Mountain serenity

An overgrown and neglected garden is transformed into an awardwinning showstopper thanks to Now & Zen Landscapes.

This inviting garden in Sydney’s Blue Mountains was given new life (and style) by Shannon Decker of Now & Zen Landscapes (

Previously overgrown and neglected, the new owners of the garden asked Decker to create an eye-catching landscape with street appeal.

“The objective was to open up the property and allow greater light infiltration into the front yard in particular,” explained Decker.

A Silver Winner of the 2022 Landscape Excellence Awards for Residential Construction ($150k – $350k), the garden rework included new focal points. The elevation of the house added steps and level changes, so Decker turned this into a design opportunity, incorporating landings, sitting areas and directional shifts. The cobbled courtyard at the front of the house used ironstone from the property to create a sculptured stone cairn.

Site considerations

As the block slopes drastically towards the road, a series of reinforced concrete and blockwalls was constructed and faced with bricks similar in style to those of the house.

A front fence was also added, inspired by the surrounding art deco steel fencing, and bespoke panels were created by a local steel artisan. A matching gate was manufactured with panels at the bottom so it could swing inwards and not be impacted by the driveway’s steep pitch.

A sunken, paved, and walled outdoor room was created at the rear, which is the owners’ key entertaining space. Twenty tonnes of rock and soil had to be excavated by hand and wheelbarrowed out through the front yard due to the tight access.

A feature of the outdoor room is a custom day lounge built using a galvanised-steel frame and merbau decking. This area also contains three wicking beds built into the brick walls for herbs and veggies, along with a Zen water feature.

The steps and tiled areas used granite pavers, contrasting with cobblestones in the front courtyard. “The natural stone is the perfect foil for the cool-climate feature plantings, which are surrounded by herbaceous perennials,” said Decker.

Juniperus ‘Keteleeri’ topiary provides a focal point at the entry of this revived garden in the Blue Mountains (Image: TLA).

Challenges of the project

This project was delayed by months of fire haze and bushfires within two kilometres of the site. Excess rain over the subsequent months, including 400mm in four days, extinguished the fires, but turned the dusty soil to mud and made site movements far more difficult.

On a positive note, the rain tested and flushed the new drainage across the site, resulting in the drainage being deemed a complete success and giving the surrounding gardens a much-needed drink.

Once construction was underway in the front yard, it was deemed the design and location of the retaining walls and driveway were too close to the root protection zone of a mature Metasequoia glyptostroboides (Dawn Redwood), so the driveway was shifted closer to the side boundary to protect the tree.

A large rhododendron was retained for screening value and provides maturity to the fresh landscape. Now & Zen was the principal contractor from start to finish, with daily consultation with the clients to ensure a smooth project for their forever garden.

Plant choices

The plant design was based around a coolclimate garden with a few feature plantings surrounded by herbaceous perennials. Juniperus ‘Spartan’ was planted along the side boundary underplanted with prostrate rosemary. A Juniperus ‘Keteleeri’ topiary conifer was added by the entry gate and Scleranthus planted beneath the stone cairn, along with random plantings of Astilbe.

The planting mix also included Acer palmatum (Japanese maple), Azalea kurume (kurume azalea), Camellia spp. (camellia), Daphne odora (daphne) and Bergenia cordifolia (heartleaf bergenia).

Now & Zen supplied and planted feature plantings and trees while the client added her own selection of herbaceous perennials. The selected turf was Tall Fescue as the best grass type to hold its colour throughout the depth of winter.

Astilbe adds a touch of colour to the new garden (Image: TLA).

 Trade show 

As well as running a multi-award-winning landscaping business, Now & Zen Landscapes Director, Shannon Decker, is a board member of The Landscape Association. He is also chairing the steering committee for the inaugural TLA Landscape Expo, being hosted by TAFE NSW at its Ryde campus on Wednesday September 6, 2023. This trade-focused event will be packed with product information and demonstrations, professional speakers and trade exhibitors, and is open to TLA members and the broader landscaping industry. For more information on how to get involved as an exhibitor, sponsor or attendee, head to The Landscape Association’s website:

About the awards

This garden was a silver winner of the 2022 Landscape Excellence Awards for Residential Construction ($150k – $350k), which celebrate the very highest standards and achievement in landscape construction, design and maintenance, in the residential and commercial sectors. Recognising innovation, creativity and outstanding craftsmanship, the Awards are the highest accolades in the industry.

 To learn about the 2023 Landscape Excellence Awards and how to enter, visit


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