Australian Landscape Conference 10th – 11th September 2005
A Gardener’s Response
This was the sixth international landscape and garden design conference held in Melbourne and I was lucky enough to be given a registration. I imagined it would be seriously landscape oriented and landscaper attend but the lure of international and Australian speakers talking about garden design and their “Creative processes for design excellence” I knew would be relevant.
The International speaker lineup was an excellent as it was varied and the all made reference to their creative processes (early horticultural experiences, study, climate, soil and site analysis and plant selection decisions) in their first lecture and their second focused on their applications in their work. Their own illustrative slides and audio selections were delightful.
I have quoted information from the conference brochure which I found made such sense after the event! Penelope Hobhouse spoke first on “Training the Eye: the art of garden design”. She told of her early gardening, her writings and her more recent research in gardening history, garden styles and discovery of Persian oasis gardens. One of her earliest books was about colour in the garden and she confesses now she’s far more charmed by simplifying and reducing decorative planting. Her second lecture on “Nature and Art in the Garden” and led to her expounding on her new love of open paved areas, subtle water features and structural tree planting. She spoke of our gardens being our attempts to make paradise on earth and that these would be the paradise we would find eventually. Not being involved in that line of thinking I was rather fearful of the prospect!
From the US was Rick Darke, described as “a design consultant, author and photographer focused on landscape design, restoration, planning and ‘enhancement’. His lecture was titled “Creating the Livable Landscape: and ethic for ecological gardening” and “The Woodland Garden: capturing the spirit of the forest”. Both were superbly illustrated and beautifully depictive of north-eastern US in all seasons, both his personal garden and the woodlands and gardens in that area. I felt his major message was to open our eye, to view things differently, to seek out subtlety and to leave only a gentle impression of our existence.
James Hitchmough, a Professor in the Department of Landscape in the University of Sheffield has spent several years in Melbourne as a lecturer at Burnley Collage before returning to the UK. His topics were “Values and Meanings in our Gardens: The great debate” and Glamour in the Garden: naturalistic herbaceous plants communities”. I’m not sure about “glamour” but he spoke amusingly and realistically about establishing plants communities and planting failures. His current work is in naturalistic herbaceous vegetation, planting green meadows with a mix of native and compatible wild grasses and flowers. His suggestion for “meadow” planting in Australia gave an example using Kangaroo Grass (Themeda australis) a great favourite of his; teamed with hot pokers kniphofia spp, a non invasive agapanthus and a daisy form (I’m a bit vague here). He was adamant that Echinacea spp in Australian paddock conditions would be a dud, said with a Sheffield accent rhyming with wood! It seemed to me that there was a lot of time through winter and early spring that these British meadows were not at their best but that in Australia we had much better prospects for year round satisfaction.
Christopher Bradley-Hole, also from the UK, trained and worked as an architect before “his fascination for plants and gardens led him to refocus on the broader landscape”. His lecture was titled “The Urban Garden: Crafting a modern style” with examples of his Chelsea Flower Show entries displaying “pared down simplicity….executed with a sharp eye for both rigorous design and harmonious planting” and “The Wider Landscape country gardens and public landscapes”. He described his architectural visions inspired by mathematical perfection, the rectangular blocks of colour in the Mondrian style are and Fibonacci series which he then interprets in bare stonework or exuberantly plants with perennials and grasses. His problems-solving techniques with moving people through his landscape were impressive.
The last international landscaper was Juan Grimm from Chile who, apart from suffering from the flu, was any thing but grim. His presentations were titled “The Landscape of Chile: a vision of nature and for design” where he introduced us to the broad range of areas and their natural landscape across the length of Chile, and “Garden Design in Chile: challenges and opportunities where he showed us many of his fabulous private and public design works. They were indeed brilliantly related to the landscape and made great use of the indigenous vegetation teamed with exotics that would support and mould to the forces of nature in a similar way. He loved showing us Puya chilensis a grey/green leafed bromeliad that stars along the northern and central coastline, a great favourite of his. I would recommend members seek out his book. Most of the gardens we saw were large (one was 32 acres!) and impressive but were never tasteless extravaganzas.
