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    The Secret Agent Report - Gardens

    JUNE 2014



    “The need to create gardens – to fashion from nature places of order and retreat – connects us to the ancient civilisations of Sumer and Egypt, Greece and Rome.” – TERENCE CONRAN

    Green environments are essential components of a healthy human habitat. In dense urban areas where more and more of us live today, this is particularly true. The enjoyment of a garden is deeply biological, most likely stemming from our evolutionary past to seek sanctuary from hostile environments such as the Savannah.

    Intuition tells us that a little bit of green goes a long way. In big cities, space is a premium. Modern day life means packed trains, trams, congested streets, and busy offices. The need for an oasis within the inner city has never been greater.

    In this report Secret Agent investigates the physical, mental and monetary value of the garden. 

    The first attempts to impose order to natural landscapes were most certainly driven by the need for food. This necessity has evolved to humans civilising many other domains of the natural environment. This included creating cities, building roads and maintaining gardens.

    The vibrant array of colours, including the essential green, has a deep impact on us. Think about a time you got out of your car in a forest after a long stint in the city. The fresh air and visuals help put one at ease. Or picture coming home from a stressful day at the office and spending some time on your rooftop deck surrounded by your private “green” sanctuary. This is a retreat. There has been a change of perception amongst home owners in regards to what a garden represents. Gardens are more than just a feature, they are an extension of a house and to many signify an escape, a place to relax and unwind.

    The question on the value of the garden stem from a recent property purchase. Secret Agent was engaged to value and acquire a home with one of Melbourne’s most famous backyards. What was the backyard worth?


    Gardens have never been as important in our lives as they are in this day and age. They provide a sanctuary, a place to keep in touch with the elements and the ever changing seasons; a place to re-charge. As the modern landscape changes and the much talked about trend of urbanisation continues to proliferate, the humble garden becomes even more relevant. A garden that is functional as well as beautiful delivers a better quality of life.

    Without doubt there are numerous benefits to a well thought out garden. A nourishment of the soul not quantifiable by a dollar value. Value of health both physically and mentally.

    “…while our homes evolve in a series of distinct, controlled stages, as our priorities and circumstances alter, the garden is in a continual state of change. Gardens are dynamic, three-dimensional places which thwart out attempts to impose finite human plans on them. Yet they are often where we find harmony. This is perhaps to do with their capacity to arouse emotions on many levels. You have only to look at children playing outdoors to see how intuitively we adapt the natural landscape to human needs: climbing tree; damming streams; creating secret dens; following the progress of a ladybug across a path.” -Terence Conran, The Essential Garden Book

    It’s hard not to be happy among the elements, outside surrounded by greenery, clean air, the sounds and fresh smells. The proven benefits of a short spell outside have shown it does wonders for the human psyche.

    The sensory experience of gardening allows people to connect to this primal state; people understand this, but it is often hard to quantify in words. Having a garden to tend to (and remember this can be a little herb garden on a balcony, or a larger tropical paradise) can bring numerous health benefits. In addition to being a source of fresh produce (better nutrition) a garden can keep you fit, improve your mental well being (mood) and relieve stress. There are numerous scientific studies to support all these claims.

    A recent study in the Netherlands suggested that gardening fights stress better than other common leisure activities. Two groups of people were instructed to either read indoors or garden for 30 minutes after having completed a series of stressful tasks. Afterward, the group that got there hands dirty gardening reported being in a better mood than the group that had chosen to read. Interestingly they also had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

    “We live in a society where we’re just maxing ourselves out all the time in terms of paying attention,” says Andrea Faber Taylor, Ph.D., a horticulture instructor and researcher in the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois. “Humans have a finite capacity for the kind of directed attention required by cell phones and email and the like, and when that capacity gets used up we tend to become irritable, error-prone, distractible, and stressed out.” Fortunately we can replenish ourselves by engaging in ‘involuntary attention’, the effortless kind of attention we use to enjoy nature.

    This effortless attention of gardening may even help decrease symptoms of depression. In a study conducted in Norway, people who had been diagnosed with depression, spent six hours a week growing flowers and vegetables.

    After three months, half of the participants had experienced a measurable decrease in symptoms of depression. What’s more, their mood continued to be better three months after the gardening program ended. The researchers suggest that the novelty of gardening may have been enough to take people out of a dark space, but some experts suggest that a harmless bacteria commonly found in soil could be the answer, that exposure to this bacteria increased the release and metabolism of serotonin (popularly thought to be a contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness) in parts of the brain that control cognitive function and mood.

