Charlie: Hello, I’m Charlie Albone and welcome to Episode Eight of Season Two of That’s How We Grow in partnership with Stihl Garden Power Tools. Garden design is a true passion of mine, a passion I turned into work and I’m lucky enough to have built a career in. Seeing your first garden design be built, grow and evolve over time is an amazing feeling. Getting to repeat this over and over is an absolute joy. I always try to consider the location, the architecture and local conditions when doing a design, as the garden needs to fit the area, learning what works and helping the garden evolve with that over time helps support a lasting and thriving garden space.
Once built and established, the maintenance of a garden is vitally important. From weeding and pruning to clean-ups and replanting, it all needs to be done to help keep the garden looking grand and deliver on the original design. I doubt there are any more highly credentialed garden designers in Australia than Paul Bangay. Paul has designed gardens across the world and with his garden Stonefields in Victoria. It’s an incredible demonstration of his passion. I can’t wait to chat with Paul about design philosophies, how his team maintains Stonefields and watching the garden evolve with time.
So let’s grab our sketchbook, marking paint and plant some ideas! It’s time to start chatting. All things garden design with Paul.
My guest today is an icon in Australian garden design. His passion for classical and timeless design has turned him into a worldwide success. He’s shaped so many designers by inspiring them with his amazing understanding of proportion, sense of place and plant knowledge. In 2018, he was awarded an OAM for services to landscape architecture. I am, of course talking about Paul Bangay! Paul, welcome to That’s How We Grow.
Paul: Good to see you.
Charlie: Good to see you, too. Paul, where did it all start for you? How did you get into gardening and landscape design?
Paul: You know, I listen to so many podcasts of sort of garden designers, interior designers, architects, and they nearly always say the same thing – that it comes from childhood. And a great childhood love of gardens. And my mother was a great gardener. You know, we had normal quarter acre block in the outer-eastern suburbs of Melbourne, but it was a very leafy area and she was very passionate about her garden. So from a very early age I was out in the garden. She gave us our own little patch in the garden, and I just adored gardens from a very, very early age.
Charlie: Do you remember what it was that first sparked your interest? Because I remember mine was like a fritillaria bulb. Seeing that pop up in grass, that really took my imagination and I ran with it. But did you have a moment like that?
Paul: Well, so you were lucky. You grew up in that lovely sort of mild gardening climate of England. I grew up in the sort of harsh heat of Australian summers, mine, I guess mine. We used to go for holidays. We had a little holiday place down near Apollo Bay in the bays, and we used to go to this wonderful Fern Gully and I became obsessed with ferns and I just used to walk through this gully and think, I just want my own little fernery. My father built me a little shade house that I was going to grow ferns in. And then I put a pond in there and was just became obsessed with ferns from a, from a very early age as well.
So I guess, I guess walking through those wonderful rainforests of the Otways was my sort of moment.
Charlie: Yeah, right. So how did that turn into landscape design as a career?
Paul: So my father was Pro Vice-Chancellor of RMIT, one of the biggest unis in Melbourne. And he’s like, I knew from that very early age that I want to do gardening my whole entire life. And he’s like, well, you have to go do a course to do this. And I’m thinking, why? Why does anyone have to do a course? Anyway, he took me to Burnley, which I think was probably and still is one of the best places for a garden designer to learn the craft. And so I worked towards going, towards getting into Burnley.
I did the subjects necessary, I did the work experience necessary and, and then went to Burnley. And that was probably, you know, those four years of Burnley were just magical for me and taught me so much about garden design.
Charlie: Do you remember the first garden you ever designed?
Paul: First garden…I used to do little gardens for my friends and my parents. And they were very, they were very sort of willing to help me out, and, you know, probably at the age of like 14 or 15, I was creating little areas of pockets in our garden for my families — friends of my family, sorry. And so there was a pond and a little flower board I did for a friend that lived about a kilometre away from my house. And I funny enough, I’m doing a book at the moment on an archive of all my designs and I found that photograph of that, that garden we did and it was hilarious! It’s this terrible pond that I built, full of annual plants and everything we don’t use these days.
But yeah, it was a very special moment in my life.
Charlie: Yeah, I remember one of the first gardens I designed was for my mum. You know, I was looking for some work. She said, just come build a garden for me. And we kind of made it up on the fly. And there was also a terrible water feature that I just couldn’t get level and you know, so lots of pond liner and it was just horrendous. But you know, really sparked an interest for me.
Paul: It was a great, it was a great moment of awakening, realizing that water needed to be level when I built that pond. I didn’t think about it up until then.
