Mid-century Australian gardens broke down the barriers between indoors and outdoors with expanded terraces, verandahs, pergolas and patios. Garden design ventured out from the shadows of colonialism and promised a more leisurely, healthier life.

In the latter part of the century, the indoor-outdoor idea became corrupted and the indoors began to colonise the outdoors. Not only did houses expand to take up more of the block, but indoors thinking took up more outdoors space, with huge outdoor kitchens, massive sofa arrangements, lots of hard landscaping, and actual living garden relegated to skinny trims and screens on the boundaries.

Research House, architect: John Henry Architects. Landscape design: Sam Cox Landscape

Research House, architect: John Henry Architects. Landscape design: Sam Cox LandscapeCredit:Christopher Frederick Jones

A new book by Sharon Mackay and Diana Snape, with photographs by Christopher Frederick Jones, Living Outside: Reviving the Australian Modernist Garden (Thames and Hudson, $70) celebrates Australian gardens that reinterpret the optimism, innovation and independence of mid-century gardens while responding to the environmental challenges of today.

The awful realisations of last summer’s fires hang over the book. “To reach optimistically towards the future in the face of uncertainty requires serious work, thought, consideration, creativity and patience,” write the authors. “It may also ask us to look back and learn from the innovation and confidence of the last century, when the Australian garden was born, and reinterpret those principles for contemporary conditions.”

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