When Japanese, contemporary and ‘cottage garden’ influences collide — Haberfield, Sydney

When Japanese, contemporary and ‘cottage garden’ influences collide — Haberfield, Sydney

Haberfield Garden, Boomerang Street

Horticulturist and landscape designer, Christopher Owen, of Fieldwork is the creative mind behind this Inner West Sydney garden. Located in the gentrified neighbourhood of Haberfield, the family of this home required only one thing — a space for the children and dog to play.

The landscaping project was in conjunction with the work on the house by established architecture firm, Sam Crawford Architects. The design process was protracted, allowing time for interrogation into different design directions.

The design starts with a “horticultural riot” happening in the roadside garden, countered with a restful side passageway. The internal courtyard is a space for reflection, accompanied by a more contemporary back garden with room for the family to spread out.

The final result: Multi-functional spaces and an abundant garden that feels “clothed in plant life”. An absolutely breathtaking achievement.

A more simplified and contemporary back yard, giving space for the family to spread out.

The Brief

For the landscape design of this Haberfield home the client’s brief was, well, brief – a lawn for the kids and dogs to play.

“The clients were one of the best I’ve had the pleasure of working with. Fun, trusting, brave, and excited by the process and the result. A very rare experience for me in ten years of business!”

This internal courtyard is a quiet space of reflection, influenced by Japanese garden design.

The Transformation

The final design took on philosophical approaches that led to certain stylistic results.

The garden was divided into four areas and used as opportunities for expressing different garden voicings within the property, as each served a different function.

A “horticultural riot” in the front garden.


This garden was a stolen approach from Oehme, Van Sweden (OvS) – rip up the front lawn and fill the whole thing with plants. This was radical thinking in Washington in the 80’s when OvS was founded. And, to some extent, it was still radical 40 years later in Haberfield. It is the only garden on the street that doesn’t present with a lawn and skinny garden circumnavigating it.

Buddleja and gaura lindheimeri add movement and whimsicality to the front garden.

Lomandra grasses spill over the restful pathway.


This is the family’s new daily entrance to the house. The focus was for it to be a more restful space, after the “horticultural riot” at the front, as Christopher puts it.

The passage is a place for taking a breath. So here, the design was heavily influenced by the Japanese ‘stroll garden’ concept.

The side passage is influenced by Japanese ‘stroll gardens’.

Acanthus mollis along the entrance to the back garden. (Note: This plant is considered a weed in New Zealand due to its rapid spreading nature.)


Another restful area – a quiet space of reflection, with a pond as the focus. Again, this design is influenced by Japanese tradition, but the Haberfield garden rendition is planted in a more congested and freer way than the Japanese would.


This area is about family and fun. Horticulturally, it is an extension of the front garden approach but with a more limited plant palette.

It deliberately feels more contemporary to work with the concrete addition. (As opposed to the front garden which is meant to represent a cottage garden ‘on steroids’, and speaks to the heritage part of the building.)

Christopher and the Fieldwork team worked with experienced landscaper, Rhys Smith, to build the garden. They worked in partnership for three to four years, towards the shared goal of creating something special. Taking the time to put into developing the garden has helped shape what it is today.

Trachelospermum jasminoides clipped as a replacement for the classic buxus hedge.

The Result

The local community have fallen in love with the result. The garden gets to the heart of what Christopher was trying to express at the time – a horticultural conversation between the past  and the present.

Haberfield is a heritage suburb of the Inner West of Sydney. Inspiration was drawn from the nostalgic way we look at gardens of the past, particularly the concept of the ‘cottage garden’ and the myth around it.

The aim was to create a cottage garden that wasn’t flimsy. As such, techniques from Japan and modern design were adopted – particularly philosophies from OvS to underpin and ground the design.

“So for me, the garden is having a horticultural conversation with the past and present, perhaps it’s having an internal monologue.”

Christopher used this thinking to guide his rationale – to modulate the planting aesthetic so that each garden speaks to the associated architecture.

Key Plant Selection

Front Garden: 

  • Dwarf olive
  • Lagerstroemia (crepe myrtle ‘Natchez’) — flowering and deciduous tree
  • Gardenia
  • Gaura lindheimeri (whirling butterflies)
  • Miscanthus (silvergrass)
  • Buddleja (butterfly bush)
  • Loropetalum (Chinese fringe-flower)

Side Passage: 

  • Betula nigra (river birch)
  • Raphiolepis ‘Snow Maiden’
  • Lomandra ‘Tanika’

Courtyard and Back Garden: 

  • Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’
  • Pyrus ussuriensis (Manchurian Pear)
  • Lagerstroemia (crepe myrtle ‘Tonto’)
  • Nandina domestica
  • Fraxinus pennsylvanica ‘Urbanite’
  • Salvia leucantha (Mexican bush sage)
  • Pennisetum ‘Nafray’ (Chinese fountain grass)
  • Acanthus mollis (bear’s breeches)

Horticulturist and landscape designer, Christopher Owen of Fieldwork first considers the land as the ‘client’, and the client as custodian. By focusing on the needs and nuances of the environment, the best results are gained for all. With a landscape or garden design that has a feeling of inevitability.