The Fairytale Garden | An enchanting family garden in Melbourne

Garden design by Ashley James, Ashley James Gardens.

Adoringly known as ‘The Fairytale Garden,’ this sweet space is a haven for both young and old, where imagination knows no bounds. At the heart of this enchanting garden stands a bespoke cubby house handcrafted by garden designer Ashley James, which he has surrounded in his signature romantic perennial plantings full of colour and fragrances. 

Blossoming flowers dance in the gentle breeze, while lush greenery provides a sense of serenity. It’s a garden straight out of a fairytale book, where nature and imagination intertwine.

Fairytale kids garden

The Brief

Two young children were at the heart of all decisions made for this garden design. The intention was to create a whimsical play space for the homeowners’ children to engage and explore the natural world. The home and garden held sentiment for one of the owners, Clara, as it was her childhood home. She wanted the children’s new play space to be reminiscent of her youth spent playing in and enjoying this very same space.

Remaining in the garden, still years later, was an aged cubby house that had been built by Clara’s father, which she played in throughout her childhood. The plan was to restore the cubby, maintaining as much of the original structure as possible and to surround it with a garden abundant in natural life. The end result was to be a backyard that would fit right into a fairytale story.

Melbourne fairytale garden
Ashley James Fairytale Garden
Kids cubby/play house in garden

The Transformation

It was discovered early on in the project that, unfortunately, it would not be possible to refurbish the worn cubby house – so a new approach was necessary. With careful consideration of Clara’s wishes and some intricate working, Ashley was able to integrate aspects of the old cubby into a newly built cubby by incorporating one of the old walls into the new structure. Ashleys explains “the result was a cubby house that not only captured the whimsical charm of an old cottage but also carried the spirit of Clara’s father’s craftsmanship”.

A charming gravel pathway, bordered by second-hand red bricks, guides you through the garden and leads to the deck of the cubby house. As you step up onto the deck, you are greeted by a petal-pink door, inviting you to enter a world of imagination and play. 

The garden was developed with plantings in mind that would reflect the charming and whimsical feel of the new cubby. Dense perennial plantings are featured, adding colour and texture to the space. A small vegetable garden was included, allowing the children to connect with nature and learn about the joys of growing their own food. And an espaliered apple tree adds a touch of wonder and provides a delicious harvest.

Agastache aurantiaca ‘Sweet Lili’
Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’

Ashley was able to integrate aspects of the old cubby into a newly built cubby by incorporating one of the old walls into the new structure.

Espaliered apple tree

Espaliered apple tree

The Result

From the moment you step foot into this family’s backyard, you can expect to be taken on an enchanting journey. While a fresh approach to the garden has been implemented, the essence of the homeowner’s own childhood memories has been preserved. 

Summarised perfectly by the garden’s designer, Ashley James, this project “embodies the love and memories shared within a family. It is a testament to the power of design and the magic that can be created when we honour the past while embracing the future.”

Gaura & verbena bonariensis
Kids veggie garden

Key Planting List

To name a few of the many plants in this full garden…

  • Miscanthus sinensis
  • Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ (Feather reed grass)
  • Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’
  • Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian sage)
  • Echinacea purpurea
  • Verbena bonariensis
  • Agastache aurantiaca ‘Sweet Lili’
  • Buxus sempervirens
  • Lavandula angustifolia (English lavender)
  • Ajuga reptans
  • Gaura lindheimeri (‘Whirling butterflies’)
  • Dichondra repens
  • Nepeta faassenii ‘Walker’s Blue’ (Catmint)
  • Erigeron karvinskianus (Mexican daisy)
Kids cubby house
Landscape design by Ashley James Gardens.

Ashley James is an Australian garden designer and maker. Ashley James designs and builds gardens in a distinct style that uses informal design, traditional materials, dense plantings, and a mixture of ornamental and edible plants to create beautiful and productive gardens.