The Garden of Paradise

Adrian has been a handy man his entire life, using his mind and bare hands to build a world around him. He has always been a busy individual, working long days on job sites and donating his spare time to the church, now 13 years deep intro retirement nothing has changed. His days are still full of a variety of different tasks, these mainly include painting, cutting and gluing his different species of whirlybirds and tending to his garden. My father had told me of an old couple in the area he had met who had transformed their property into their own private sanctuary and that it was something that I had to witness in person.

I met with Adrian and his wife Vivien on a beautiful autumns day at their home in Surrey Hills, the couple purchased the property in 1972, 50 years ago. The house has gone through a lot of changes since then and continues to have new additions added to it now. The previous owner built a miniature railway track around the house, creating a loop from the front to the back. The tracks and train itself are no longer, but the magic of the property is certainly still alive.

Since purchasing the property Adrian has created his own magical paradise turning dirt into an oasis, all with his bare hands and years of carpentry. With his experience and knowledge of turning old bits of materials from nothing into something he tells me, “I just use up any odd materials we’ve got and decorate the place a bit. Waste not hey?”
Using up every inch of both the front and backyards, Adrian has transformed the dirt below his feet into his greatest masterpiece, a work of art which he says is still a work in progress, “Oh there’s always something to do.” From the bridge over the fish filled ponds, to the luscious garden beds and many windmills, Adrian has carved out his own slice of heaven which he shares with the local wildlife around him, feeding 100 birds every morning.

Their hungry appetites leave him having to buy a new 15kg bag of bird seed every 20 days, but seeing them happy and chirpy is what brings him true joy. The property is a loud form of expression in what is becoming more of a rarity in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne these days, it is a breath of fresh air from the overdevelopment and destruction that the area is facing. Trees make way for cement and metres of grassland make way for cheap construction, but not at this home, it really is something that you have to see to believe.
In 2009 Adrian officially retired, hanging up his tools and preparing himself for a slower paced lifestyle, or so he had thought, “I wanted something to do so I thought I’d do some painting. I traded in me carpentry tools for a paint brush...I’ve got paintings all outside and inside the house. Oh my I’m running out of room.” When he’s not in the garden feeding the birds Adrian can be found working in his shed under the soft light of the sunshine beaming down from above. It’s filled with biblical paintings that stack up from the floor to the ceiling.

Adrian’s faith is unquestioned and his paintings show his true devotion to his religion, his work has a distinct style which boasts lively scenes and subjects full of vibrant colours which work together to create a bright reflection when you gaze upon it. To me it depicts the pure happiness Adrian feels when painting, you can feel his joy and good will through his brushstrokes. However his artworks are not only restricted to stories from the bible and of his faith, landscapes and wildlife of Australia also feature heavily throughout a lot of the works hanging up around the property. Adrian often uses books and photographs he admires to help inspire his works, he loves art of all kinds and hopes to one day have his paintings hanging up in a gallery, which I hope will happen.

As he takes me on a tour of the inside of his house part of me feels he has already accomplished his gallery dream. The works fill up every wall in each room, there isn’t any free space left. The house is a private gallery of his own, one that he shares with his wife Vivien, she is his biggest fan.
When he isn’t painting in his shed, Adrain cuts out, glues together and paints his very own whirlybirds, wooden bird ornaments with wings that spin around in the wind, giving the illusion that it’s flying, several feature throughout the gardens. They sit as high as the sky, looking down onto the flora and fauna below, they’re the cherry on top of Adrian’s wonderful creations. “My favourite is the Rainbow Lorikeet, it’s so colourful you know? The colours on them are fantastic.”

For all that Adrian has done to bring extra life to his land there will always be critics, as he explains to me, “Our neighbour says, “Oh your front garden is pretty cluttered.” Funnily enough he’s had no front garden for two years, because someone ran their car through his fence. We are running out of space, we’re always doing something. If you come back here in a years time I bet you there will be something else here you haven’t seen before.”

While everyone has their own taste and vision for how their home should look and feel, the modern idea of “clutter” seems to have dramatically changed over time, especially when used in the context of someones home. If you take anything away from this series, pursue deeper understanding of the world around you, if you scratch passed the surface of it you may open yourself up to years of knowledge and stories that you never thought possible. One man’s clutter is another man’s treasure.
Ever since I was young I can remember my love for certain houses in my area. On Sunday mornings I would flick through the Real Estate magazine that came with the Herald Sun, flicking through each page looking at different properties for sale, eyeing off which one I would buy if I ever had the money to do so. The dream was to have a property in Box Hill, an old home filled with old furniture and paintings, a huge backyard and one or two large trees. The house would be two stories with an extra level at the top, this room would have glass windows from floor to ceiling so I could have 360 degree view of the world, sitting high enough so I could have an uninterrupted view of both the city skyline and mountains, watching the stars and lights glisten at night time. I now know this dream is falling further from reality by the day, but seeing homes that have been so loved and cared for brings a smile to my face, no architect or interior designer could bring to life what Adrian has been able to create.

The world pushes to be safer, cleaner and a lot more minimalistic, we’ve almost been tricked into thinking that having a house full of nothing is luxurious, tricked to think that black and grey are colours of prestige. Trees seem to be merely objects in the way, plastic grass is a lot easier to mow, I don’t agree at all. Call it clutter all you want but a home like Adrian’s is one that cannot be reproduced or duplicated, that to me sounds a lot more special.
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