Charlie: Yeah, my mom said, no, the bottom has to be level and I said no, no, the top has to be level. I remember arguing about it! (Laughs) Yeah. So where do you get your inspiration from for your garden designs?
Paul: Look, I think travel, definitely travel for me it is, like I love travelling around the world and I loved going to very interesting places in terms of garden design. So I’ve been to Syria, I’ve been to Iran, I’ve been to Jordan, and I’ve been all over America, right through Europe. And so just travelling and I try and do that two or three times a year and when I travel I go to as many gardens as I possibly can, private gardens, public gardens, botanic gardens. I’m just always obsessing about visiting as many gardens I can. So I think it definitely for me, the inspiration comes from travel, seeing new planting schemes, you know, trying to go to new gardens that new modern garden designers are sort of doing and seeing new planting styles I think is very important for me.
Charlie: So how did you cope? During the pandemic in lockdown?
Paul: Yeah, it was it was a bit difficult. I mean, luckily we were at Stonefields. We were locked down in Stonefields, and so we had a lot of space and I had this wonderful big garden to work in. But, you know, I’m used to travelling all the time and, you know, almost every week I’m travelling somewhere around Australia and we know, we couldn’t do the international travel. And because we were in Melbourne, you know, we were the worst, we were locked down 230 days. And so I couldn’t get to Sydney, I couldn’t get to any of the jobs interstate. So it was, it was a very difficult period for me particularly.
Charlie: So I guess you would be known for… Well, actually, I’ve noticed your style has changed over your career, I guess were first known for a bit of a formal, timeless style, and now you’re using a lot more perennial plants and a lot more softness in your planting. Can you talk to us a bit about how it started and how it evolved?
Paul: So it started… I really became obsessed with 18th century French gardens when I first started. Like I just thought, I went to France, I went to Velindre, I went to Versailles, I looked at those gardens and thought how amazing all these shapes and forms, and the way they sculpt plants was. And so, you know, very early on my career, I was doing pleached hedges in Australia when no one was talking about pleached hedges – having trees come out of gravel and sort of replicating what I’d seen in those French gardens, then I sort of moved on, you know, because I’ve been working for 40 years.
I’ve gone through a few decades, Charlie. So, you know, there’s been a few, there’s been a few style changes. And then I sort of, you know, became more obsessed with English gardens and then, you know, sort of in the last ten or 15 years, maybe 20 years, I’ve sort of become very comfortable with my own style and sort of experimenting with what I what I love doing. And that’s sort of led me to sort of more organic shapes, softer shapes, more informality, balancing a little bit of formality with mostly informality, and becoming obsessed with perennials and flowers.
And who would have thought when I first started off doing all green gardens that I’d now be doing clashing reds and purples and oranges and yellows in a flower border.
Charlie: But you do it makes you happy, right?
Paul: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Yeah.
Charlie: So are your clients asking you for a certain style or are you turning up and imposing a style and saying, this is what I say? Or are they saying this is what I really want?
Paul: I think I mean, when I first started, I think people didn’t have much clue when they when it came to the style of the garden they wanted. And I quite often I had asked that question, what style do you want? And they couldn’t really answer that question. I think now Australians are really well informed and very educated when it comes to gardens. And so I think they seek out the designers that represent the style that they actually want in their garden. So I’m not asking that question so much anymore and I’m not sort of imposing myself. So people will come to me and not, not necessarily say what style they want because they know that style I’m going to give them. They’ve done their research and matched it well.
I mean, I mean, the only the only question I might ask someone is like, do you want some formality or how much formality do you want in your garden, you know, versus informality. But, you know, I think I think people there’s so many great garden designers now, and I think people go to each designer because they know their particular style.
Charlie: Yeah, absolutely. So what are your clients asking for? Like, I hate to ask the question “gardening trends” because that’s something I don’t think should really happen in the gardening world because a garden takes so long to mature. But have you notice that your clients are asking for a certain thing?
Paul: Yeah, I think, I think there I think gardens, they’re really becoming very conscious about sustainability. So quite often they’re asking about, you know, drought proofing their gardens like, you know, let’s choose plants that are going to be appropriate to the climate we’re living in. I think that’s a big change that’s happening. And productivity, we’re seeing a lot of clients wanting more productive parts to their garden. So the vegetable garden, the herb garden, fruit trees, integrating those into the general part of the garden or having a separate big vegetable garden is like nearly one of the big requests that we get asked all the time now.
So I think I think sustainability and productivity are one of the big trends that are happening.
Charlie: Did you notice more so after the pandemic? People were interested? Or was it already ramping?
