POD Gardens: The Viewing Garden

POD Gardens is an experienced landscape design, construction and maintenance company who have been in the business for almost 20 years. Their work has ranged from behind the scene projects on television shows such as Better Homes and Gardens, Australia’s Best Backyard and Action Squad through to residential courtyards to country acres in and around Merimbula and the enviable Sapphire Coast. Steve and Paula are the husband and wife team behind POD Gardens who whole-heartedly believe in delivering quality design and construction with sustainable results. We have the pleasure of introducing Paula to you, as she walks us through one of her favourite projects highlighting the process involved and the joy received from the end result.POD_3

There is a beautiful feeling being in this garden. When we are down here it feels like we are in a whole new place. It doesn’t feel like we are in our yard, but a nice little tropical retreat.

Words my client told me during one of our conversations after we built the garden. This feeling, that a garden can transport you from your everyday life makes me feel like I have achieved my brief. As a designer you are expected to come up with ideas all the while listening and getting a sense of what your clients want and more often than not being a mediator between the people who live in that space trying to find a balance of the owners’ tastes. It is a humbling experience being responsible for creating someone else’s garden.

Chris and Jackie contacted us four years ago wanting a new garden. The original garden was a blank canvas, a well maintained but steeply sloping lawn. The brief was simple, get rid of the lawn and create some levels, they wanted a backyard space they could use and a reason to be there.


A three-story house, with lovely views of Merimbula Lake, on the Far South Coast of NSW, towers above the backyard. It was clear early on that the design was as much about being a viewing garden from the decks above as being surrounded and immersed by plants and greenery when in the backyard. The garden wasn’t going to get used every day as Chris and Jackie already had beautiful sun drenched decks with expansive views, so I wanted the garden to be visually strong when looking down from above, but when within the space the garden had to be lush, enticing, a micro-climate of plant goodness.

The backyard needed structure to break up the vast amounts of garden space, two Blackbutt hardwood decks were built, one for entertaining and the other for relaxing, to create level and functional spaces without the need of retaining walls. Hardscapes, like decks and pavers serve a functional purpose but they also do a great job of highlighting and showcasing the greenery, making the plants and garden stand out. A pizza oven down here completes the ambience and makes a point of difference from the other decks above, drawing people down into the garden.


Connecting the two decks is a dry creek bed which suggests the idea of water without any of the hassles of maintaining it as you would a water feature of this scale. The rock placement needed careful consideration. The rocks and pebbles needed to look like they belong in the space as if water has pushed them around and settled them in place naturally. The larger rocks are part buried to appear as if they have emerged out of the ground over time. Ending the creek bed under the deck offers the impression that it continues on further down the garden. The recycled railway sleepers cutting through the creek bed as a path connecting the two decks are a rustic and functional option as steppers.


I like playing with plant combinations, colours, textures that work well together, you could say I’m obsessed by the idea. I would drive by a house three times to get a good look at how the plants were used, hoping I don’t look like a stalker. I pour over gardening books and magazines to look at plant combinations, storing them in my memory bank for later use, so when I was asked to design a backyard with so much planting space, I got excited by the possibilities.

I have my old favourite plants that I know work well and I also like to take calculated risks, throwing a plant variety or two that I’ve never used before, always being aware of individual plant requirements for shade, sun, soil requirements etc. This gives me the opportunity to expand my plant repertoire, forever learning and also I find it’s a good way of introducing new varieties to the area. Miscanthus ‘Sarabande’ is one such plant and I think the show stopper in this garden. What a plant! It makes me happy just writing about it. The fountain-like flowers appear from early autumn and age beautifully into winter where it starts to dry and even then still look interesting. Every winter the Miscanthus has to be cut back, 1.5m gets cut back to about ground level, making a huge impact on the garden. The surrounding garden needs to step up and support the garden when the Miscanthus go into hibernation, evergreen plants like Flax, Bird of Paradise and Astelia help fill the space and hide the cut back plants so the garden isn’t left with big blank spaces.


Another plant in this garden that deserves a mention is Alpinia zerumbet (Shell Ginger), long tropical lush beauties that arch over the deck, makes you think you’re in a tropical paradise; they fill a void beautifully with minimal care. I have seen it with a flower or two in this garden, but to be honest the foliage itself is enough to make the plant stand out.

I was lucky that the old garden already had a large overgrown clump of a tall variety of mondo grass (Ophiopogon jaburan); I divided this which gave me an opportunity to fill about three lineal metres of greenery through the creek bed blurring the lines between the creek bed and garden. Thank you freebies, I’m always on the lookout for plants to be used from the old garden within the new space.


The plants filled the space pretty quickly so it wasn’t long before the garden looked established. The use of fast growing plants like grasses is a great way of bulking the garden out quickly giving the slower growing plants like the Magnolia time to grow and establish. I tell my clients to wait about 18 months or so for their garden to start showing their true colours, giving the plants a chance to settle in. Chris and Jackie are great caretakers and their love for the garden shows in the care they give it and the way they use it. We come in about three times a year to trim and make sure things are ticking along beautifully, and I always seem to leave with a smile on my face.

Words by Paula Benneian. Images by Sonia Grothe.

The short of it…

POD Gardens
Landscape Design, Landscape Construction, Garden Maintenance
Merimbula and the Sapphire Coast, NSW