While studying landscape architecture it was impossible to not be aware of the work of prominent Australian landscape architects and their influences on contemporary landscape design. Names such as Edna Walling, Gordon Ford and Alistair Knox were well-known and revered for the trails they blazed as thoughtful, original and intuitive designers.
The work of one landscape architect in particular really stood out for me, and that was Ellis Stones.
Ellis Stones was a foundation member of the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA), however his career in landscaping didn’t begin until he was 40 years old, having worked for many years as a builder.
While Stones was building a home in Heidelberg (a suburb of Melbourne) the landscape designer (who happened to be Edna Walling) needed someone to build a garden wall. Stones offered to help and his efforts led Walling to claim that he was a natural. With the name ‘Stones’ it was appropriate that he had such ability for landscaping, leading Edna Walling to quote in Australian Home Beautiful in 1938 ‘It is a rare thing this gift for placing stones and strange that a man possessing it should bear the name Stones – it should be easy to memorise’ (Latreille 1990, pp28-35).
From that stage onwards, Ellis Stones forged his career as a landscaper and then as a landscape architect.
As outlined in his 1971 book Australian Garden Design, Ellis Stones had a very practical approach to the creation of gardens. His designs made use of the existing contours and shape of the land, considered soil and drainage conditions and consisted of local materials and plant species.
The following are extracts from Australian Garden Design and provide an insight into the design philosophies of Ellis Stones.
‘An entrance should always be inviting. Here a concrete drive and judicious planting replace the original small path beside the house.’
‘A beautiful entrance courtyard. The L-shaped pool is painted black on the inside in order to increase reflections.’
‘As this courtyard is on a lower level than the rest of the garden, advantage has been taken of the rise in the land to introduce a small pool with timber surround.’
‘An illustration of the same courtyard showing extensive paved area for outdoor living.’
‘In a restricted area natural materials, such as rock and timber, create interest and give a feeling of space. The fence will not be visible when the plants grow.’
‘Another example showing how rough timber and boulders can be used both as retaining wall and seat.’
‘Irregularly shaped stepping stones of concrete set among pebbles merge into the garden design. Rectangular concrete blocks would have destroyed the unity of the garden.’
‘Simplicity of treatment and few colours provide a feeling of serenity in a small courtyard.’
‘A narrow garden in which the owners wanted a large area for outdoor living. A small rock outcrop gives additional interest.’
‘The same garden showing sitting wall built of basalt. The neutral colour of basalt suits all conditions.’
‘Rough timber steps blend with natural boulders.’
‘An example of what can be done when a house is built around an existing tree.’
As seen in these images, Ellis Stones was responsible for the creation of quite iconic mid-century gardens. His philosophies of creating functional garden spaces, using local and natural materials, designing with native plants and working with existing site conditions are still relevant today.
‘A garden is essentially a personal thing, therefore the most important limitations are those imposed by tastes, interests and way of life of the owners, or, in the case of a park or playground, the purpose for which it is planned’ – Ellis Stones 1971
Latreille, Anne, 1990, The Natural Garden – Ellis Stones: His Life and Work, Ringwood [Victoria]
Stones, Ellis, 1971, Australian Garden Design, South Melbourne