Paul: You know, I think it was I think it started before then. I think climate change just really made people aware of that. And I think organics, like people wanting to know where their food comes from and not having so many chemicals in their food. I think that was definitely starting before the pandemic. I think the pandemic definitely help gardens. If we can say that’s a positive from the pandemic, it really is gardens that have benefited from it. People were stuck in their houses and, you know, they realize the importance of getting out in the garden, relaxing in the garden and actually gardening. I think, you know, there’s two parts to gardens, it’s the actual design of the garden, but the actual looking after a garden. People have realised how wonderful the act of gardening is.
Charlie: And that was my next question. Are you a keen gardener or are you just a designer?
Paul: No, no, I’m a keen gardener I love it. Yeah, we’ve just bought this little house and we bought it four years ago in the UK. And as opposed to Stonefields, which is five acres of garden, it’s quarter of an acre and I can maintain it myself. And I just love getting out there and gardening. In fact, every day, you know, the English are crazy that they stay inside the house all the time in the middle of Winter. I’m out there taking plants and gardening and I just love it. Absolutely love it.
Charlie: Yeah. My, my mum tends to put the garden to bed for Winter, as she calls it, and then they’re all out there in Spring. Are you an early morning gardener or are you just an all-day gardener?
Paul: Now I’m an all-day garden. I’m an early morning riser. Like I like getting up early, going for a walk, but I’m an all-day gardener. I like being out there all day.
Charlie: How do you talk to your clients about maintenance? Because obviously, well, a lot of your gardens are quite large. They have that sense of formality to them and they take a lot of maintenance. So how do you sort of, speak to your clients about how this thing is going to evolve into your vision and, you know, keep going and looking better after time?
Paul: And I think that’s another wonderful trend that’s happened in Australia. I think when I first started off and people were very conscious of maintenance and they were very scared of maintenance, you know, the biggest request I ever got early on in my career was a low maintenance garden and making sure that there wasn’t there wasn’t too much maintenance associated with the garden. People are not so scared of it anymore. Like, I think they’re sort of embracing the fact that gardens need to be looked after. You might have employed people or you might have to get out there yourself quite, quite a bit. It’s a very hard thing now.
Like, you know, gardeners are in such short supply. Finding good gardeners is so difficult. I think that’s that that’s the big problem with gardens now is actually finding professionals who can help them and help them look after them. But and I you know, I’m finding that people are willing to spend more time themselves in the garden and employ professionals for that.
Charlie: Yeah. So you mentioned Stonefields is five acres of garden. How many gardeners? I mean, obviously you couldn’t do that all by yourself. You’re a very busy man. How many gardeners do you have helping you look after?
Paul: So we have two. We have two gardeners here.
Charlie: And they’re full time.
Paul: They’re full time. Yeah.
Charlie: Well, that’s amazing, because you’ve got that your iconic parterre garden, I guess, the…The cubes and the cylinders. Yeah. How did that come to be?
Paul: Well, I mean, the gardens, 20 years old now. So 20 years ago, you know, a formality was still a big thing. Yeah. And I took the philosophy with this garden because it’s set in the most beautiful location in central Victoria, and we’ve got some beautiful big eucalypts and big 500 year old eucalypts around here. And it’s very undulating. It sits on the top of this hill, but it’s got these wonderful views down the valley and the contours are very soft around it. So I took the view that will start out very informal on the outside of the garden and then get very formal as we get close to the house.
And of course, you know, the ultimate part of that formality is the parterre. And I just wanted to have a play on, you know, I didn’t want that renaissance sort of feeling to a party with all the spoils and bright baroque shapes. So I just did the geometry of just cubes and spheres. Yeah. And so it’s just a play, a play on sort of, you know, geometry as it gets closer to the house. And I’ve battled with that part for a long time. I threatened to take it out and fill it with flowers and soften the whole thing down. But then I kind of think, well, should you bend to the whim of gardens? Because, you know, in ten or 15 years’ time we might be back to more formality again.
Charlie: Well, that’s it. You can’t go for trends, can you?
Paul: You know.
Charlie: But it is, it is quite iconic. And I think if you were to rip it out, it would be such a shame. I mean, you can you can always create more gardens elsewhere, can’t you?
Paul: That’s right. And at the moment, Charlie, it’s just beautiful. It’s full of white tulips. So every year and so that negative space between the box shapes always worried me. I mean, I, we put the pottery in, you know, for two or three years it was, it was fairly juvenile and didn’t represent much. And then the shapes became much defined. And I looked at and thought, it needs to be a bit more dynamic. And so we filled it with tulips during the, you know, in the autumn. And they’re just we’ve got like three or 4000 white shelves flowering in the middle of it now. And it’s now it’s just magical.
