Grounds: Cafe Gardens & Garden Cafes

Engine Room Cafe

With a long weekend coming up, it’s time to start planning the all-important city exodus. Why not turn your thoughts to a scenic trip through the Lockyer Valley and up over the range to Toowoomba?

Beat the Carnival of Flowers crowds by going at this time of year, and if you do, consider popping in to the Engine Room Café. No matter what you select from the menu it will tide you over for a good week or two – exactly what is required from a day-trip pit stop!

The best place to sit is the courtyard out the back…it’s not obvious at first glance, but well worth backtracking from the counter, through the gift shop, and up the stairs to sit out and enjoy the winter sun.

There’s a simple timber frame structure overhead and the floor is a mix of deck and old concrete. I was most intrigued though, by the walls.

A simple and fairly cost-effective series of ‘green walls’ has been created by wrapping the courtyard in curving panels of reinforcing mesh.

El-cheapo brush fencing panels are secured front and back…

…and a healthy profusion of vegetation bursts through beneath the dappled light.

Amongst the stars are maidenhair ferns, and a host of bromeliads.

Adding colour are a bougainvillea and a native violet that’s hurled itself around the base of the screens and up the front like a rat up a drainpipe.

Being disinclined to deconstruct the courtyard I wasn’t able to see what was going on behind the screens, but I imagine the pots and growing media are all back there, hanging from the reo mesh.

If you’ve read the story on Chicago’s Garfield Park Conservatory City Garden you’ll know of my fondness for garden structures made from reinforcing bars and mesh.

I reckon the Engine Room Café shows another way to use this readily available and versatile material to good effect.

Now tell me what you think? Do you like the contrast between the rusty reinforcing mesh and the verdant greenery?

Let me know in the comments below.

Happy Long-Weekend-Planning, and see you soon for more from the world of landscape and design.


Note: the Engine Room Cafe is at 1 Railway Street, Toowoomba.

I Don't Like Flowers. Can I Still Have a Garden?

If you saw the story on the Garfield Park Conservatory City Garden in Chicago, you couldn’t have failed to notice the riot of spring flowers erupting at every turn. 

Flowers are all around us; helping plants (and people!) get their groove on.

I remember being sent two dozen new season peonies once, by a lovely man who looked exactly like Daniel Craig in Casino Royale.  Actually, no, that never happened. Focus, Landscapology.

But what happens if you’re not that keen on flowers?

I don’t mean if you have sinus-shattering allergies, or you break out in hives if you come within cooee of a chrysanthemum. I mean what if you just plain don’t like ‘em, can’t stand ‘em, and don’t want them in your park or garden?

Does it mean you’re a bad person, willfully denying yourself and others oceans of horticultural pleasure? 

No, of course not!

What is does mean though, is that you’ll have to be a whole lot more selective when choosing plants.

There are two types of plants available to you.

The first are the true non-flowering ones. Whilst nearly all plants use flowers to help them beget more plants, some ancient plant families do not use flower power at all.

Mosses are flowerless plants that are incredibly beautiful, but often overlooked. Worse, they are sometimes dismissed as undesirable, and blasted out of their quiet lives in wall and paving joints, or under trees. I have quite a thing for moss, and can't resist patting its velvety verdure whenever given the chance. If mosses thrive where you are, why not embrace their delicate beauty.

The original 'green wall': moss cascades down a rock face at Fallingwater in Pennsylvania.

The original 'green wall': moss cascades down a rock face at Fallingwater in Pennsylvania.

Delicate filaments catch the light on top of this wall at the Medellin Botanic Gardens.

Delicate filaments catch the light on top of this wall at the Medellin Botanic Gardens.

Like mosses, ferns do not have flowers, but reproduce using spores.

From the delicate fronds of this hanging fern...

From the delicate fronds of this hanging fern... the tough leaves of the birds nest. the tough leaves of the birds nest.

Conifers are also plants that do not have flowers. In Australia, the kauri, huon, hoop and bunya pines are just a few of the conifers that reproduce using seeds rather than flowers.

The unmistakable form of the mighty Bunya Pine.

The unmistakable form of the mighty Bunya Pine.

The second type of plants increases the options considerably, but may not be strictly by-the-book for the botanical and horticultural purists amongst us. Just so you know.

Included here are those that produce very insignificant flowers, flowers that ‘don’t look like flowers’, or those that flower incredibly infrequently.

The following represents just a tiny selection of plants in this category.

Palms are grown for their foliage rather than their tiny flowers. When they do get around to it, some palms also bloom only once, at the end of their lives. 

Grasses have fine foliage in a range of colours and textures, and many have feathery flowers that ‘don’t look like flowers’, helping you get around your self-imposed flower ban.

Many succulents have tiny flowers, or a very short bloom time. (Some are totally OTT though, so choose carefully). 

Agaves are succulents that grow for years and flower but once, in a spectacular vertical eruption that is not for the faint-hearted. Following this the plant dies. Until then they are sculptural, hardy, and flower-free. 

Culinary herbs all produce flowers. During the growing season we usually want to encourage the production of more aromatic foliage by pinching out any flower buds as they emerge. At the end of the season you can avert your eyes, let the plants flower, then look back in time for them to go to seed and pop off the twig. 

Finally, the composition of different types of foliage plants can produce incredible results. Tightly clipped hedges form the structure of the Green Dock at Thames Barrier Park. Whilst some flowering plants do make an appearance, it is the grasses and foliage plants of many forms and colours that are the main attraction. 

Similarly at Landschaftspark Duisburg Nord, hedges form an important part of this garden, but so do the rampant climbers displaying their look-at-me seasonal colour change. 

But you know better than me!

Wherever you are in Australia or around the world, what plants would you suggest for our anti-flower friends out there? If you're a flower-averse reader we'd love to hear from you too!

Share the love in the comments section. Of course if you know someone else who’d enjoy this story, be sure to pass it along, and to check back soon for more landscape inspiration.