Charlie Albone, landscape designer on Selling Houses Australia has just returned from Hong Kong and shares some great design ideas he picked up there and as well he has some advice that will save property sellers losing up to 25% on offers when they sell.
Kevin: I’m delighted to say our special guest in the show is Charlie Albone, who is a landscape designer from Selling Houses Australia, of course – very well known for that. He’s also owner of Inspired Exteriors, and general all-round stirrer of Andrew Winter, I believe.
Charlie, good day.
Charlie: Hello. Yes, that is my favorite job, [0:16 inaudible] of Andrew Winter.
Kevin: You do it very well, too.
Charlie: He’s just so easy. That’s the thing.
Kevin: He’s easy to bait, is he?
Charlie: He is very easy to bait.
Kevin: You’ve just come back from Hong Kong. Was that a holiday, or were you there on business?
Charlie: No, I was there on business. I just went for three days. I have a client there. We’re designing the gardens around their house. It’s very nice.
Kevin: Are gardening concepts different in Hong Kong from Australia?
Charlie: Yes. They say, “Oh, we have a big block for you to look at,” and you turn up and it’s the size of the smallest townhouse here, and you think, “Yeah, huge.”
Kevin: Yes, I suppose the plants would be different, as well.
Charlie: Yeah, it’s a very humid climate. The issue you have is it can be very overcast and foggy and humid, and then all of the sudden, the sun comes out and the leaves all have water on them and they start to burn. So you have to be really careful with what you select.
Kevin: When you travel like that, Charlie, do you pick up ideas, new design concepts?
Charlie: Absolutely. I think travel is one of the most important things you can do for new ideas. It doesn’t have to be a straight copy of something. Traveling around, you might find an interesting texture on the wall that you see, and that might spark something to maybe use that texture in a paving pattern, or colors in color combinations, as well. Traveling is really good for sparking ideas.
Kevin: Speaking about travel, we spoke to you after you came back from the Chelsea Flower Show last time. You hinted then that you might be going back. Is that still the case?
Charlie: Yes, absolutely. I’m heading back. I leave in three weeks. We start building a garden on the other side of the world in the pouring rain, getting it ready in 21 days for the Queen to have a look at.
Kevin: That’s a wonderful experience. Are you going to give us any ideas as to what the design is, or is that going to be a secret?
Charlie: Unlike last year, this design is very formal. Last year’s garden was a Sydney-based garden. This year is Melbourne, and it’s for a busy couple who really gets a lot of support for their busy life from their garden. I travel a lot, and I tend to work quite a lot. I have young kids, as well, and I think I get so much from my garden. It just adds that extra layer of support and lets me relax, and I want to try to recreate that feeling in the garden this year.
Kevin: Charlie, can you afford to have any all-time favorites, your own favorite type of plants? Are there some that you will absolutely avoid at all costs?
Charlie: There are things like Japanese peonies that I absolutely love, but being in Sydney, it’s far too humid to grow them. I have a few of those in the garden at Chelsea this year. There are a lot of go-to plants that are really good. I use a lot of lilly pilly hedging just because I know I can buy it instantly tall. I love rosemary hedging, as well. That’s a good one. I do quite like all the pretty flowers and stuff like that, but they do take quite a lot of work to get looking good.
Kevin: Jade, our producer, told me that your producer has a weird phobia about cacti. Is that right?
Charlie: Yes. A lot of people have weird phobias about cacti, that’s for sure, which is odd because you just put them in the ground and ignore them.
Kevin: In your home, given that you’re so busy, what type of gardener are you? Do you prefer those all-round plants, or are you into really high-maintenance annuals and bulbs?
Charlie: No, I like a combination of the two. I think it’s important to have a combination of the two that give you the structure from stuff that you can ignore or give limited love to, and then have smaller areas where you focus your energy on all of the fiddly pruning and the dead-heading and stuff like that. That way, you can enjoy the best of both.
My favorite thing in my whole garden is actually my automatic lawnmower, which is great for someone who travels as much as I do.
Kevin: Automatic lawnmower? How does that work?
