Plant/Life: Lindsey Baudinet’s Birchgrove Garden

Lindsey Baudinet has been gardening for much of her life. She is a no-fuss gardener, into plants for their form, colour, and texture, rather than their horticultural notoriety. I like this about her, and it reminds me of a conversation I once had with English garden designer John Brooks. Brooks is of the most influential garden designers of the last 50 years or so, and has a wonderful garden in Sussex, England.

I was surprised when John told me he was not particularly fussed by the horticultural side of plants. What he was most concerned about, he said, was their aesthetic qualities – how they look, feel, and move in combination with other plants in a garden. I have a feeling most creative people tend to approach gardening in the same way: the garden as a composition rather than a collection.

Lindsey’s garden is a wonderful example of this. She claims to have little serious horticultural knowledge, yet has created a magical garden in Birchgrove, on the shores of Sydney Harbour, overflowing with a wide collection of plants from succulents to bromeliads, begonias and orchids. It is a no-nonsense garden, and Lindsey is an intuitive gardener. She says,

“The plants work out where they are happiest. Things die, you try something else. If you get the plant in the right place then it thrives. That is what a successful garden is. Not something that you have to cosset and look after.”

She and her husband Bruce have owned this property for over thirty years. Seven years ago, when their children left home, Lindsey got stuck into transforming the back garden (with phenomenal city views!) from a damp, half dead lawn, to a lush and vigorous garden overflowing with tough, sculptural plants.

The house entry is framed by a Madagascar jasmine (Stephanotis floribunda) growing along the verandah. How great are the tessellated tiles?!
A marble sculpture by John Edgar is framed by huge red bromeliads (Alcanterea imperialis ‘Rubra’) on one side, and the soft grey foliage of the felt plant (Kalanchoe spp) on the other.
Lindsey and orchid!

She enlisted the help of Peter Miles from Terre Verte to build the sandstone walls and help with the planting design of the central garden. They worked together to select plants that would both survive the extreme location (full sun in summer and full shade in winter) and balance each other aesthetically.

“I really like sculptural plants. I studied fine arts at university, I’ve been a weaver and a potter, and I’ve always dabbled in the creative realms. It’s the design element and the combination of plants that I love most about gardening.”

The design is simple; sandstone steppers in gravel and groundcovers leading out from the house, through a lush garden, and down to a small lawn, a raised vegetable patch, and sandstone steps down to the water. The plants (aside from the view) are the real stars of the show, especially Lindsey’s brilliant succulent and cactus collection!

As this garden illustrates, gardening is not just about knowing botanical names and horticultural information. It’s a creative process. It involves experimentation, successes, failures and fun. And it’s addictive. “I’m in the garden every day. It is wonderful to get home at the end of the day and come down to the garden. It’s a lovely rhythm in life.” Lindsey says.

This garden is all about texture, contrast, and form. The gold stonecrop (Sedum acre ‘Aureum’) sits perfectly against the purple of the aeonium (Aeonium ‘Schwarzkopf’).
Lindsey’s impressive succulent and cactus collection includes Aloe, Crassula, Echeveria, Sedum, Kalanchoe and other weird and wonderful ones.... I can’t name them all!
Simple sandstone stepping-stones lead from the house through the garden. An angels trumpet tree (Brugmansia spp.) hangs over the pathway, with beautiful scented blooms in summer.
The garden is a mass of colours and textures. Golden stonecrop (Sedum acre ‘Aureum’) contrasts with the rich purple of the Aeonium (Aeonium ‘Schwarzkopf’). A giant travellers palm (Ravenala madagascariensis) frames the city view.
An amazing native orchid clump hangs from the branch of a tree. Beneath is a mixture of bromeliads, begonias, cardboard cycad (Zamia furfuraceae), and even some native grasses (Lomandra ‘Tanika’)!
The sculptural nature of an aloe plant (not sure which one!) contrasts with the ball shaped bush germander (Teucrium fruticans) and strappy dragons blood tree (Dracaena draco) in pot. Groundcover planting includes green aeonium (Aeonium spp.) and creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum)
Oh, the view! Next to the water is where the toughest plants live – including century plant (Agave attenuata), which contrasts beautifully with the blue of the chalksticks (Senecio serpens). In the mix are also Crassula ‘Bluebird’, Kalanchoe tomentosa and plenty of others.