Identifying garden styles | Brisbane City Council

Identifying garden styles

Gardens have always played an important aesthetic and functional role in relation to the presentation of the 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 nevertheless 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 undoubtedly a very important part of the garden, other elements such as fences, paths, walls, furniture and statuary make a significant contribution. 

The primary function of the front garden 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 front garden often with paths to 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 re-create 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

  • styled from the English cottage and kitchen gardens, catering for the needs of early settlers to grow plants for food
  • straight forward, 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


  • many larger Brisbane gardens featured elements of the picturesque style
  • picturesque style gardens provided a system of compositional principles to harmonise plantings of exotic and native species
  • created textures and character with plants such as aloes, succulents, pines and bamboo
  • characterised by groves of subtropical groundcover, trellises of climbing plants and creepers on buildings, garden pavilions and fences


  • gardenesque style gardens evolved from the picturesque style of garden
  • 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
  • characterised by decorative features with specimen trees, curved flowerbeds, rose gardens, rockeries, terracing and garden ornaments
  • popular plantings included canna beds, bougainvillea trailing over lattices or verandahs, as well as staghorns and elkhorns on palm trunks


  • characterised by a geometric layout with stone paths, informally planted flowerbeds, fountains and garden furniture
  • more natural than the Gardenesque style and featured 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 the garden

Interwar bungalow

  • 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

  • characterised by shrubbery edging the house, geometric-shaped lawn areas, straight concrete paths and orderly flower beds
  • increased 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
  • increased trend towards planting native plant species


  • 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 such as roofed patios
  • ‘crazy paving’ was often used for paths and patios, whereas walls were often veneered with flat multi-coloured stones or slate 


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

Documentary sources

Types of sources

  • 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

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) .

For more information contact Council’s Heritage Unit.

16 July 2014