Charlie: You put a perimeter ring around your garden, which is a wire, and then it just goes off. Because of the size of my garden, it does two hours of mowing in the morning, and two hours in the evening. It just takes the tiniest amount off the grass, and it always looks fantastic.
Kevin: You wouldn’t want to have an overly complicated lawn, then, would you?
Charlie: Mine goes around trees and paths and all that sort of stuff. So once you’ve programmed it, it’s absolutely fantastic.
Kevin: I’ve never heard of that. What brand is it?
Charlie: It’s a Husqvarna. They’ve actually made them for 20 years.
Charlie: In all of Sweden, every second garden has an auto-mower over there. It’s a very Swedish thing to do. They’re quite new over here, but really, for busy people and people who want the best for their lawns, they’re fantastic.
Kevin: Charlie, I want to take you in a different direction, and that’s to talk about street appeal. There was a Finder survey out recently. It said that sellers risk losing up to 25% on offers due to a lack of street appeal. You probably have seen this in your work on Selling Houses Australia. Would that be right?
Charlie: Absolutely. I was talking to Andrew Winter about this. We did An Audience with Selling Houses last week, and somebody asked a similar question. Andrew said it doesn’t matter how nice your house is on the inside or how nice your back garden is; if someone drives past the house, and it has bad street appeal, they might not even give it the time. They might just drive off. It might be the perfect house for them at the right price for them, and they’re willing to pay more than somebody else, but they might just not stop because of the street appeal.
The same goes for if your house isn’t particularly nice and you have nice street appeal. Then someone might say, “That looks nice,” and then go in, and first impressions last, so they might give it a bit more time and a bit more thought than they necessarily would have.
Kevin: I hope you recorded that comment that Andrew made because I reckon there’s grounds there for you to get a pay increase for your importance on the show.
Charlie: I’d like to say that, and I did mention that to him, but he said, “Don’t do the back garden, then. Just do the front.”
Kevin: Fair enough. What are the biggest turnoffs for buyers that you’ve found when it comes to a lack of street appeal?
Charlie: Mess is a big one. It doesn’t cost anything but your time to get out and cut the grass and pull the weeds out and give the shrubs a bit of a prune. Just make them look a little bit tidier. That makes a huge difference. Sweep off the paths and things like that. You wouldn’t have people around your house having a messy house, so why do it with your garden?
A fresh coat of paint makes a huge difference, as well. If you don’t have the budget to do that, just clean the house down, pressure-wash the house down. That makes a huge difference, as well.
Kevin: What about places that have a lot of concrete, big retaining walls, and so on? How do you go about softening those?
Charlie: Paint will do a lot, as well, but planting is the key there. You want to try to get rid of as many hard edges as you can to make it more inviting.
Kevin: It’s interesting. Inside houses, we’ve gone into the area of having big, open spaces – we’ve seen that – and good light coming in. What about gardens and fences? Is a fence always a good idea?
Charlie: It depends on your market. If you’re in an area that doesn’t have fences between the gardens – and we’ve done a few houses on Selling Houses that don’t – then having a fence is an odd thing. If everybody has a fence, then having a good fence is a positive thing, if that makes sense.
For garden design, though, it’s really important that you pay attention to what your fences do because that sets the backdrop to everything within the garden. Often, you’ll find I clad a fence with some sort of screening or try to hide it with some planting. If you want your space to feel bigger, the lines where fencing meet the ground, where they meet corners, and then when they stop, if you can hide all of that, you trick the eye into knowing where the boundary is, and the space will feel bigger.
Kevin: Of course, we can always see you on Selling Houses Australia, but your own website, InspiredExteriors.com.au, carries a lot of great tips as well, Charlie?
Kevin: Excellent. I expect you to say that. You have lots of videos, as well?
Charlie: Actually, I don’t do it. Someone else does it for me. I don’t know.
Kevin: Okay. It’s great, believe me. I’ve been there. Check it out for yourself. It’s called InspiredExteriors.com.au. My guest has been Charlie Albone from that company, and also designer and landscape designer from Selling Houses Australia.
Charlie, great talking to you, as always.
Charlie: You too, thank you.
Kevin: Give my regards to the team, and we’ll talk again soon.