Spacious parklands, scenic waterways and natural play spaces - all on offer at Lara Lakes Estate

Published: 09/12/2020

Twenty-five years after he started working on Bisinella developments in Lara, landscape architect Gill Mexted, is back where he began – this time designing the landscape for Lara Lakes Estate.

Modelled on the national-award winning Grand Lakes Estate, Bisinella’s Lara Lakes Estate will offer residents the benefits of a country lifestyle with all of the comforts of city living.

When complete, Lara Lakes Estate will feature 6.7 hectares of parkland and waterways and 75 lake/park frontage lots. There will also be land in the 520-lot estate set aside for a future primary school and community centre.

Mr Mexted said the landscaping of the estate would be similar to Grand Lakes Estate which he and his team at Mexted Rimmer Landscape Architects designed 15 years ago.

“Some of the themes that we developed there and which have also been reflected through subsequent Bisinella developments, will be carried over. Things have progressed since we did that development 15 years ago but the principles of the design will be pretty similar.”

A spacious corridor through the estate will be highlighted by trees and plants, which will hopefully attract wildlife.  Ideal for families and people who like to exercise, the recreational area will offer shared pathways for pedestrians and bike riders as well as open space, perfect for kicking a ball around. There will also be boardwalks linking the south area to the northern area which will include a playground.

A secondary park will include wide open spaces for ball games with a path around it and a neighbourhood playground in one corner.

Mr Mexted said there were elements of the landscaping design that had changed over the decades.

“Natural play spaces are something we have introduced into the playgrounds. It’s not just about having swings and slides, it’s also about providing opportunities for kids to explore and make their own play spaces. We do this by putting logs and rocks in a random setting and using kids’ size trees for scale.  This way you get a range of structured and unstructured play environments. This focus on natural play areas and utilising different play opportunities is something we have developed further in our design since Grand Lakes Estate.”

Mr Mexted said when designing the landscape for each development it was crucial to look to the future.

“You have to think ahead with these things because landscape takes many years to develop. You’ve got to look 10, 20, 30, 40 years ahead because it is going to be there forever.

“Therefore, it is a matter of selecting the right type of plants that are going to survive and thrive, while providing as much shade and play opportunities.

Mr Mexted said he often used Indigenous plants, particularly in the parklands.

“This is a good opportunity to re-introduce some of the plants that may have been there before the area was all cleared for farming. It’s a balance between environment and recreation.”

It is also important to include plants that don’t need a lot of maintenance.

“As there is no irrigation to the plants, they need to be really tough and hearty. The other key thing in selecting the plants is the issue of passive surveillance of the parkland. You don’t want to create dense areas where you don’t know what’s going on behind them. Part of the design is to have clear space from above knee height to canopy level or low-lying ground covering plants.”

“It also provides us with the opportunity to plant some bigger trees that are going to be there forever.”

Mr Mexted said the emphasis on landscape design in developments had changed a lot since he started in the industry.

“Previously landscaping was seen as something you did at the end of a project. Things have evolved a lot and these days we are involved a lot earlier in the planning process.”

Mr Mexted is responsible for the design of everything in the estate’s outdoor environment, from the planting to the pathways, the boardwalks, furniture, pergolas, barbecues and bike racks.

 “Our focus has always been to provide high quality outdoor areas with an importance on play and recreational opportunities in open spaces.

“We work with the Council as they have the long-term management of the spaces so it needs to be a design which can be maintained by them.”

After designing the landscaping Mexted Rimmer engage a contractor to do the landscaping work.

Mexted Rimmer has used landscaping contractors Ausscapes for many years.

Mr Mexted said working as a team and supporting local businesses was extremely important.

“Ausscapes is a local contractor who has grown with Bisinella projects like we have too.”

“Bisinella has been very supportive of us and supportive of our local industries. They are always encouraging us to look for local supplies as much as can. It is very much a team approach – we are all in it together.”

Mr Mexted has worked on approximately 50 developments, including about a dozen Bisinella estates, but admits he has a soft spot for Grand Lakes Estate.

In 2016 the estate set the benchmark around the country when it won the urban development industry’s national award for environmental excellence. Grand Lakes became the first residential estate in the Geelong region to win this award.

The prestigious 800 lot Grand Lakes Estate was built from late 2008 until 2015 and is now a vibrant community of more than 2000 residents.

The national award followed the estate taking top honours at the Urban Development Institute of Australia’s annual Victorian awards for excellence in 2015. Grand Lakes was judged the best residential estate and also won the award for environmental excellence.

The largest estate developed at the time in Lara, Mr Mexted designed Grand Lakes Estate round a stunning 18-hectare expanse of lakes, wetlands and parkland laced by a network of boardwalks and walking and cycling trails.

“Grand Lakes Estate was ground breaking,” he said.

As explained by the judges at the national awards, the project turned a major constraint into the primary feature of the development.

 “The low-lying, flood-prone and degraded nature of the land prior to development has been transformed through the introduction of a series of ornamental lakes, wetlands, water treatment initiative and flood management techniques”.

Land in Stage 1A and 1B of Lara Lakes Estate was released last month. Titles for the first stage are expected in December 2021.