South Melbourne Retreat — Ian Barker Gardens

Whoever said bigger is better certainly hasn’t visited this South Melbourne retreat.

When working with small gardens, it’s important that the selected plants and materials maximise the space available. If you want to add feature pieces into landscapes such as courtyards and balconies, it’s essential to consider the size and impact they’ll have on the garden.

In this garden, Ian Barker Gardens were tasked with developing a peaceful, all enveloping garden that also provided privacy and sun protection for this Melbourne home.

Existing brick walls were painted black and planted with Boston ivy (parthenocissus tricuspidata) to climb them.


Out the front, the small space had to function well for multiple purposes. It needed to be a welcoming entrance, have a functional bin storage area and be an attractive view from one of the home’s bedrooms.

In the rear garden, the brief was protection and privacy. The homeowner needed protection from the heat of the northern sun and privacy from the surrounding properties.


The pathway is made up of a series of concrete strips with bluestone inlays.



The design aimed to bring as much greenery into the space as possible so that when you’re within the house looking out, you feel enveloped by green.

The existing brick walls were painted black and Boston ivy (parthenocissus tricuspidata) was planted against it, allowing the green to cover the space and diffuse the walls and boundaries.

Two Japanese maples (acer palmatum) on either side of the garden will grow to provide a canopy over the area. Bringing a peaceful feel to the garden.

A functional and discreet bin storage area is screened with a timber batten gate.

The garden is contemporary in style, so a series of concrete strips with bluestone inlays was chosen for the pathway. These steps “float” across the garden to the front door. Because they’re elongated, they make the front garden feel larger while adding the functional element of a garden path.

One of the home’s bedrooms looks directly onto the front garden. A feature bowl filled with succulents and dichondra ‘Silver Falls’ was incorporated into the design to offer a subtle focal point in the garden. It’s a simple feature that blends seamlessly with the garden design and doesn’t detract from any functional elements (such as walkways).

From a functional perspective, discreet bin storage was included. It sits out of prime view and is screened with a timber batten gate.

A feature bowl filled with succulents and dichondra ‘Silver Falls’

The perfect pair – Iris germanica and Ophiopogon japonicus. Ophiopogon japonicus (or Mondo Grass) is best known for its attractive evergreen foliage that forms dense tufts of arching, strap-shaped, grass-like, dark green leaves.


The design incorporated two elements to aid screening; a large open pergola draped in a grape vine (vitis vinifera) to provide dappled shade in the summer months.

The vine is deciduous, so it allows the light to shine through during Melbourne’s cooler months. Boston ivy (parthenocissus tricuspidata) was planted below to climb the fence and create a beautiful green effect of varying foliage sizes and textures.

A burnished concrete bench seat in the rear courtyard.

Behind the concrete bench seat, we planted pleached Carpinus betulus to create a privacy screen blocking out the side of the property. To underplant, we opted for an evergreen palette of Rhaphiolepis ‘Oriental Pearl’, Iris germanica and Ophiopogon japonicus (Mondo Grass).

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Plant Selection

  • Acer palmatum (Japanese maple)
  • Carpinus betulus (European hornbeam)
  • Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’
  • Iris germanica (bearded iris)
  • Ophiopogon japonicus (mondo grass)
  • Parthenocissus tricuspidata (Boston ivy)
  • Rhaphiolepis ‘Oriental Pearl’
  • Vitis vinifera (grape vine)

Hardscape Specification

  • Bluestone paving
  • Burnished concrete paving
  • Burnished concrete bench seat
  • ‘H’ beam steel pergola with stained timber insert
  • Stained timber battens fixed to horizontal beams overhead
  • Vertical timber batten screens

Ian Barker Gardens is a landscape design, construction and garden maintenance company based in Canterbury, Victoria. Founded by Ian Barker in 1996, the Ian Barker Gardens team has a wealth of experience and knowledge in the landscaping industry.