Gazing at the outside of the West End property, I see flora spilling out on to the quiet suburban street where I have already received several hellos from friendly neighbours.
I walk through the jasmine filled lattice entranceway and can already hear the distinct hum of bees as I pass small daisy patches and frangipani trees. Though Glen Cooke lives close to the city, his backyard garden tricks you into believing you are taking a holiday in a rainforest retreat. The only thing snapping you back to reality is the faint sound of nearby city traffic.
Glen Cooke, former Queensland Heritage Curator at the Queensland Art Gallery has been a West End local for years, living in Highgate Hill and resettling to Bristol Street, West End. Glen wanted to live in a place from which he could easily walk to work, while avoiding the stresses of inner city living. Growing up in the Western Queensland town of Blackall, Glen’s love of gardening was inherited from his aunts who were avid green thumbs. Their preference for hardy plants is shared by Glen who prefers offerings that will adapt to the climate and last in the shady conditions of his multi-level garden. Glen’s garden has a combination of tropical and native plants. Large silky oaks, native frangipanis and a large jacaranda tree give his garden height while blue sage, bromeliads, white calla lilies, Swedish ivy and calatheas create a colourful mosaic on the garden floor.
Glen’s art history background is reflected through his application of balance and colour, seen in every aspect of his garden layout. “While the process is organic, everything is carefully planned and calculated,” said Glen. “When I moved in, I knew exactly what I wanted.”
The backyard was originally a dumping ground full of old furniture, crockery and waste. “It had everything but the kitchen sink. It actually took 36 bags of garbage until it was cleared.” The 430 square metre land area and sharp land decline were not easy to work with, he says. The garden is a tapestry of interwoven cultural influences. Glen uses Greek jasmine to pay homage to the local Greek community and uses pieces of the `junk’ he first cleared from his backyard to create a mixed media mural at the entry to his secret garden. Glen’s ‘secret garden’ (so called because you cannot view it from the top landing) is filled with mosaic creations, green bottle steps, a water feature and his beautiful blue ginger.
Glen sources his plants from nurseries, markets and loves using cuttings from friends and neighbours’ gardens. Glen will even drive to collect a cutting of a particular plant if he is really interested. He is a big believer in recycling using timber and rocks from skips for garden edging and recycling palm fronds for structural support.
As I leave the garden, the last bloom of Glen’s jacaranda tree falls beside him on his deck chair, the parting gift of spring to a man who loves his garden.
Words by Sarah Clarry | Images by Tahlia Moloney