Thursday, May 30, 2024
Work included the provision of new seating for students, with easy-care synthetic turf

Lessons learnt

By Lynne Testoni

In their Paddington Public School project, Outdoor Retreats Landscaping have vividly revitalised an educational space.

Outdoor Retreats Landscapes believes that great results come from working collaboratively, and their award-winning work for Paddington Public School in Sydney shows how well that approach has worked for them.

The initial design brief for the school project was to resurface the outdoor games court area, correcting issues where water was collecting and to reinvigorate a tired play area. However, the project expanded to renew additional areas and create a new outdoor learning space along the street frontage.

Essentially, what started as a straightforward sports court refresh became an opportunity to work with the school to renew the whole outdoor space, and introduce a new learning space that was both functional, practical and colourful.

Outdoor Retreats resurfaced the play areas of the school, adding a playful touch with coloured courts and recreational zones
Outdoor Retreats resurfaced the play areas of the school, adding a playful touch with coloured courts and recreational zones

Design focus

Located on busy Oxford Street, the school wanted to screen the new outdoor learning space with hedges, plus add enough seating to host student classes and act as a seating area for recess and lunch.

The school previously used the space for informal sporting activities, including handball and basketball, but the area was in desperate need of renewal as the asphalt had subsided in various places.

The new learning space created a consistent design and focus for the school’s outdoor spaces delivered in a coordinated way. This meant that the whole space was renewed, rather than using a piecemeal approach that might have been tackled over several years by several different contractors.

Outdoor Retreats resurfaced the play areas with coloured courts, created seated learning and recreational zones with sandstone and timber elements that complement the heritage colours used in neighbouring buildings, and local hardscape elements. 

Garden beds were finished with a consistent sandstone edge
Garden beds were finished with a consistent sandstone edge

Plant selection

Three medium sized trees (Tristaniopsis laurina ‘Luscious’) were planted following the removal of some large trees. These Australian natives are known to be highly ornamental and are expected to reach 7m in height. A hedge of 22 Syzygium australe ‘Resilience’ will provide screening for the raised pergola area, and offer privacy from the street to the students.

Synthetic turf was used in the raised pergola area because of the high-traffic areas. Many of the existing trees were retained and new seating was provided around the base of the larger trees. Most of the existing soil was retained, but some of the beds were dug to 500mm to replace the poor soil to provide a better environment for the trees. A road base layer and a thin layer of crusher dust were added as the base for the synthetic grass. Mulch was added to all garden beds and the automated irrigation system was reinstated and repaired.

Other plants included 60 xLiriope muscari ‘Evergreen Giant’ planted as a large clumping groundcoverpartnered with Callistemon citrinus ‘White Anzac’, a spectacular, low growing, white-flowered bottlebrush.

Judges’ comments

The project won Gold and Best in Category awards in the prestigious 2022 Landscape Excellence Awards in Commercial & Civil Construction (up to $250,000).

Among their comments, the judges praised the consideration paid to the heritage of the surrounding environment during the construction and design of the project. Sandstone was chosen for the retaining wall as an ideal material to provide consistency with surrounding heritage assets (sandstone church and sandstone brick school building both circa 1855-1877).

The judges were also very impressed by the workmanship applied to the timber and stone features, as well as the quality of the finishes on other elements.

Callistemon citrinus ‘White Anzac’, a reliable and drought resistant shrub
Callistemon citrinus ‘White Anzac’, a reliable and drought resistant shrub

Challenges of the project

Working on a busy inner-city site had some challenges, especially concerning access. While there are two possible entrances to the space, one is owned by the neighbouring church and access was only granted for one day to move the asphalting equipment in and out.

The school-owned entrance is narrow, very tight, and included blind spots as well as the potential for children to be within the vicinity. Outdoor Retreats had a minimum of three people to escort the tipper onto the site to ensure safe working conditions for all.

In addition, the school site is also used for Paddington Markets which runs every Saturday and Sunday, which put pressure on the team to finish the project as soon as possible to minimise disruption to the markets.


The overarching outcome of the project was to produce engaging educational spaces for student learning and play. The colourful and striking designs were consistent with the existing murals and signage. A sandpit was added, located alongside other play equipment and in front of a mural.

Now a large open space, the colourful design provides children with an inviting visual space to play and socialise.

The existing basketball half court had the hoop directly in front of the area nominated for the stairs. To enhance access to the raised outdoor learning area, the court was flipped, relocating the hoop to the other end. This reduced the chance of balls hitting seated children or being thrown towards busy Oxford Street. Moving the hoop created unobstructed access to the steps. Four block-colour handball courts were included, with colours chosen by the school principal.

All garden beds were finished with a consistent sandstone edge. These beds were also dug to 500mm to replace the poor soil, providing a better environment for the medium sized trees.

The pergola and the sandstone retaining wall structure together make up an outdoor learning space that has bench seating so that students can work at the tables. The new hedging offers privacy from the main road and pathway. The ground cover uses synthetic grass as it offers all year-round use and dries quickly after rain.

About the awards

The Landscape Association’s (TLA) annual Landscape Excellence Awards celebrate the very highest standards and achievement in Landscape Construction, Design and Maintenance, both in the Residential and Commercial sectors. Recognising innovation, creativity and outstanding craftsmanship, the Awards are the highest accolades in the industry.

Visit the TLA website, for more 2022 winners, information about the Landscape Excellence Awards, or to contact the team directly.

All images supplied by The Landscape Association

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