Follow the Red Brick Road: how a design evolves

We've recently been working on a concept for a new garden in inner Brisbane.

Our clients briefed us to create an inviting garden where it felt that the inside and outside of the house were interacting. Amongst their requirements:

  • a main outdoor living space that could accommodate outdoor dining and entertaining;
  • a firepit to gather around;
  • screening and softening of the site boundaries; and
  • a loose, casual feel to the planting, with bird-attracting species, edibles integrated with the ornamental planting, and species that reflected seasonal change.

Their property is in an area undergoing rapid transformation: at the moment the neighbouring blocks are all houses, but this will change, as development takes advantage of the inner-urban location close to transport, schools, parks and other terrific amenities..

The standout landscape feature on site is a large fig tree just inside the front boundary.

During the research phase our wonderful designer, Claudia, discovered a old newspaper article who's author had made the long trek from the city to our suburb (about a fifteen minute drive these days!), and urged readers to explore the "wealth of natural beauty" on offer.

"Excursion to Taringa on the river" 1911. Image: John Oxley Library.

"Excursion to Taringa on the river" 1911. Image: John Oxley Library.

Looking up into the fig tree on site.

Looking up into the fig tree on site.

"The suburb of Taringa, with its wealth of natural beauty...over hill crests, down through gully depressions, and then up by regular terraces of hills on to the ridges that lead to Brisbane's vantage point of view - Mt. Coot-tha. roofs peep through the tops of bush wattle trees, or trim green lawns contrast with rough, overgrown gully beds, the artistic sense is pleased."

Taringa: Sylvan Gem of Brisbane, 1931.


When combined with the site qualities and our brief, this all combined to inspire our initial concept:

All the surface treatments were based on stone: fine decomposed granite for paths, larger pebbles and gravels to blur the boundary between path and garden bed, stepping stones, and a large boulder under the tree that you could step up onto as a street lookout, or lie down to admire the canopy.

There was space for a large outdoor dining area and the firepit sat under the edge of the fig tree.

We presented this and discussed it with our clients, and they came back with some really useful feedback.

They also let us know that they would be using some beautiful old recycled bricks in key areas of the house, and asked if it was possible to incorporate some in the landscape too.

Good question!

Could we add brick to our relaxed, informal design without it looking like a bad '70s DIY project?

In this scheme we tried to use the recycled brick in the same way it was being used in the house: in long, linear bands. We extended the honed concrete terrace out as the base of the outdoor dining area.

With a limited quantity of brick available it figured it was better to use them when they would be seen and enjoyed, rather than under the tables and chairs.

The brick bands clustered close to the house and in areas where a more substantial pathway finish was required, and then became more loosely scattered towards the big fig tree.

As with the first concept, we really tried to create the feeling that this was a garden where you could find your way through the planting, rather than having very rigid and defined paths.

Our clients thought we were on the right track (so to speak) but that the linearity of the brick bands had moved a bit too far away from their original vision.

What would a contemporary brick garden path look like?

Well, this is where we've landed.

This has been a great exercise for us. We've had to change direction to accommodate a new material, and then explore how to use that material in a way that made best use of a limited resource, tried to work with the inherent properties of the material, and still retained the qualities we were trying to help our clients achieve.

We are happy, our clients are happy, and construction is going to commence very soon. We'll be sharing progress shots on Instagram, so you can follow along and see how it's developing.