Dream Gardens

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Dream Gardens is a new eight-part series hosted by Michael McCoy, one of Australia’s leading landscape designer. In each episode Michael follows the transformation of one garden and watches on as the owners, working with our best designer’s battle weather, absent tradies, shifting design visions and budget blowouts. 

For design inspiration and clues to what the finished spaces will look like Michael also visits some of Australia’s most spectacular gardens, as well as providing practical design tips along the way.


Episode 8 – Balwyn, Victoria

Paul and Zoe Mitzi own a fabulous 1920’s art deco home in Melbourne, and they want a garden to match. But creating an ambitious space can take courage and bravery; especially when all of your friends and family think your design plans are crazy. Their dream is made even more challenging by the decision to project manage it themselves, while juggling busy full time jobs and family life with their two teenage kids. “In the words of Alan Bond, bite off more than you can chew and then chew like crazy” says Paul.

The vision is for a design that will create layers of greenery and foliage in multiple spaces that will cocoon the family in a 1920s inspired surrounding. Is it all a case of ambition outweighing ability? Whatever it is, the Mitzi’s are out to prove the doubters wrong.

Episode 7 – Avalon, Sydney

Fashion magazine editor Justine Cullen and events organiser Greg Mathew are wildly busy with three young kids and high-pressure jobs that often take them away from home. It’s their dream to have a garden sanctuary to escape, relax and recharge in.

To achieve this feel they want a design that brings the indoors, out. This means expanding the living area of their small fibro cottage on Sydney’s Northern Beaches by carving an opening into one side of the home. At the heart of the design will be a Mediterranean-style pool and a staggered deck down to a lawn, surrounded by planting and seating.

With her expert high eye for design, Justine is passionate about the finishes and wants her entertaining space to have a timeless, weathered look. The timber finish for the deck must resemble driftwood, a painting technique that the design team have not tried before. Another problem they face is the local landscape; the garden runs through a local flood zone so the pool will need to be raised.

To add to the challenges for the designer, Justine and Greg will be overseeing their project as ‘around the clock’ busy people do – by email, video calls and in person when they are both at home. Will this digital era approach to design – client consultation work?

To find sanity in the insanity they will need to push through one of the busiest years of their lives and pull off the perfect, designer retreat.


Episode 6 – Matcham, NSW

Nestled behind the Central Coast of New South Wales and surrounded by native bushland, is the rural retreat of Phillip and Maria Visalli. Using materials that are sympathetic to the surrounds including sandstone, weathered steel, and decomposed granite they have big plans to transform their land into a minimalist inspired garden. The planting scheme will be ornamental and mature fruit trees will provide instant impact and help frame the view that leads down to a lake.

The garden is not the only project the couple are embarking on, they are also expecting the birth of their first child and hope to have the garden complete in time for the big arrival. They also run a busy Sydney restaurant so they want the space to be somewhere that they can relax, unwind, and watch their family, and garden grow.

Sounds idyllic, right? However, as with most garden builds, delays, bad weather, budget constraints coupled with an ever evolving design conspire to keep the expecting couple ever waiting.

Episode 5 – Brisbane, Queensland

Since ancient time’s gardens have been celebrated for their healing power and more recently they’ve been shown to relieve stress, provide comfort and a sense of calm. For Roberto Masnata and his teenage children they are hoping that the transformation of their block will do exactly this and more.

The dream was to create the new garden with Karen, wife to Roberto and mother to Jordie and Lucca. It was to be the final stage of an ambitious project that had seen them work together to turn a dilapidated house near the Brisbane River into a gorgeous family home.

Tragically, just as the house was finished and the garden was starting, Karen lost her fight with cancer. Devastated at their loss but wanting to honour their loved one they hope that a new garden will help them heal and provide a fitting tribute to Karen.

But to get there they face an uphill battle, the block is on a madly challenging 45-degree slope and wild winter storms create design headaches. Luckily Roberto has employed a team that want nothing more than to do justice to the garden and to Karen.

Episode 4 – Connells Point, NSW

During the finishing stages of building their dream water front home on Sydney’s George’s River, Mark and Sandra Sader have pressed the green light on a design for their ultimate resort style garden. The plan is to have both house and garden finished at the same time; a good idea, in theory.

They quickly learn that you can’t put plants in the ground when building contractors are spraying concrete and trampling through site. The weeks turn to months, the finishing line chops and changes and so do the plans for the design.

If this job is to finish on time the relationship between the designer and the client is crucial; during the creation of this dream garden, designer Michael Bates, Mark and Sandra face many challenges.

This is a story all about relationships: the relationships between the builders and landscapers, the client and designer, a house and a garden. Can all of these survive so Mark and Sandra get their dream home and garden they so desperately crave?

Episode 3 – Strath Creek, Victoria

Mother Nature can be your best friend, but she can also be your worst enemy. Stewart and Sandra Hart lost their home, garden and wonderful memories in the devastating Black Saturday bushfires of 2009.

Rather than face the painful process of rebuilding, the Harts bought a property in a bucolic, country valley an hour’s drive from Melbourne. In search of inspiration for the garden they visited Stonefields, the home of Paul Bangay, one of Australia’s most in demand designers. Blown away by its beauty and idyllic setting they’ve tasked Paul with the job of recreating his magic in their own back yard.

The design is grand and ambitious with a focus on opening up the garden to the valley beyond and framing classic Australian views with well over a thousand plants and trees. As a tribute to the property’s heritage Sandra and Stewart have salvaged some of the old garden’s plants and challenged Paul to incorporate these into the plans.

The icing on the cake is a spectacular swimming pool: a source of water for their future bushfire prevention strategy and a place for their grandkids to enjoy long summer days in.
This is a story of regeneration and reward.

Episode 2 – Essendon, Victoria

All gardens are dream driven but now and again the dream turns into a nightmare.

When Frank and Mary-Anne D’Aquila bought their home the backyard was an overgrown slope. In pursuit of a family garden complete with pool, plants, and an entertaining space, they made the fateful mistake of deciding to level off the entire block.

Fast forward, three long years and their dream lay in tatters. Tonnes of dirt had been removed but what was left was a cracked, pool shell and monolithic concrete walls, the dream garden looked more like an end of the world bunker than a family oasis. This substandard construction job littered with flaws had cost $200,000.

With the original builder kicked off the job Frank and Mary-Anne had a long, unfruitful search for someone who could salvage the space. Finally, a designer saw the potential and work began on getting the D’Aquila’s out of their financial and backyard hole.

Transforming this botched job is a giant salvage operation. The trust between a client and designer must first be rebuilt before any of the original mistakes can be buried.

Can this garden disaster be made to look as if it was meant to be deliberate?

Episode 1 – Toowoomba, Queensland

For tree changers Michael and Rosi Kenny home is an 1890’s homestead just south of Toowoomba in Queensland, it’s an idyllic rural setting with cows and horses roaming freely across their acreage. Both share a dream of being able to live off the land by adopting a ‘grow it, eat it, live it’ ethos. But being surrounded by dry, rock hard paddocks means building a large self-sustaining kitchen garden will be easier said than done, and that’s all before you’ve tried to grow your own food under the intense Queensland sun.

Luckily for them this garden build will be a family affair because their son Clint is a local landscape designer. Based on his parent’s wish list he has drawn up the plans including numerous raised beds, a conservatory, water feature and orchard. The garden will be separated from the spectacular landscape by a wall hugged with fruit bushes.

Having parents as clients will certainly come with its own challenges and in between his day job Clint has offered to help them build the extensive kitchen garden. To keep costs down they are challenging themselves to use recycled and reclaimed materials in the ambitious design wherever possible.