Australian contemporary design

Life gallops on, but I am still back in the library. I feel guilty for leaving almost a week between posts recently; not the discipline you expect from a diligent scribbler – this blog has been solidering on since 2006.

I love how the beginning of the year is always a time when you dread ill omens and habits that might set a precedent for the year ahead. (I’m ignoring the great Huntsman spider that leapt out from UNDER my pillow when we came back from a great New Year’s Eve party.  Not an auspicious start at all.)

And I want to record this particular event as it affects so many gardening ideas and influences.

The main photo is from a garden called Eagles Bluff in Tenterfield by the garden designer Carolyn Robinson.

[Photo credits here, taken from the catalogue are by Nicholas Watt, Murray Fredericks, Sue Stubbs and Jason Busch.]


There was an accompanying exhibition on grand garden designs of contemporary spaces held close to the history of Australian gardening. In fact I was blundering about bedazzled by so much garden imagery that I seemed to stagger into the modern while trying to work out the history of planting in Sydney cove in 1810.

This one was curated by Howard Tanner.

‘In 2015 the Library commissioned architect and writer Howard Tanner to interview leading landscape designers working in New South Wales and to inspect innovative gardens and public parkland created since 1980.’

So this is a garden survey. Bliss.

img_4529I didn’t give it the proper amount of time on the day – another catalogue to peruse. Another book to buy. More much more to learn.

But I was surprised at how borrowed so many of the designs were from Nicole de Vesian in France; Oudolf,  and how English so many seemed.


But that is the sort of reductive and throwaway comment that would have been slapped down had I taken the time to really investigate the gardens and learn about the clients.

Because the most fascinating thing about gardens and design is how much the client can influence a creative designer into shaping a space.


This garden reminds me of one in England on the south coast. Devon? Pause while I rummage and see if I can find the shot in my library. I know exactly where it is on my desk in France, I’ll have to retrofit it when I return. Have a shot of Nicole de Vesian’s work while I check it’s not in my notes .


I always think hard pruned and clipped shrubs work best against a hard landscape. These are from Louisa Jones’ book on the influential French designer.


If I had crashing surf of that stunning view beyond my lawn, I don’t think I would want my eye to be brought hard up against such distinctive green solid objects. Billowing grasses you have to peer through? How about just observing the plants that grow naturally beside the sea here in Australia and tweak and play?

It is  fascinating to see how so many designers – in Australia, France, the States, England or the Netherlands, are all sharing the same ideas.

I bet the bookshelves of these designers (forgive me for not recording them all here) are the same as mine. Oudolf, de Vesian.. brain fade.. but hopefully also Edna Walling and Australian designers as well.

I am in thrall to Australian native planting. Less to the familiar English styles in an alien setting. I just think some things look too tightly clipped here. Constrained. Corsetted. Held in.

What do you see when confronted with this?

Borrowed landscape? That hedge in front with its clipped shape just doesn’t seem sympathetic to me. But then the planting on the edge with the different forms of shrubs works. And from inside the garden looking out does not look that stark a contrast.

It was all intensely interesting. So I’ll add more images and stop being picky. And when I’ve read the books, visited all the gardens, studied the garden designers in more detail, then I’ll wade in. This is only my tenth year in this gardening adventure. Still fresh.





One of the gardens mentioned was in the city. Well, in Paddington which is just up the road if you like walking.

So I set off up Oxford Street until the garden came into view. Via this great cafe on the way (my kind of artificial christmas tree).

It used to be an old water reservoir which fell into ruin.


I was itching to get in there and explore. Designed by Anton James in 2009 with tree ferns, banksias, and eucalypts. Let me at it. My kind of Australian garden.

I came up over the lip of the garden, camera poised and ready to find the steps down into the space.


And this was as far as me and my camera reached. A bridal party were going to enjoy their wedding snaps a whole lot more if there wasn’t a mad keen gardener scampering about ruining the shots.

Another time.