Before artist and garden designer Ralph Bristow (of Ralph Bristow Garden Design and Services) overhauled the 2.5 acre garden nestled beside a stretch of Victoria’s Broken River at his Barwite home, it was a simple paddock filled with metre-high weed grasses.
‘The land had been grazed for a very long time and was cleared of almost all of its trees. There was no trace of any other native flora,’ he says.
For Ralph, creating the landscape was a very intuitive process, much like his painting practice. He worked without a brief, leaning on his ‘deep love’ of plants and made decisions based on colour and texture in response to the area’s existing natural surrounds.
‘I had to trust my process and let it evolve. I also let the garden tell me what to do,’ Ralph explains.
Three years later, the thriving Barwitian Garden now features a diverse range of plants and an abundant eco-system of birdlife, insects, amphibians and reptiles.
Between the house and river is a shallow bed featuring a combination of grasses, rock and Indigenous trees such as Eucalyptus and Tristaniopsis laurina (Kanooka/Water Gums). The rest of the land surrounding the property comprises a semi-wild perennial garden filled with colourful flowers including ethereal purple Agastache (Giant Hyssop) and pink Astillbe (False Goat’s Beard).
‘The planting merges into the paddocks beyond, which are dotted with ancient Redgum trees,’ Ralph says.
He notes how the feel of the garden changes dramatically with every season, with the cross over from autumn into winter being his favourite time of the year.
‘The early morning mist and light – and sometimes frost – give the garden a sense of drama and sublime intimacy,’ he explains.
‘My favourite part of the project is the theatre being played out before my eyes, coming outside every day and being amazed at the constant energy and change. To be able to connect with people through the garden is something I cherish.’