Tucked away behind a former TV and radio repair shop in Forest Lodge, Sydney, Sarah Nolan’s enchanting little garden is a welcome escape from the surrounding inner city madness of concrete, cars, and buildings.

When Sarah and her partner Gavin Perrin bought the property at the end of 2010, the garden was wall-to-wall bricks. Pulling up the bricks revealed a concrete slab, built on top of a collection of old beer bottles dated from the early 1950’s, broken up clay from old vessels, cement, and all sorts of artifacts.

Rather than throw the various layers of history in a skip bin, Sarah kept many of the bricks, bottles, and concrete pieces to use in the new garden. The pathway through the space is comprised of random shaped pieces of the concrete slab, and the low garden walls are made from the salvaged bricks. Clumps of terrazzo made from broken bottles and cement hide under clumps of ferns, to be discovered by the most curious of visitors.

Much of the beauty of Sarah’s garden is in its unexpected details. From vintage gnomes nestled amongst papyrus, concrete mobile phone sculptures by street artist Will Coles residing next to a clump of daisies, mossy rocks growing amongst ferns, and so on, there is a real sense of magic and discovery within the space.

Sitting amongst the ferns and babies tears, I was brought back immediately to my childhood garden adventures – laying on my belly under lavender bushes or the like, building small fairy houses out of stones and foliage. It’s that kind of garden.

Nearly every plant in Sarah’s enchanted garden has a story, and most are found, gifted, or shared. For example, the lemon tree was found sick and abandoned on the side of the road, the Grevillea was growing in a crack in the footpath around the corner, and the three Japanese maples are from her deceased mother’s Leura garden, salvaged prior to selling.

I love this about Sarah’s garden – with a bunch of plants others have deemed too sick or too abundant to be of any value in their gardens, Sarah has created a beautiful and authentic space. And while it may look wild and loose, it is, in fact, carefully maintained. ‘I like some shape, I don’t want it to be ad-hoc. It looks like I’ve just left it but I trim the plants regularly,’ she says.

It’s hard for Sarah to recognise why she gardens. It’s just something she has always done. ‘It definitely relaxes me,’ she says, ‘it’s a way of tuning out from other things going on in the world by focusing on my little bit of nature. I don’t understand how people who don’t relate to growing plants can survive!’

Neither do I Sarah, neither do I.

The tiny Sydney garden of Sarah Nolan and Gavin Perrin. Photo – Daniel Shipp.

Sarah in her much loved little garden. Photo – Daniel Shipp.

The papyrus (Cyperus involucratus, I think) and ferns just popped up here once Sarah removed the bricks and concrete slab. Rather than considering them weeds and removing them, she has incorporated them (very successfully I reckon!) into the garden. Photo – Daniel Shipp.

An autumn crocus (Zepheranthes candida) flower amongst rocks. Photo – Daniel Shipp.

Low pots with succulents frame the stairs down to the garden. Helpful navigational guides after a few wines amongst the ferns, perhaps?  Photo – Daniel Shipp.

Concrete mobile phone sculptures by Will Coles are indestructible garden art! Seaside daisy (Erigeron karvinskianus) and nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) jostle for space, with Sarah trimming the daisy regularly to keep it under control. Photo – Daniel Shipp.

Gnome! Photo – Daniel Shipp.

Looking back towards the house. The abundant garden overflows with a range of plants including geraniums, Proteas, autumn crocus, wisteria, succulents, babys tears. You name it, Sarah probably has it in there somewhere! Photo – Daniel Shipp.

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