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Federation Gardens


One hundred years on from Australia’s birth as a nation, we’re seeing a resurgence of interest in the houses, plants and garden features of our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ gardens.


In 1901 Australia was, despite becoming a nation in its own right, still very heavily influenced by its British and European heritage. It was the end of the Victorian era, and many houses and gardens reflected the architectural features of that period. Ornamentation such as metal arches, arbors, gazebos and edging hoops were popular.

Gardening was more labour intensive and time consuming. The average home owner didn’t have access to heavy machinery, modern chemicals or fancy plastic products to create their gardens. People often grew their own fruit and vegetables, and used their home produce to make preserves.

Many of the plants that we grow today were also popular in 1901. In fact, studies have indicated that in many cases nurseries carried a greater diversity of plants than is common today. Australian native plants were very widely grown even then, but they were not used as we use them today to create bush gardens. Natives such as Callistemons, Tea Trees and Eucalypts were mixed in with exotic trees and shrubs.


*Decorative structures (pots, furniture and buildings had decorative designs)

*Federation green and other subdued colours

*Greater diversity of plants (most gardeners were plant ‘collectors’)

*Cacti, succulents, bulbs, perennial borders

*More intensive and high maintenance gardens


*Wrought iron

*Picket fencing

*Brick or gravel paths

*Bird baths and sundials

*Arches and gazebos

*Formal geometric garden layouts

*Well defined borders (eg. a low wall, brick or tile edge between garden beds and a path or lawn)

Some of the PLANTS THAT WERE POPULAR 100 years ago

The nineteenth century was a time when many new plants were discovered and brought into cultivation. People at this time favoured plants with striking architectural foliage as well as those with attractive flowers.

*Aspidistra *Agapanthus

*Quince *Pelargoniums

*Buxus hedges *Hellebores

*Roses *Fruit trees

*Hydrangeas *Wisteria

*Ivy *Succulents and cacti



While not every Federation garden would fit the following guidelines, by applying these ideas you can create something that is akin to the style of 100 years ago.

*Arrange the major garden features on your site with some degree of symmetry, eg. draw a line through the centre of the garden, then lay out the paths, lawns and garden beds so that they are similar in shape and size on both sides of that line.

*Position a major feature at one or several points along the central axis that dissects the garden, eg. a pergola, archway, statue, sundial or pond.

*Fence the garden with picket fencing painted in period colours, eg. Federation green, burgundy, cream)

*Mix different types of plants together to create flower beds and shrubberies. Keep taller woody plants to the rear of garden beds and place bulbs, perennials and herbs in the foreground.

*Incorporate some lawn areas, even if they are relatively small.

*Use either gravel or brick for pathways.

*Avoid using any plastics or other modern materials.

*Edge garden beds and pathways with traditional edging tiles, wire hoops or a low hedge of Box (Buxus) or a similar looking plant.

*Incorporate wrought iron (or aluminium) lacework into some part of the garden (eg. furniture or buildings).


GAZEBOS ‑ These are undercover areas designed to command a view or views. They may vary in shape from square to hexagonal or octagonal, and traditionally have a hipped or conical roof. They may be constructed of wood, cast iron, aluminium, or cement columns. Wooden shingles or palings are traditionally used for the roof, although corrugated or flat iron can be used.

STATUARY ‑ The more elaborate old style gardens displayed statues representing allegorical or historical figures set on to columns, piers and pedestals. These were positioned at various points in the garden such as grottos or secluded areas surrounded by shrubbery.

GATES AND ARCHES ‑ The addition of an arch or gate to a garden can result in a much more interesting effect. They may be constructed out of wood, wrought iron, galvanised pipe and in the case of arches, out of crimped wire.

SUNDIALS AND BIRDBATHS ‑ These can be both decorative and useful. They were usually fixed to a short column or baluster made of brick, stone or cast iron. Pre‑made sundials and birdbaths can be purchased which can then be set in to a base or pedestal of your choice. Remember that sundials are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere in comparison to those of the Northern Hemisphere.

GARDEN FURNITURE ‑ Furniture in the old style gardens varied from rustic through to the more formal. Woods such as teak and oak were popular for construction in England, while redgum and stringybark were popular in Australia. Cast iron furniture with interlaced patterns of branches, leaves, fern fronds and flowers were also popular in England and the United States.

URNS, POTS AND TUBS ‑ These were usually very ornate and rested on their own pedestal and base. They were constructed mainly of terracotta, stone or wood, and were often very heavy. Such containers were often placed on top of balustrades or walls or were formally arranged on patios, verandahs or in gazebos.

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