    Tending to a garden (if you are doing it yourself) can be physical enough to get a good dose of daily exercise. Some research even suggests that the physical activity associated with gardening could help lower the risk of developing dementia.

    As gardening is goal orientated, people are more likely to stick with it and participate more often. It’s not the type of activity you get bored of quickly, and sees results over a long term period. Gardening gets you out and about in the fresh air and sunshine.

    Food you grow yourself is the freshest food you will find. Home gardens filled with fruits and vegetables, are the healthiest and generally the most nutritious food you can eat. And not surprisingly, several studies show that gardeners eat more fruits and vegetables than their non veggie growing peers.


    The Global Garden Report (2011) investigated 5000 homeowners from 9 different countries in order to determine the effect that a well maintained garden has on property price. They invited a panel of 44 real estate agents and 120 garden designers to quantify this impact. It was found that globally, this effect (know as the garden effect), was 16%. In Australia, homeowners who invest in a well kept garden can expect to sell their property for 12% more. In terms of return on a well maintained garden, Australian’s can expect to receive approximately 3.6 times more than what was initially invested when sold. In the study, investment was measured through the time and money spent on maintenance, plants, accessories and the costs of makeovers. “This means that if you invested $1000 on plants for the garden that would directly increase the value of your property by $3600, $10,000 on the garden increases it by $36,000, and so on. This does not include the fact that the plants will actually grow and an established garden adds more value still.”

    Top 5 Elements of a Garden that contribute to its value: 

    • Well maintained lawn
    • Inviting social area
    • Stone paths and walkways
    • Decorative trees
    • Decorative bushes

    Secret Agent decided to investigate further and see how relevant these results were to the inner city property market in Melbourne.

    Secret Agent looked at approximately 3000 house and townhouse sales from Melbourne’s inner suburbs. Properties included were 2 and 3 bedroom dwellings, sold within the past three years (01/05/11 – 30/04/14). The features that were controlled to find the true value of landscaped gardens were the lot size, number of bathrooms and bedrooms, as well as the year the property was sold, beginning in May 2011 to the end of April 2012 as the base year.

    For the total of inner Northern, Eastern, Western and Southern suburbs, data from each suburb was combined and an additional area variable was added to ensure the location of the property would not affect results.

    Whether a property featured a notable garden or not was determined by looking at descriptions and photographs of the houses. Sales that had to be left out were ones that were missing any of the above variables. Parkville, West Melbourne and East Melbourne did not have sufficient housing sales data to allow us to accurately determine the value of landscaping.

    The results of our study show several interesting observations. Firstly, a landscaped garden can add anywhere up to 18% on average to the value of your property, as was the case in Fitzroy North. In the Western and Northern suburbs, notable gardens added the most, at about 10%, or $65,000 and $93,000 respectively. On the other hand, in the inner Southern suburbs, people paid about 3.5% more if the property featured landscaping, even as low as $17,000 (1.3%) in Albert Park.

    Perhaps the extent to which people value a proper garden depends very much on location and surroundings. The closer suburbs are to the city, the more denser they are, and the more people seem to value landscaped gardens. The highest percentages were recorded in Fitzroy North (18.2%), Carlton (16.25%) and Collingwood (15.5%), all located within close proximity to the CBD. Further, suburbs such as Brunswick East and Abbotsford, slightly further away from the city centre recorded much lower values of 2.2% and 4.88% respectively.

    Another factor to consider is the amount of parks, vegetation and open spaces in a suburb. In the inner Southern suburbs, streets will often feature median strips and an abundance of parks and greenery. In Albert Park where most houses would be within walking distance of the park and lake, the lowest added value of landscaped gardens was observed. 

    The connection between the two is clear: density and low levels of vegetation and open spaces increased the value of a private, landscaped garden.


    There is no doubt that a notable garden can add value to a property. It is important to remember that gardens cost money to maintain and constant upkeep is imperative. It would be interesting to see whether the opposite is true. Does a run down, unkept garden detract from the value of a house? In the Global Garden Report (2011) it was found that 70% of real estate agents believed that neglected gardens lowered property prices by 5-10%.

    For some people, the time and resources spent on gardening can be seen as a hassle and is not worth the investment.


    Whilst a renovated kitchen and bathroom depreciates in value over time, a well maintained garden will only grow in value as it becomes more established with each passing year. Gardens should be of central consideration when designing a home, as they provide not only monetary benefit at resale but significant health benefits. Our study shows that a landscaped garden can add up to 18% to the value of your property.