REVIEW – Influential Australian Garden People: Their Stories

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Symphony in green: Tupicoff garden designed by Arno King

Dr Anne Vale’s just released book, ‘Influential Australian Garden People: Their Stories’, features nineteen current ‘Mind Shapers’ and ‘Garden Creators’ who’ve educated and inspired Australian designers, horticulturists, and gardeners.

It’s an absorbing read, especially when these women and men, in their own words, candidly reflect on who and what influenced their own career paths. Some ‘seeds’ were planted by a parent, or a grandparent’s vegie patch, or when playing in the bush. Lecturers at TAFE or university open minds, but what may surprise readers is that in Australia professional landscape design wasn’t formally taught until just a few decades ago.

Anne Vale taps into the psyche of a selection of influential Australian garden people and we, the readers, share their journey and insightful gems. It’s an important record of a current generation who, in turn, will be the inspiration for emerging designers, horticulturists, educators, and home gardeners.

Our best landscapes, both public and private, enjoy symbiosis between excellent design, plant choice and plant health, so it makes sense that a cross section of an outstanding group, from quite diverse backgrounds, are included in her book.

Importantly Anne covers people in Australia’s north and west, as well as the east and south – areas already well served by garden books, articles, shows etc.  Some, such as Queensland teacher and broadcaster Annette McFarlane have authored informative books covering warm climate plants and organic care; and Victorian rare plant nurseryman and plant hunter Stephen Ryan presents an infectious enthusiasm for exceptional plants suitable for the southern climes. Who and what inspired Annette and Stephen, and all those featured in this book, to pursue their careers makes fascinating reading.

West Australian garden designer and author Janine Mendel, who believes ‘every house should look like it has been planted in a garden’, was working as a cartographer in the outback before embarking on her design career. One of her mentors was landscape architect Marion Blackwell.

Landscape architect and horticulturist Arno King

Landscape architect and horticulturist Arno King

Queensland landscape architect Arno King has an extensive plant knowledge and holistic approach to design, which inspires both colleagues and clients. He adds childhood visits to the Auckland Wintergardens, travel, and UK teachers Nigel Dunnett and James Hitchmough to his triggers. South American designers have also strongly influenced his approach.

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New Farm rooftop garden designed by Arno King

Victorian author, media presenter and teacher Jane Edmanson OAM, shares earliest memories of her mother referring to her little garden with nasturtiums and cosmos, and saying ‘this is your garden – you look after it.’ Post university Jane taught at Dimboola where she was assigned the job of planting trees. ‘I learnt more from the kids… as they knew all about the plants in the desert.’

Sydney based Myles Baldwin, landscape designer, horticulturist, author, and lecturer marvels at how TV personality Angus Stewart held his attention at TAFE at 9.30pm! With ‘a subject that is boring as hell he succeeded in educating a 19 year old about the importance of soil.’  A young Myles found working at a nursery through the holidays sometimes a bit soul destroying, but obviously he had fun too when he put the bonsai plants on sale ‘by marking them up by $3’.

Amongst projects for which landscape architect and horticulturist Andrew Laidlaw is responsible are the resurrection of Guilfoyle’s Volcano and the recent rejuvenation of the Fern Gully in the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. Andrew, who also lectures at University of Melbourne’s Burnley campus, attributes so much to specific teachers at what was previously Burnley School of Horticulture. ‘But it was with the arrival of John Patrick from the UK that the possibility of becoming a landscape designer really registered.’

Victorian garden designer Fiona Brockhoff has taken an innovative approach to gardens she designs, including clipped native plants as sculptural elements. A defining time for Fiona (in a gap year during her Burnley degree course) was studying with English designer John Brookes, and later she gained invaluable experience in a nursery.

Kate Cullity, landscape architect and artist, says others have always influenced her. ‘I’m like a magpie – I gather inspiration from many varied sources. I was inspired by Edna Walling; it was the materiality of her work, the stone, the layered planting, and the lyrical way she wrote about plants and landscapes – her romantic sensibility.’ But architect Luis Barragán who used ‘minimal rectilinear forms, very strong colours and minimal planting’, equally inspired her.

Award winning show garden designer Jim Fogarty shares his journey and explains why his chosen path leads him around the globe. ‘I think that whole green tourist dollar is a growing market and people want to see more of it. We are a unique country, we have our own culture and stories and environment and seasons colours and textures. There is a lot of indigenous artwork that would translate to the landscape well; it is something that interests me a lot.’

Goulburn based landscape architect Michael Bligh appeals especially to country people who have (or want) large gardens, and internationally renowned Paul Bangay also has a very recognisable style. Both share the routes to their success.

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Leyland Green: designed by Michael Bligh

How we access information has changed radically in a very short time. Magazines covering gardening are scarce (and endangered) so Paul Plant’s subTropical Gardening Magazine, and online version, is a feat. Although not profiled here, Anne acknowledges Catherine Stewart’s extraordinary website GardenDrum – providing a probably unrivalled information service.

‘Influential Australian Garden People: Their Stories’ is an inspired feast that will stir your senses, both with the words and stunning photographs by several of Australia’s best garden photographers. (With humble apologies – some of my photos are included but I am in awe of the other contributors!)

This cohort of Shapers and Creators is a cross section of a generation representing an inevitable shift in the approach to nature, landscape and the built environment. Anne Vale sensitively unpacks the complexities of where, what and why.

Mind Shapers:
Jane Edmanson, Paul Plant, Josh Byrne, John Rayner, Tim Entwisle, Annette McFarlane, Merilyn Kuchel, Stephen Ryan

Garden Creators:
Arno King, Fiona Brockhoff, Grady Brand, Paul Bangay, Myles Baldwin, Janine Mendel, Andrew Laidlaw, Phillip Johnson, Kate Cullity, Jim Fogarty, Michael Bligh.


Author: Anne Vale
Publisher: Heriscapes 2016
280 X 280 full colour, 200 pp, soft cover / $49.99 + $13.00 post & packing
Available from: Heriscapes or Florilegium

2016 SEQUEL to the award winning Exceptional Australian Garden Makers (2013) which covered outstanding garden makers from colonial settlement to those who established their professions before the 1980s.

8 replies »

  1. Beautiful photos and review Kim. Looks like a fabulous book. I think I will have to throw a few hints my daughter’s way and suggest it would make a nice Christmas gift for me.

    Also wanted to let you know that Open Gardens West Coast had their first garden open last weekend. Deryn Thorpe opened her garden for us and people were lined up in the rain waiting to get in. Deryn had a display of vintage cars and I have never seen so many blokes at an open garden. It was a fabulous weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have, in all honesty, felt a little envious but at the same time inspired by the brilliance these people bring to the wide-ranging landscape/ garden genres. Many a design idea has been squirrelled away for future use after pouring over their collective works.
    As a keen garden “artiste” myself, reading about their formative years will install a background story to their work.

    Liked by 1 person

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