Blackburn billabong

Blackburn garden - billabong

The brief


The garden before construction

When I first met with this client in Blackburn, a pond located low in the sloping garden was leaking, overgrown and full of unhealthy black water. The embankment below the pond had eroded and plants were starved of moisture in the water-repellent soil.

The client wanted a fresh start – a much larger billabong to provide habitat for frogs, dragonflies and visiting birds, with the garden complementing existing views over native parkland.

The design needed to address water runoff and improve the soil, and the garden was to be inviting with attractive, more sustainable plants and a reduced lawn area. Materials on site were to be recycled where possible, and a beautiful Spotted Gum needed to be protected during construction.

The response

Stream entering the billabong

Stream entering the billabong

Collaborating with the client at each stage, I designed and constructed a beautiful rocky billabong that complements the wonderful natural scenery surrounding the property.

A meandering stream flows underneath a bridge to a gentle waterfall into the billabong. Like a mirror, the surface of the billabong reflects the surrounding rocks and the natural scenery beyond.

I built honey-coloured boulder retaining walls to create a secluded, shady grotto-style garden below the billabong. Planted with ferns, orchids and a Dichondra lawn, on a summer’s day this is a restful and cool space. Linking everything together are gently curving granitic sand paths, lined with Australian native and local-area indigenous plants.

Blackburn dry creek bed

Dry creek bed

Surface runoff – a concern on the sloping block – was carefully accommodated in the design and the shaping of the landscape around the billabong, taking every opportunity to follow Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) principles. To accommodate surface water runoff and overflow from tanks, I built a functional and attractive dry creek bed and a network of swales and small ephemeral wetlands. This allows more time for water to infiltrate the soil, reducing both erosion and the water lost to the stormwater system.

This garden was a pleasure to design and construct. The process was truly collaborative – the client had a huge amount of design input, but also worked in with us, moving rocks, cultivating soil, planting, researching and providing general assistance. The client enjoyed being involved in selection of materials, including rock and plants.

The result is a garden that is relaxing, functional and WSUD-compliant, as well as a wonderful habitat for visiting wildlife. I hope it will continue to bring joy and peace to the client. I look forward to seeing it evolve and grow.


Ben very quickly understood our garden – the challenges and opportunities it presented. In a really enjoyable process, the design both from an ornamental and functional perspective evolved. Once construction started, there were small daily adjustments, with each decision justified and always aesthetics and function deeply considered. Throughout, we felt very involved. We found Ben and his small, reliable team to be very well organised and always thinking ahead. Ben is very artistic as well as analytical and he quietly and thoughtfully dealt with the many technical challenges presented. We are really happy with the result. Thank you Ben and your team.