Identifying garden styles

Gardens play an important aesthetic and functional role in relation to the presentation of a house and its streetscape setting.

Garden styles were not necessarily confined to particular periods in Australia’s history. They often combined features of several styles layered over time according to changes in taste and fashion.

Understanding the traditional garden style for a typical period house is essential to make informed decisions regarding new layout designs and plantings.

A garden is a rich and valuable component complementing the character of the house, street and neighbourhood.

While plants are an important part of the garden, other elements such as fences, paths, walls, furniture and statuary make a significant contribution. 

The primary function of front gardens is about display, whereas the back and side gardens function more as outdoor spaces for fun and practical uses.

These guidelines provide some typical examples of garden styles in suburban Brisbane.

Traditional gardens

Common garden elements of traditional Brisbane residences comprise some of the following:

  • front garden layout: square or rectangular-shaped lawn, straight paths and planted borders behind a front fence with palm trees often planted either side of the footpath entrance to focus attention on the house
  • back garden layout: more utilitarian than a front garden; often with paths to the clothes line, vegetable garden and tank stand, with plant species such as mango and pawpaw trees, vine covered trellises and hedges along the boundary
  • foliage: includes a variety of subtropical trees and shrubs of diverse textures and colours contributing to the play of light and shade
  • fencing: aesthetically-pleasing front fences in timber picket, timber post and rail, chain mesh, brick or stucco form an essential component of the house presentation to the street, whereas side and back fences are more utilitarian.

Key steps to recreate a traditional garden 

  • Ensure the garden complements the house, reflecting its history, even if incorporating contemporary garden ideas.
  • Investigate documentary material for clues to reconstruct the garden’s layout, appearance and history.
  • Look for remains/evidence of earlier plantings, such as mature trees and shrubs, as well as features such as fences, fountains, bird baths or pathways in your garden or where houses have similar style gardens.

Traditional garden styles 

Geometric or squared style

This garden type was: 

  • styled on the English cottage and kitchen gardens which catered for the needs of early settlers to grow plants for food
  • straight forward, with ordered symmetry, characterised by straight walks, shrubberies, hedges, fruit trees, kitchen and herb gardens, flowerbeds.

The ‘cottage garden’ may still be appropriate for a worker’s cottage front entry or for a ‘kitchen garden’ at the rear.

Popular fencing included wooden picket fences and gates.

Picturesque

Many larger Brisbane gardens featured elements of the picturesque style. This garden type is based on a system of compositional principles to harmonise plantings of exotic and native species. It incorporates texture and character with plants such as aloes, succulents, pines and bamboo. It is characterised by groves of subtropical groundcover, trellises of climbing plants and creepers on buildings, garden pavilions and fences.

Gardenesque

Gardenesque style gardens evolved from the picturesque style of garden. They were fashionable mostly in large Brisbane gardens in the mid 19th Century, when plants with bold form, structure and foliage were used because they looked dramatic in the landscape. They are characterised by decorative features with specimen trees, curved flowerbeds, rose gardens, rockeries, terracing and garden ornaments. Popular plantings include canna beds, bougainvillea trailing over lattices or verandahs, as well as staghorns and elkhorns on palm trunks.

Federation

Federation style gardens was characterised by a geometric layout with stone paths, informally planted flowerbeds, fountains and garden furniture. They are more natural than the Gardenesque style and feature large lawn areas, rose gardens, flower beds, ferneries and shrubberies of azaleas, hydrangeas and rhododendrons. Architectural structures such as pergolas, summer houses and rose arches were introduced into this style of garden.

Interwar bungalow

The interwar bungalow style garden was inspired by Spanish-style gardens with paving, stone-flagged paths with garden walls and edgings formed of rustic stonework and a range of garden ornaments such as fountains, statues and birdbaths. Poinciana and jacaranda trees were popular, together with plants from the Victorian era, such as hydrangeas and rhododendrons.

The common picket fence tended to be superseded during this period by chain-wire fences and pipe gates as well as low brick or stucco walls.

Postwar squared

The postwar squared garden was characterised by shrubbery edging the house, geometric-shaped lawn areas, straight concrete paths and orderly flower beds. There was a trend towards planting native species.

Popular fencing included low-brick or woven wire fences with wooden or metal posts and rails.

Outdoor living became popular with the additions of patios.

Modernist

The modernist garden was characterised by asymmetrically-designed layout, large lawn areas with native plant species, bamboo and Japanese-style rock gardens with ponds and waterfalls.

Outdoor living areas included roofed patios.

‘Crazy paving’ was often used for paths and patios, whereas walls were often veneered with flat multi-coloured stones or slate. 

Rainforest

The rainforest style garden was a subtropical adaptation of the trend for Australian bush gardens, which became fashionable from the 1970s. It was influenced by growing environmental concerns for water and soil management. It was characterised by native plant species and decorative subtropical foliage, including palms, ferns and epiphytes with bark chip ground cover.

Documentary sources

Types of sources

You can use the following documentary sources to find information on garden styles:

  • old photos of the house, or similar style house and garden
  • diaries, letters or stories providing written descriptions of gardens
  • local government records
  • original real estate plans and advertising
  • early Brisbane City Council Detail Plans showing the location of paths, wells, tank-stands, ferneries, sheds, outhouses and tennis courts
  • drawings, sketches and early paintings of the house and garden
  • old garden books, nursery catalogues, home and garden journals.

Location of sources

You may be able to find the above-listed documentary sources at:

Further reading

  • Brouwer, Catherine, ‘Garden’ in The Queensland house: a roof over our heads, ed. Rod Fisher and Brian Crozier, Queensland Museum, Brisbane, 1994
  • Cuffley, Peter, Australian houses of the twenties & thirties, Five Mile Press, Knoxfield, Vic, 1989
  • Cuffley, Peter, Australian houses of the forties and fifties, Five Mile Press, Knoxfield, Vic, 1993
  • Evans, Ian and National Trust of Queensland, The Queensland House: history and conservation, Flannel Flower Press, Mullumbimby, 2001
  • Hambrett, Jo, Rise of the Australian plant garden, Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants, Sydney, 28 July 2004
  • National Trust of Queensland, ‘Understanding your Queensland garden’, Conserving the Queensland house, Brisbane, 1996 (guide 11 of 12) .

More information

For more information, contact Council.

Last updated:24 May 2019