Exuberant Garden Blends Grandeur With Tranquillity
Belle Magazine Australia|October 2021
While nearly half a hectare, this exuberant garden blends grandeur with tranquillity and a surprising intimacy at every turn.
Chris Pearson

When shaping this lush hideaway on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, landscape designers Secret Gardens truly lived up to their name. Just shy of half a hectare, the tropical sanctuary reveals itself on a grand scale, with sweeping lawns providing a vast stage for towering palms and eucalypts. Yet it’s also surprisingly intimate and cosseting, the effect nurtured by discrete – and discreet – garden nooks enclosed by drifts of luxuriant greenery.

The creator of this “curated jungle”, principal Matt Cantwell has forged a fertile partnership with nature, enjoying the luxury of time as he has watched the private paradise flourish from awkward adolescence to beautiful adulthood since he first entered the gate 16 years ago. Then it was plain and unprepossessing, with perhaps the most glaring design fault being a grove of cane palms and cabbage trees separating the house and pool from the sprawling backyard beyond. In the front was lawn overload, the garden fully open with little privacy from neighbours and the street. And the plantings were “too small and insignificant” in relation to ancient eucalypts that dominated the site, says Matt.

“The owners wanted a tropical garden like a mini-Botanic Gardens with sweeping lawns and massed plantings of tropicals and perennials blurring the boundary fences to make the whole site very private,” he says. “It was to have an Hawaii vibe, like Fantasy Island, where you might expect Tattoo to pounce out of the bushes.” While characters in that 1970s TV classic were often disappointed, the owners’ dreams came true here.

In this, Matt was helped by the garden’s natural assets, including its topography and climate. Nestled in a valley, the site “has an amazing microclimate that holds its humidity making tropical plants especially easy to grow”.

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