Faces of Ashbury | Bennet Newton, Landscape Architect | Ashbury Estate

Faces of Ashbury | Bennet Newton, Landscape Architect

Faces of Ashbury | Bennet Newton, Landscape Architect

May 2024 | Design Inspiration

Meet Bennett Newtown, Landscape Architect, SMEC.

Landscape Architect, Bennett works with project management company SMEC, who oversee the development and delivery of Ashbury Estate. Bennett has been actively involved in designing Ashbury’s Estate landscapes including the new Ashbury Southern Reserve. We recently spoke to Bennett about his role at SMEC and how the landscape designs for the new park came to life.


Tell us a little about your background and how long you have been working with SMEC.

Following the completion of a Master of Landscape Architecture Course, I was lucky enough to begin my career with experiences across a range of projects at a couple of smaller design studios in Melbourne. These early projects included school playgrounds, rehabilitative spaces, zoological design, rail infrastructure and commercial master-planning. A few years later I was drawn towards the idea of working in a larger firm so that I could work more closely with and learn from other disciplines. I landed at SMEC and have been part of the landscape architecture team here for almost five years.

Tell us about SMEC. What does a commercial design company actually do and what are some of the projects you have worked on?

SMEC is a design and consultancy firm with many different internal teams who specialise in a range of fields including roads, bridges, energy and renewables, environment, planning, urban design and landscape architecture. While we love to work with our in-house colleagues in other teams, we also work with various external companies on a daily basis, and therefore meet many new faces throughout the lifecycle of a project.

Every day our landscape architecture team will work on many different project types including everything from public realm design, national parks, reserves and open spaces, wetlands and waterways and urban renewal. We also provide analysis, visualisations and advice for renewables projects such as solar and wind farms. Working across so many different types of projects (usually at the same time!) encourages us to think outside-the-box, with our challenge being to continually find a way to improve our processes in order to provide integrated and resilient solutions.

How does the SMEC landscape architecture team go about developing a landscape design for a new park like the Ashbury Southern Reserve? What and who is involved?

The process of designing a park usually begins many years before any construction works begin. Following the much broader planning and urban design process, landscape architects will start with an analysis of the site and surrounds, including its history, landform, environmental factors, edges and connections. As part of this, we took into consideration an arborist report, biodiversity assessment and ‘Native Vegetation Management Plan’ completed in 2015 which identified several large pockets of remnant indigenous vegetation within the Southern Reserve boundaries. These remnant patches informed the layout of the initial concept design.

The concept design phase generally involves some sketches, precedent imagery and coloured plans for community feedback. After the concept is completed, we work closely with Council and other disciplines to develop the design further into a detailed design package. In the case of the Ashbury Southern Reserve this required hundreds of hours of collaboration with many different teams including planners, play designers, ecologists, engineers, arborists – and the list goes on!

Who else have you been working with to deliver the new Reserve? How long will the project have taken once finished? 

Throughout this project we were very lucky to have the trust and support of DFC, as well as the excellent team at City of Greater Geelong, to bounce our ideas off. Once construction started, we relied on the expertise and skills of landscaping company, BC Garden, to bring the design to life. This took their team roughly six months and the tree and garden bed establishment and revegetation works will be ongoing for another two years.

What were the key considerations the SMEC landscape architecture team considered when developing the landscape design for the new Reserve?

As mentioned earlier, the Southern Reserve core design was set around the existing trees and remnant vegetation. These patches to be protected were analysed and mapped early on in the planning phase of the project and determined the locations of the park’s path network and proposed elements. In 2023 the patches were assessed in more detail, this time by our own ecology team, who compiled a comprehensive report and made recommendations for revegetation and ongoing maintenance of these delicate areas. With this additional information, we proposed to surround the patches with large buffer planting areas which would contain a mix of indigenous vegetation to protect and strengthen the remnant plants and provide additional habitat.

It was a balancing act to integrate this nature-first design thinking with the circulation, connection and amenity requirements of the surrounding new community and future school. However, after a productive year of back-and-forth with Council’s planners, our objectives were achieved, and the design was ready for construction.

What are the Southern Reserve’s standout features?

The Reserve’s standout features are the playground, multi-use sports court and custom design shelter with picnic tables and barbeque. All of these features are located in one central area which allows for families to explore, play or relax – or all at the same time!

A big focus of for us was ensuring that the final design would cater to people of all ages and abilities, and that natural themes formed a big part of the overall experience. To achieve this we included a variety of different play products including a wheelchair accessible carousel and set them amongst nature play elements like timber log steppers, balancing logs and boulders. Once the garden bed and dry creek plants are established, visitors will be able to use the path network to explore the various planting types and observe the changes across the seasons.

What do you love most about the Reserve?

The relationship between the various spaces and the existing trees which tower over them. A significant amount of work went into situating the spaces to bring people closer to nature, as well as to make the most of shade and windbreak opportunities. With the prediction of upcoming hotter and drier summers, I hope that the park can become a place of refuge and relaxation for the whole community.

I will also be keeping a close eye on the dry creek which wraps its way around the back of the playground, which will provide very important ecological and drainage functions. Instead of rainwater being diverted through the drainage network into stormwater pipes, the dry creek (eventually full of ephemeral plants!) will capture and absorb rainwater run-off from the sports court and lawn areas, forming a moisture-rich microhabitat for insects, frogs and other fauna to call home. Once vegetation is established in the dry creek, it will be full of life and ready to investigate with a magnifying glass or bug net. 

What plants would you recommend for anyone planning their own garden at Ashbury?

I would recommend choosing a wide variety of native plants which will require low, or no maintenance or watering once established. Not only will this save you time and money, but you will be fostering your very own microhabitat and contributing to the biodiversity of your neighbourhood. Species I would recommend include shrubs and groundcovers such as Saltbush, Correa, Grevillea and Lemon Beautyheads, as well as native grasses like Poa, Wallaby Grass and Dianella. If you have artificial turf installed, replacing this with a ‘native lawn’ or garden bed is one of the most productive things you could do for your own comfort and that of those around you.

If you have a lawn area which isn’t being used for activities, converting it into a garden bed with a mix of shrubs could also provide you with additional screening from the street, or perhaps a shady and secluded spot to place a small table and chairs. In a couple of years the Southern Reserve will have many native species to collect seeds from and propagate for planting in your garden, so make the most of it!