Yeah. Yeah. It would be a shame to lose that.
Charlie: Yes. And how else is the garden evolved over the years? Because obviously you added the tulips to add some interest to the Parterre. But what else have you done in the. Well.
Paul: I mean, the problem is I’ve created a monster. So, you know, I get bored and I just keep expanding and expanding, expanding it. So, you know, we’ve we added the last thing I think we added was this wonderful lilac walk we did we planted 100 lilacs and they had just about to burst into flower now and it, and it’s really because the inner core of the gardens really well done we have sort of bleeding out into the landscape and so it’s becoming more and more informal as we go out. But we’re adding, you know, wonderful things like that, very soft, meandering lilac walk and adding more perennial beds that are in very organic shapes as they sort of bleed out into the landscape.
Charlie: How did you ever get any work done?
Paul: It’s very well…I’m here now and so you know, my design studio. I work during the week and then come up here on a Friday and do all my design work on a Friday and weekends. And you know, I’ve got to pass through the garden to get to my studio, and I often get waylaid, so I’m sure it’s quite often the office guys say, “Have you done that plan?” And I go, “No, I got a little bit side-tracked. Sorry.”
Charlie: I haven’t, but I’ve taken a lot of cuttings, so.”
Paul: Yeah, exactly.
Charlie: Yeah. So it’s in Daylesford and the weather there can be quite harsh. How do you sort of assess a site and sort of apply a design to the conditions?
Paul: Well, I think that’s I mean, that’s a really important thing to do. I mean, you know, I work all over Australia and it’s very important to listen to what the site’s telling you. And in terms of the climate, you know, I think for a long, long time we’ve tried to impose the wrong planting styles on certain locations. And you know, if there’s not much water and it’s going to be hot and dry, let’s not be planting hydrangeas and azaleas and communities and all those sort of things. Let’s look at a planting style that’s appropriate. So, you know, I always go to a new site and quiz the client. Have we got water? You know, what are the summers like? What are the winters like and tailor the planting scheme to make sure that does suit the climate.
But at Stonefields, I mean, we’ve got I think this is the perfect climate for the gardens. We have cold, wet Winters and we get frost the kill all the bugs when we’ve got beautiful soil up here. And then in Summer we have hot, dry Summers. So it’s perfect for flowers and perennials and all sorts of plants really, because we’ve got, we’ve got enough water, we have the lovely cold Winters and lovely sort of Summer mild nights.
Charlie: Right? How do you break a client’s heart when you can perhaps tell them that I’m sorry, you’re just not going to be able to grow that here?
Paul: Yeah, it’s very difficult. I mean, I find. I don’t know whether you find this, Hydrangeas are the hardest one. So many people like… Instagram has been good in so many ways and bad in other ways, like so many people go, I just want this garden, you know, it’s a garden in the Hamptons and outside New York. Full of white hydrangeas! Where, for some reason in the Hamptons, you can grow Hydrangeas in full sun, even though they have a hot Summer and I have to go to them, you just can’t grow them here. And they go why? That is the feeling I want. That’s the style I want. And I go, Well, you’re going to get 45 degree days and hot northerly winds.
They not going to live. They’re not going to like it. And there’s a great resistance to that because, you know, they see it on Instagram and think they can have it.
Charlie: Yeah, it’s Instagram’s a killer for things like that. Yeah. How much importance do you put into social preparation when you’re implementing a design?
Paul: Well, I think soil is one of the most important things. You know, you should look at when, when it comes to landscape design. We do a great specification sheet and it’s really heavy on, on the, on the, on the soil preparation. And I think that now the world’s really paying attention to soil. And I think that’s just such a wonderful thing. And I’m great friends with, have you heard of the Land Gardeners in England? Yeah Bridget Robinson who’s a New Zealander, is a good friend of mine and I just, you know, I worship everything they say. If anyone wants to know anything about soils, buy or just do some research from the Land Gardeners because they, they think we can cure climate change through compost and it’s just such a wonderful thing because you know, making your own compost, putting your own compost into the soil actually ties up a lot of carbon in the soil.
And yeah, you know, I think that nothing is going to do well unless you pay attention to the soil. And I think one of the biggest problems we’ve got in Australia is we think we are a hot and dry climate, which we are, but then no one pays attention to, to drainage and then you get these cold, wet periods and all the plants die because they’ve got wet feet, because no one has looked at the drainage on a property.
Charlie: Yeah, absolutely. There’s so much that happens from the soil level down that it’s almost, or it is as important as everything that grows above the soil level.
