Published on 17 August 2020

Planting the seeds of success

Sitting out in the backyard under the box gum is Mark and Paddy’s favourite spot in their Willunga garden.

With a sparkling red in hand and the birds singing, you don’t question Paddy when she smiles and says “Life seems pretty good”.

Bursts of colour greet you right from the roadside and as you near the house, there’s an abundance of lush greenery.

Australian natives, geraniums, pelargoniums, daisies and succulents fill their front and rear gardens with the mix giving an interesting sculptural contrast.

In spring, white domestic oxalis gives a delightful ground cover.

At the back of the garden, native shrubs to encourage the birds are plentiful and rock piles create a fantastic home for lizards.

To the side of the house is an enclosed fernery which provides cool breezes during hot summer nights, making the home more energy efficient.

It’s been a labour of love for the pair, whose garden was merely a paddock with two old box gums when they purchased the land in 2002.

“Our architect was instructed, as part of his brief, to save the box gums at all costs. There was also only a couple of millimetres of top soil,” Mark says.

“We started establishing the ‘bones’ of the garden early. Much of the slate walls and paving happened in the first five years. This use of Willunga slate is a distinctive feature , which led to the name The Slate Garden for the property.

“Paddy saw Peter Cundall from Gardening Australia do the wet newspaper and compost trick to improve soil, and started that almost immediately.

“We actually started planting at the back of the garden while the house was being built.”

After living there from 2004 to 2010, Paddy secured a job in Melbourne. During their time in Melbourne they employed someone to tend to their garden, but it didn’t work that well, and then the garden experienced one or two droughts.

They lived in interstate for three years but “couldn’t bear it and came back again”.

“The garden has evolved; We’ve not had a plan but instead work to a philosophy and principles that guide us in our choices,” Paddy says.

“We live on Willunga Hill, and plants can find the heat and wind a bit savage.

One of Mark and Paddy’s main principles is that their garden needs to be sustainable.

“Our main plantings are tough, and we don’t buy plants that require a lot of water even though we have rainwater tanks,” Mark says.

“We have no lawn at all, instead we have paths and large garden beds.”

Even the verge is grass-less.

“When I trim plants, I stick the bits in the verge, and now our visitors arrive to a splash of colour,” Mark says.

“We are drawn to colour, and Paddy sometimes tries out combining plants to achieve a certain contrast or effect.”

Neither Mark nor Paddy have a background in horticulture or gardening, with both admitting their mothers enjoyed garden but “that’s all”.

“I have always liked gardens but have not been a keen gardener really, until we bought this property,” Paddy says.

Retired life has allowed them to spend more time in their garden and put their stamp on it.

Mark and Paddy’s garden won the best residential garden category in last year’s mayor’s garden competition.

It was the first garden competition the pair had entered, but they’d recently been part of the Open Garden SA scheme.

Nominations for this year’s competition are open now until 18 September.

There are four categories to enter – urban, rural, school and community – with prizes up for grabs.

Entries are assessed on first impressions, design, maintenance and sustainability.

City of Onkaparinga Mayor Erin Thompson says the annual competition is a showcase of the city’s best gardens and green-thumbs.

“The mayor’s garden competition celebrates the efforts that go into creating and maintaining a garden,” Mayor Thompson says.

“We have so many beautiful gardens within our city and they play a significant role in the amenity of neighbourhoods.

“Getting outdoors in the garden isn’t just enjoyable and uplifting, it’s great for good physical and mental health too.

“It’s been a challenging year with the coronavirus pandemic but a positive has been the opportunity for people to spend more time at home, with their families and in their gardens, and I’m looking forward to visiting the gardens nominated in this year’s competition.”

So, whether you’ve just discovered a new-found love and interest in gardening, or are a self-confessed green-thumb, enter your garden in the mayor’s garden competition.

For more information or to nominate, visit the City of Onkaparinga website.

Mark and Paddy's Willunga garden won the residential category of the Mayor's Garden Competition in 2019.