A drought-loving garden designer

Garden designer Peter Fudge says the Australian drought is the best thing to happen to gardens, writes Alex Brooks for the Australian Women’s Weekly.

drought-hardy garden design


Landscape designer Peter Fudge doesn’t want to sound gleeful about Australia being afflicted by drought, but he does prefer to look at the positive side of things.

“I’m not really glad that Australia is in drought, but I am glad that it is making people think twice about what they put in their gardens,” he says.

The designer and gardening writer says none of the gardens he has created since he began working in the 1980s have been harmed by the current drought and tough water restrictions – and he credits his love of hardy plants and formal planting schemes rather than endless maintenance with that outcome.

“I am so glad that irrigation systems are banned – I can’t tell you how many plants I have seen killed by irrigation,” he says.

“People think that by watering for five minutes a day they are doing the garden a favour but it creates all kinds of fungal and root problems and when you get beneath the surface, the soil is bone dry.”

Peter says sporadic hand-hosing may be time-consuming but it allows soils to retain water and plants to develop better root systems.

Drip irrigation systems and rainwater storage tanks are the best way to create fuss-free maintenance systems. He suggests environmentally sustainable gardeners look at installing 20,000 litres of water storage – in a tank or a bladder under the house – and treat grey water for use on the garden through drip irrigation.

“I am glad Australia is in drought because that will force us to make better gardens,” he says.

“We need to mulch, we need to use compost, we need to improve our soil and we need to make better plant selections. If we use drip irrigation, our plants get a better soaking and make deeper roots.”

Peter is well known for his formal and sophisticated garden designs, which come from an obsession with French gardens and symmetry. He likes to mix hardy plants such as grasses with formal hedging to create what he calls “drifts” of plantings.

“I do like to use natives, but hardy plants don’t just mean natives. Japanese Buxus is a great formal plant that goes on forever and I love a lot of New Zealand plants because they’ll stand up to wind and sandy soils,” he says.

“I visited a lady’s garden the other day and she told me she had not watered for five years and the thing that was going mad was this buxus hedge – it’s as tough as old boots.”

He insists that gardeners will need to ditch the classic perennials, annuals and lawns to make way for more water wise gardens.

“Anything that can’t be established without twice a week watering has to go, we need to make better plant choices,” he says.

“Lawns are nice and if you have kids you definitely need an area of level lawn, but you don’t need a lot of it.”

Peter admits that cottage-style gardens leave him cold – “I hate the fussiness, the one plant here and one plant there thing”.

But Peter’s parents have a love of the rambling garden so their dutiful son created such a striking garden for them that won Belle magazine’s garden of the year competition.

“That garden sort of paid homage to the idea of a rambling cottage garden but I did really robust Aussie-style borders rather than anything itsy bitsy.”

“I like to mix different kinds of foliage together and create something unique.”


  • Think about using different spaces in the garden to make the garden look larger.
  • Select only tough and hardy plants to suit the soil, conditions and water availability.
  • Think about putting an outdoor entertaining area in a spot where you can look back at the house.
  • Adapt a design to suit the slope of a site rather than excavating or levelling the area. Can you create an interesting lookout from a higher level? Will steps work better to connect two different areas?
  • Use mass borders and hedging to create interest.



  • FRENCH LAVENDER – Use it as an informal border. Peter likes it next to native shrubs as part of a herbaceous border.
  • INDIAN HAWTHORN – The variety ‘snow maiden’ has a dark green leaf and the new growth is bright green, with a pretty white flower.
  • POAS – Wonderful silvery foliage plants from New Zealand
  • FLAX – A copper-coloured leaf variety such as Karex adds colour but is not thirsty for water.
  • SEDUM – A succulent plant and the ‘Autumn Joy’ variety has stunning aqua leaves and rusty red flowers in spring.
  • CRASSULA – Another succulent plant that can be a fantastic water-tolerant substitute for Gardenia. It does not have the same perfume, but it has the glossy green leaves and looks beautiful when kept clipped.


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