Paul: That’s why you get the soil right, the plants will thrive.
Charlie: So how do you cope then? You’ve got a cocker spaniel named Jack.
Paul: You’ve got a cocker spaniel too!
Charlie: I’ve got two cocker spaniels!
Paul: And she’s, she’s just at my feet now, fast asleep.
Charlie: I’ve got one on a chair and one by my side. How do you cope with them in the garden? Does it really, you know, trash things?
Paul: So no. We just got blessed. We got the best cocker spaniel in the world. She is… She doesn’t get in the garden. I mean, she goes chasing rabbits through some of the plants yet she’s very delicate. She’s just been the best dog. And we taught her from day one not to wee on the lawns. And she just, she knows that she goes out to the paddocks and has a wee, or goes under the gravel and has a wee.
She’s just been fantastic with the garden. I think if you have two, it’s a bit of an issue because they sort of become a bit of a gang and sort of mess about, but just one, they’re devoted to you and they just want to be with you the whole time.
Charlie: Yes, Well, both of them are like that, so that they’re both lapdogs. They fight for attention and then they go and trash the garden.
Paul: But you’ve also you’ve got two cocker spaniels. Yeah. You’ve also got the other enemy of gardens- children!
Charlie: Yeah, actually, you say that, but my youngest son, he’s a real gardener.
I’ll find him out in the garden watering and deadheading, and, you know, he’s mad about Bonsais as well. So, you know, he’s becoming quite good. Quite a handy one. The other one’s very creative, so I’m hoping I can, you know, have one of them is in the design team and one of them in the construction space.
Paul: But do you have to bend to their will? And have you got things, such things as playgrounds?
Charlie: No, no trampolines. I’ve got slides. We’ve got where we live in the city, we’ve got a pool which keeps them happy. But then we’ve got five acres north of Sydney as well. So the playground is just open the doors and you go!
Paul: So I mean, you’re so you’ve obviously done it the right way. I mean I think, you know, quite after we do a beautiful garden design for the city and it’s not a big space, and then they go, Oh, I forgot to tell you one thing, we need a built-in trampoline. And I go, Well, there goes your lawn! Or there goes that lovely big deep garden bed over there.
Charlie: I found the best thing for kids play equipment is get them to use their imagination. You know, if you can have a bit of a woodland walk with some stuff to balance on, you know, stuff you can make it look nice. And I think that’s the way to do it.
Paul: Can you send this message out into the wonderful universe? Because more people need to say that because, you know, that’s how I grew up. We grew up in a beautiful garden. We actually we had we had quite a bit of space and I had a horse and I had goats and everything. But, you know, I just come home from school and just play in the garden or go look after my animals. We didn’t, you know, I didn’t need all those other activities. And I think that helped my creativity. I’m sure it did.
Charlie: Yeah I think so. Absolutely. Stuff like that really does. You know, imagination is the best thing you can have. I think with all the hedges that you have and have planted, you’d be pretty good at pruning a hedge, I would imagine.
Paul: Yes. Our gardener is much better at pruning hedges than I am, and whenever I come out with some equipment, they get very nervous.
Charlie: Is there is there a type of maintenance you like doing? Is it in the veggie patch? Is it hedges, is it weeding? Is it deadheading?
Paul: I love deadheading and the veggie patch is my domain. So I love being in the veggie patch. I mean, you know, if ever we were to move from Stonefields, God, God help us, I envisage sort of retirement with just a walled garden of old veggie garden and a nice house that’s it. Or the park with some beautiful trees and a veggie garden because I just adore being in the veggie garden.
Charlie: It’s interesting you say, that the more designers I talk to, I find that all of them love vegetable gardening, I love vegetable gardening, I think… I don’t know where it comes from. Perhaps it’s because as a designer, we create a garden that, you know, keeps going on and on, whereas a vegetable garden has a start, a middle and a finish, and it’s the harvest, isn’t it? I know it keeps going, but there’s something to that I think.
Paul: Well I think it’s, it’s…I think it’s more rewarding. I mean it’s very rewarding walking around a garden, seeing everything come into bloom, watching the seasons happen. But it’s far more rewarding, you know, planting that little lettuce and six weeks later you’ve got something you can eat!
And my husband’s a great cook, so we have the rule that I grow it and he cooks it. And it’s just a great partnership that way. So we both become involved in the in the garden that way. And it’s forever changing. Like, you know, gardens are quite static, I find in terms of, you know, you plant them, you tend to leave them like that for ten years or 15 years.
But the veggie gardens’ changing for every season and I love that change and I love being able to implement that change.