A landscaper originally from Czechoslovakia but now designed in Sydney is Vladimir Sitta, Who spoke on “Exploring the Edge: does our construction ability intimidate our ideas”. He was wonderfully disrespectful and outrageous and says he “does not see the private garden as a place of naked confrontation and dispute with nature…..unlike out public landscapes with concepts homogenised to pulp by public authorities, bean counters, conspiracy lawyers and oh, so inspiring, public consultation”. That quote sums him up delightfully. He feels “private gardens retain the highly individualistic and specific character”. His certainly do! Thinking black caned bamboo, pebble surfaces and shallow black marble pools, or fabulous arrangements of cacti, succulents and grasses in angular coloured walls and you have some idea of the scope of his designs.
From New Zealand came Robert Watson, a lawyer who turned to landscaping and is based in Christchurch. “He does private, commercial, tourist, urban and rural design projects” and he had wonderful slides to show some of variety of his work. His lecture titled “New Directions from New Zealand” showed us some of his work like small courtyard gardens, City gardens and sweeping landscape patterns on the Canterbury plains. One of these, now 10 years old, was planted to wrap the proposed house and surrounding garden from the diving winds. It still is without a house even though the shelter-belt is well established. This, or another there, is planted only with native or New Zealand bred plants in astounding foliage and growth habit patterns.
The delightful Professor George Seddon, a Senior Research fellow at the centre for studies of Australian Literature, University of WA spoke on “Adapting our Gardens to our Environment”. His theory on successful gardening is to not choose a plant and then attempt to provide the conditions for it to survive. “This is the wrong way around and we should accept what our environment offers, then make our plant and design choices accordingly. This was the material of his scholarly lecture and we all need these reminders! For those how saw gardening Australia on 8th October 2005 you had the combined delight of meeting this thoughtful person and viewing his delightful Mediterranean garden where he has put his design and ecological principles into practice.
Kate Cullity, a landscape architect from WA spoke on “Working with the Poetics of the Australian Landscape”. She works with a team which “undertake investigations into the poetic expression of the Australian landscape” but as this is mostly what the GDSG is all about it was a bit waffly for me. The work involves installations and designs to represent/make people notice/draw attention to the beauty of our Natural Landscape.
Professor Jim Sinatra and Phin Murphy delivered a dual address titled “Art, Sculpture and the Landscape”. “Their creative process includes ‘landscape paintings’ which developed from working with inspiring landscapes and indigenous people.” They seem to experiment with form and shapes and apply these to the landscape in forms like the giant banners and “Tracky Dacks” that march across featureless new subdivisions or moulded reflective pillars in the park – amusing and light-hearted designs.
Andrew Laidlaw is the landscape architect for the RBG Melbourne. He was an inspired and inspiring speaker but I will quote the brochure entirely for this summary of his work and the illustrations he showed. “He we principal designer for the Perennial Border, Species Rose Garden, Water Conservation Garden, Long Island (RBG) Indigenous Garden, Two stands at the international Flower and Garden Show (2 gold medals) and the New Children’s Garden. He consulted with co-workers in the gardens for their input in his designs.
All of these speakers were brought together through the efforts of Warwick and Sue Forge and the audience and the speakers were adeptly controlled by John Patrick. They presented a varied but cohesive and entertaining event. Inspiration came from the consistent call to use materials suited to the site, to look anew at arrangements, ecological considerations, colour and planting possibilities and to experiment with combinations of native and like minded exotics.
They had also arranged a Pre-conference Design Garden Tour for the Friday when delegates toured 6 gardens and had a chance to talk with most of the owners. I was not able to tour but heard reports of it being a great success.
The event was definitely not heavily loaded to the professional and there were many “home gardens” among the audience seeking new ideas. It cost were approximately $500 per person, accommodation of course extra, but very much worth the effort. The tour was $95 for the day. There was a lot to dream about and to ponder. Reality hit when I returned to my personal, small, still working up to paradise, suburban lot with plantings a mix of natives, flowers for cutting and organic vegetables. I enjoy the efforts and the changes I have to make and the economies I have to apply but I was overwhelmed by the thought of all thousand of dollars that have been spent in making extravagant paradises for those who had the resources. Perhaps some of those resources could be funneled off to planting plans for needy countries.