Landscaping serenity at Alba Thermal Springs & Spa

MORNINGTON PENINSULA, VICTORIA – September 2021: Guided by a vision to be Victoria’s most sought-after bathing and wellness experience, Alba Thermal Springs & Spa, on the Mornington Peninsula, is proud of its commitment to respecting the natural environment.

“From its inception, the ethos behind Alba was based on finding synergies between the environment, community, culture and history,” said Alba General Manager Craig Dodd. “In appointing building architects and landscape architects, we had to find practices that could work together wholistically to create a seamless indoor and outdoor experience.

“With building architecture and interiors by Hayball, and landscape architecture and pool design by MALA Studio, we are creating a wellness centre that effortlessly connects clients to themselves and to their environment.”

The creation, or re-imaging of this coastal landscape has been a two year process for MALA Studio, bringing the site from run-down farm, to an expansive ecology and high-end destination. The up-and-coming firm with offices in Melbourne, Perth and nearby Sorrento, has a strong site-led approach and passion for the peninsula landscape.

“I confess I’m in love with this site,” said MALA Studio founding director, Campbell Morris. “Having grown up in the local area, the indigenous vegetation, rural context, and grasslands are warmly familiar and comforting. I wanted this design and planting to instill similar feelings of relaxation and calm in Alba’s guests and deliver unique-to-this-area experiences.

“The flip-side to this serenity and stillness is the fact that weather conditions can change dramatically and in an instant. It was important that the gardens not only reflect that wildness but be able to withstand such unpredictability and thrive in all elements.”

Alba Thermal Springs and Spa encompasses 32 pools of varying sizes – geothermal pools, cold plunge pools and herbal-infused botanical pools – set in some 15 hectares of garden.

Every pool has been meticulously detailed by MALA with a high-quality suite of stone and concrete pools expressing themselves differently in response to their setting and social purpose. Some pools are submerged in flowering meadow, some created as apertures to the sky, others are gently cradled within drifts of waving grasses. There are pools that are intentionally intimate and peacefully private, while others are social.

“This is very much an atmosphere-driven project, with water as the mood-setter,” said Morris. “Every area of the gardens has its own ambience, textures, palette, and theme, but it feels very natural and uncontrived. Each pool has its own space so that the bathers’ experience is undiluted.”

The landscape plan evolved over 18 months of site visits and creative collaborations and takes its inspiration from the existing terrain and vegetation, retaining and enhancing the existing coastal Moonah woodland.

Regenerating the location’s native bushland is a key element of Alba’s long-term vision for the garden, which will be at least 15 years in the making.

“We have engaged a nearby indigenous nursery to collect seed and propagate plants of local provenance,” said Peter Crawford, Landscapes and Grounds Director at Alba. “This will not only help us replace species lost due to past farming practices, but also encourage visitation and colonization from a wide diversity of birds, insects, and native wildlife.”

Alba’s guests can expect to see birds of prey, such as wedge-tailed eagles, harriers, falcons, black shouldered kites and Australian kestrels. More colourful avian visitors include parrots, black cockatoos, honey eaters, wrens, fantails and so many more.

“Grey kangaroos and black wallabies are occasionally sighted towards the north east of the property, and echidnas are common. The gardens are also home to blue-tongued lizards and tree dragons,“ said Crawford.

The planting scheme will be in several phases – starting with upper story trees before moving to the middle canopy and then on to the fast-growing shrubs and bushes. The early establishment of ground covers and mass plantings of grasses and reeds are also important not just for beauty, but for weed and erosion control, and soil enrichment.

Although Alba Thermal Springs and Spa is not scheduled to open until winter 2022, the planting is already well underway. Evident already are remnant species such as Allocasuarina verticillata (Drooping Sheoak), Leucopogon parviflorus (Coast Bearded Heath) and Melaleuca lanceolata (Moonah). Spring flower blooms are putting on a show with plants such as Hibbertia sericea (Silky Guinea flower) and the local Pink Fairy Orchid (Caladenia latifolia).

Next year will see some non-indigenous additions to the landscape to create some additional colour – shrubs such as Hakea laurina (pin cushion Hakea), for example.

“The construction of an in-house nursery in the coming months will ensure the ongoing evolution of a natural environment that fosters restoration and rejuvenation; it will be rewarding and exciting to watch,” Crawford said.