Charlie: And you can easily try something new as well, which is good.
Paul: And it doesn’t matter if it fails.
Charlie: Yeah, because yeah, I’ve killed many things.
Paul: It’s easy to do that.
Charlie: It is very easy, but it makes great compost. So do you have a design firm? Would you do construction and maintenance as part of your?
Paul: No, we’re just, we’re purely design. I bought this wonderful warehouse in Richmond in Melbourne, which is just a great building for us. And we’ve got four landscape architects in there and, and some other team, members of the team and we only do design.
Charlie: Right. So how do you then see the projects through to completion, construction, but then also go the maintenance team that’s going to be looking after them to implement your vision because obviously they take a long time to fully evolve into what you are thinking it might be.
Paul: So we you know, over the years I’ve now got great teams of contractors in each city that I work with within Australia and New Zealand. I’ve got some great people in New Zealand, so you know, I rely on them quite a lot to make sure the gardens are implemented beautifully. We supervise, so we go back and watch the gardens going in. Yeah, maintenance is a very difficult thing. Like we were saying before, finding good maintenance people is difficult, but you know, we’re often visiting gardens, you know, one year, two year, three years, 20 years later, we’re often going back and just doing reviews of gardens and making sure that the maintenance is done properly.
The hardest thing I find is when we work, you know, because we work all over the world now is when you go to somewhere. We went to Austria and did a job, and how do you find good contractors in a country you don’t speak the language of? And you know, don’t know anything about that. That’s always the greatest challenge for me is finding contractors overseas.
Charlie: And I guess dealing with a different climate and a different soil type. It is quite difficult.
Paul: Well, I just got back from a new job in Puglia in Italy. And the client wanted this beautiful garden… It was like 38 degrees. There was no topsoil. It was on rock. There was just rock everywhere! And he’s from Los Angeles. He wants this beautiful garden and I’m going, well, we’ve got no soil and we’ve got no water. I don’t know what we’re going to do about this, but we’ll find a solution somehow.
Charlie: Do you think a good garden has to be large and expensive or no?
Paul: No. We’ve got, you know, in our little studio, it’s this big warehouse. I took off probably the last ten metres of the upper storey, the roof of it, and created this little courtyard. That courtyard brings us so much joy and the clients so much joy. We did all glass, so we look straight into this courtyard. Every client that comes in just goes, wow, this is…it’s amazing. Not in fact, of the design, but it’s just so peaceful looking into a garden from a house. So, no, I don’t believe they have to be big to be good.
Charlie: So what advice would you give someone who is a keen gardener themselves but wants to create a special space for themselves?
Paul: I think the most important thing – and I think Australians struggle with this, is proportion. Make sure you get your proportions and scale right. Too many people try and cram too many things into a small space! And make sure the objects are going to put in their appropriate size. You know, maybe if you’re looking for something to put in there, just put one big thing in as opposed to a whole lot of small things and cluttering. I don’t know. I think, you know, just pay attention to scale and proportion. I think that’s the most important lesson you can learn when it comes to gardens.
Charlie: Is there a rule that people could follow to get that right, or is it more about, I guess, the space that they need to travel around the garden so things don’t feel to bump into them?
Paul: Well, I think it’s very instinctive and I think that’s one of the lucky things that I managed to get in life. But I think one of the only thing I could tell people here is make sure your garden beds are deep enough. I mean, you know, people tend to think it’s a small space, so let’s make it a narrow bed. Depth to a garden bed, and the layering in gardens is probably the most important part of garden design. Creating that depth to planting, I think is really important. And the smaller the garden is, the more important that is.
Charlie: So you think in a small garden still get as many plants in as possible?
Paul: Yeah. Get as many layers in as you can. You know, you can trick the eye by, by sort of merging the boundary of by as far as possible or disguising it even, and then creating shadows with the green plants in there, you know, creates the illusion of more space.
Charlie: And do you think in a small space, it’s important to introduce lighting so it can be used at night as well? Is that something you do a lot of?
Paul: Yeah, we tend to not do lighting in country gardens. Like I think people say let’s do lighting, and I go, I know the country is all about the moon, the light, the stars, and just natural light. But I think in the city where you’re sort of, you know, got a lot of glass and you’re looking into a garden, lighting is really invaluable. Like if you can light the garden beautifully so it becomes like almost like another room to the house. I think that’s well worth doing. And we try and do that as much as possible.
Charlie: Yeah, I’ve spoken about Ruby, and you said that she’s a little angel around you. How do you deal with Harold the Peacock as well?
