Plant / Life: Robyn Prent

“Plants are my abiding interest,” Robyn Prent tells me. Hence, there’s no lawn in her Melbourne backyard, just wall to wall garden beds. “I wanted to make as much space as possible for plants. I wanted to be engulfed by them.”

Robyn Prent in her Moonee Ponds garden. Photo - Caitlin Mills

Robyn, her husband John and their three children moved into the Moonee Ponds property in the late 1990s. It was a relatively empty 60-meter-long backyard then – just grass and fruit trees, many of which still remain like the old mulberry, apple and walnut trees.

Robyn designed the garden herself, taking her time to get it right. “I spent about four years drawing it on paper. When I started building the garden I knew where it was going, what we’d end up with.” Her design philosophy was simple – she wanted it to feel abundant and full, have a focus on seasonal planting, and retain views to the western horizon.

I didn’t want a lawn. I just wanted a path through the garden and I wanted it to be an adventure, an exploration,”

“The path meanders, and you’re encouraged to stop, pause, change direction, get a different view. This makes the garden exciting to me,” she says.

Different seating areas lead off from the main pathway, like this deck, where Robyn and John often have breakfast in summer. Photo – Caitlin Mills.
The garden consists of a series of rooms leading from the house to the back gate of the property. Photo – Caitlin Mills
Scabiosa columbaria. Photo – Caitlin Mills
Robyn has used clipped, structural plants to divide spaces and provide contrast with the wild abundance of the mixed perennial and annual plantings within the garden. Photo – Caitlin Mills
Haworthia attenuata 'Zebrina'
Limonium perezzii. Photo – Caitlin Mills
The central gravel courtyard is framed by a series of striking standard catalpa trees (Catalpa bignonioides ‘Nana’). Photo – Caitlin Mills
This purple oriental poppy (Papaver orientale) just appeared one day in Robyn’s garden. What a gift! Photo – Caitlin Mills

The garden is a series of rooms, all linked together by the pathway to the back gate. Different spaces open up as the path meanders through the garden. A square gravel space with a central water-feature, flanked by standard catalpa trees (Catalpa bignonioides ‘Nana’) provides a strong focal point leading out from the house. The tall Italian pencil pines (Cupressus sempervirens ‘Glauca’) divide the garden space whilst not obstructing distant views.

The materials used in the garden are simple – gravel pathways, washed out timber decking and old brick walls augment the abundance of the greenery, rather than compete with it. Because, after all, the plants are the real stars of Robyn’s garden.

Constant change and flux means there’s always something to look forward to in the garden,” Robyn tells me.

“I have a lot of self-sown annual plants. They’re so giving, and they can so dramatically fill the garden with colour and form, then they’re gone.” Robyn loves plants like delphiniums, verbascum, impatience and poppies because of this. When the annuals die, she just chops them up and puts them back on the garden as mulch. And on it goes…

It’s clear that this garden, like all great gardens, is a deeply enriching labour of love for Robyn Prent. “I love returning home, walking around the back of the house and seeing the beautiful green oasis open up in front of my eyes,” she tells me. “The light and shade, the depth of green, the seasonality – It’s so enriching, so soothing for the soul.”

This story is part of our regular monthly collaboration with The Design Files. All images by Caitlin Mills

Robyn spends most weekends in the garden. ‘To me it doesn’t seem like a lot of time because I enjoy it so much. I look forward to working in the garden.’ Photo – Caitlin Mills
"When I planned the garden I only wanted to have blue, purple, white, silver and green as the colour palette," Robyn says. "I’ve slightly relaxed that idea, most notably when I fell in love with a red Dahlia!" Photo – Caitlin Mills