as they please whether that is to relax, grow food, play or eat outside. Whenever possible, Bates works in conjunction with the building and landscape architects to create a garden which relates to the dwelling and the setting. The reader will find some interesting details and insights into the design process for both the residence and the garden in the various Conversations with the Designers sections.

The home gardener may get some new ideas from unusual combinations of plants such as a carpet of Soleirolia soleirolii (baby’s tears) randomly interplanted with Doodia aspera (prickly rasp fern) or the planting in the author’s own garden around a small pond containing an overflowing urn. Here, Bates has combined Ctenanthe setosa ‘Grey Star’ (never never plant) with Plectranthus ‘Nico’ (Swedish ivy), fine textured Liriope muscari (lilyturf), Viola odorata (sweet violet) and Neomarica gracilis (walking iris) which provide contrasting textures and colours making a lush tropical surround for the water feature.

For most of the gardens Bates has used a small range of plants relative to the size of the property. This is a good tip for more modest gardeners as repetition of a limited number of different plants in drifts or clumps throughout the garden often gives the illusion of more space in the garden and helps to unify the design. There is an outline plan and a plant list for each featured garden but, unfortunately, individual plants are not named in the index with only page numbers for plant lists provided.

I think most readers will view this book as a coffee table volume as it contains some beautiful photography, showing how different plants work well together and also how they relate to their setting.

Reviewed by Jan Kershaw

Rating out of 10:  7

Released by: Murdoch Books
Release Date: September 2017
RRP: $59.99

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