Paul: Well, Harold. Harold’s a bit of an angel as well. I mean, we sort of, someone rang us and said, look, we’ve got a peacock as well, would you like one? And it was just a chick. I’d never thought of getting a peacock before, but they were just down the road. I thought, yeah, I’ll try. And like I said, we got him. We locked him up for three months, like you’ve got to, and then just let him out. And he’s just become a great friend now, like I call him and he comes. They’re very easy. They don’t, they don’t need feeding. If you don’t want to feed them, they look after themselves. He roosts up in a big tree and he just comes and goes, as what he wants.
He poos everywhere like he loves being near us. So he’ll sit at the back door all day or sit on the table outside and poos everywhere. So that’s the hardest thing about owning a peacock. And then if you got a male because you want a male with all the beautiful feathers, of course you do, they squeal all through the mating season. So you got to make sure you got a big enough garden. Your neighbor’s far enough away because he’s very noisy.
Charlie: But he does make your garden look magnificent, I have to say.
Paul: And he does. And he doesn’t crush anything. And he eats all the little bugs in the garden. I think he’s a big plus for us in the garden.
Charlie: Yeah. A healthy ecosystem through peacocks. Yeah, absolutely. I think, you know, the interior designer, Steve Cordone, went out to his place at Rosetta Farm. He’s got five albino peacocks, all named Pedro.
Paul: He came here and stayed one time before he, I think he got Rose farm. And I think he said he wanted some peacock, some peacocks and I didn’t realize he was going to get five. I don’t know how he got one! Whereas everyone keeps going to us, well, you know, do you want to get Harold a mate and I go, No, because that would be twice as much poo. And so I don’t know how Steve’s coping with five times as much.
Charlie: He’s also got an ostrich as well.
Paul: I saw that. Yeah. And a camel.
Charlie: And a camel and cows and horses and the whole lot. Yeah. Yeah. Do you prefer being in the country or in the city?
Paul: No, definitely in the country. Love being in the country. I mean, my dream would be if I could move eventually out of the city and full time in the country and just work in the country in the countryside, I’d be really happy. The reality is, you know, your bread and butter is in the city doing gardens. But, you know, if I could just eventually end up doing four or five big country gardens a year – that would be absolute bliss for me. I mean, the country is just so much better. You know, I got to this stage of my life, I’m 60 next year – that I love peace, and I just love the sound of the countryside. I listen to the birds and being out here is just so rewarding for me.
I’m finding the cities a little difficult now.
Charlie: You’ve inspired so many landscape designers through your various books and your work. What advice would you have for a young landscape designer?
Paul: I always say expose yourself to as many styles as you can and, you know, just travel as much as you can, get as many books as you can. Look at what everybody else is doing. And don’t be too blinkered. Like, you know, always be open to new ideas and new planting schemes. Research as many different varieties of plants as you can. And I think, you know, I always say to people, travel, just travel and see gardens, just like live your life through gardens as much as possible.
Charlie: Is that where you get your confidence from? Because obviously you’ve built an amazing repertoire of work and you’ve got a confidence to say, this is how I think it should look. Is that come from experience or from travel, seeing other people succeed in something and going that there, I can use that there.
Paul: I think that’s just come through me. It’s from, you know, just been working for so long. I think, you know, when I when I first started off, I think I was quite timid and was a little shy and, you know, sort of listened to architects too much. And interior design is too much. And as you know, I’ve become more confident with my style and know that it’s the right thing for the site, you know, you develop more confidence. So if you don’t start off with confidence, don’t worry, it will come because you will build it as you create gardens and people love them and you know they’re successful, you will become more and more confident.
Charlie: I think that goes for even just gardening as a gardener. Yes, confidence comes, comes with just doing it, getting it wrong and getting it right and seeing what happens.
Paul: But that’s the wonderful thing about gardening. I always say to people, gardening is a process of experimentation. Don’t be afraid to try something new. And if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t really matter. I mean, that’s gardening, you know, it’s your garden. You know, failure is failure is all part of the process.
Charlie: Yes. Do you have a favourite garden that you like to visit? Is there one that you would recommend that people should go and see.
Paul: If anyone can get to Ninfra? Have you been to Ninfra outside Rome?
Charlie: It’s on the list. It is on the list!
Paul: It is just magical. It’s probably one of my favourite gardens in the world. Ninfra is just a magical place. It’s an old village that was deserted during, I think, of a malaria plague or one of the plagues, and it’s all crumbling down and someone bought it and it’s just full of rambling roses and wisteria. It has got a chalk stream going through it. There’s so clear that it’s almost a garden in itself. It’s got sort of all this wonderful weed growing through the bottom of it.
It’s very hard to get into. I think it’s only open one Sunday a month or something, but that’s definitely on the list.
And Rousham, if you can get a Rousham, in England. That is my favourite garden in England, it’s a William Kent garden. It’s open every day of the year, I think. So if you’re ever in England, seek out Rousham. It’s near your mum’s, so you should be going to Rousham.
Charlie: I’ll be going to Rousham. Yeah. I think Ninfra is called the most romantic garden in the world I think.
Paul: And it definitely is. It really is. Yeah.
Charlie: Well that’s a lovely way to finish, enticing people out to get travelling and into the garden and thank you for inspiring people through all your work and thank you for your time today!
Paul: Pleasure Charlie, good talking to you too.
Charlie: Now it is time for our community questions. Okay. So onto the first question from Luke Castelli. Luke’s a big fan of the podcast and he lives in the ACT. He just wanted to ask a quick question.
Now, in my opinion, why aren’t perennials more popular in Australia? As you know, most are super drought tolerant, thrive in poor soils, endless range of colour and foliage. Easy maintenance, fast growing, easy to propagate. Shall I continue? Says every nursery I walk past has an extremely small range, and when I walk around suburbs, they’re seldom seen in any gardens. Well, I think this is about to change because Australian culture towards gardening is changing.
European gardens are more about beautiful gardens. Flowers and Australian gardens have more been about outdoor entertaining. Where do I put the pool? Where do I put the kids’ stuff? But now more and more people are getting outside. They’re really seeing the benefits of flowers and making their space look a bit nicer with something that might take a little bit more maintenance then say a philodendron or Xanadu might. So watch this space. I think you’re about to see some more perennials coming to Australian gardens.
My next question is from Chris in Melbourne. He says, Hi, Charlie. I’ve had a few plants suffer frostbite this Winter, particularly my Clivias, the flowers are coming through and they’re beautiful, but the partly burnt leaves look horrible.
How do I get them back again? Well, you will never get those leaves back again. What happens is the frost freezes the water in the leaves and bursts all the cells. So what you need to do is remove the damaged leaves. I would then give them a slow release fertilizer and a liquid fertilizer, because that’s really going to push on growth and bring back nice, fresh green leaves. And in the meantime, you can enjoy the flowers. Finally, Katie in Sydney has asked. She thinks it’s a great podcast and she loves indoor plants, but some of them are looking a little yellow. My Devil’s Ivy has lost a couple of leaves, as has my fiddle leaf fig.
I’ve given them some liquid fertilizer, but how do I help them out? Now, indoor gardening is incredibly tricky. No plants have evolved to be in a cave, which is where we live, with varying temperatures between air conditioning and heating. So it’s really difficult to get plants to thrive indoors. You need to try and replicate some outdoor conditions, so put them as close to the sunlight as you can without being in direct sunlight, and keep the water pretty regular with them. I like to take my plants into the shower once a week. I know that sounds crazy, but it helps wash them off. It helps soak the root ball and it just helps them out a little bit as well.
Well, I have absolutely loved answering your gardening questions. And although this is the end of the season, the inbox is staying open. If you’d like me to answer your gardening questions next series, send them to my email. Charlie at still dot com. You can. I’ll get to them next time.
I feel so lucky to have chatted with Paul today and we learnt so much from him. We learnt to inspire self through travel, absorbing cultures, styles and experiences. It was interesting to discuss the evolution of garden design, how sustainability, organic practices and people wanting to maintain their gardens has become more and more popular and I think most importantly, plant appropriately for your soil and water requirements. Well, thanks for listening to. That’s How we grow in partnership with Stihl Garden Power Tools. Need the tools to take on any garden challenge?
Go to the Stihl website or head to your local Stihl dealer today. There are over 600 Stihl dealers across Australia and you can easily find your local dealer through the convenient locator on the steel website. You can find us on Instagram. Follow Stihl at Stihl_AU. You can follow me on Instagram as well. Charlie_Albone. Sadly, this is the final episode of our second season of That’s How We Grow. Thank you to everybody who has listened. And if you haven’t already, please catch up on our episodes from season one. Don’t forget to subscribe and rate the series!
A big thank you to all of our guests this season. Again, we’ve had some amazing gardeners join us and share their knowledge. It’s been a pleasure to chat with them and they’ve all been so generous with their time. Don’t forget to check out Stihl’s blog with plenty of great gardening advice, as well as my key seasonal tips and tricks. Be sure to go to blog. Stihl.blog.au
I’m Charlie Albone, thanks for listening. And until next time, goodbye.