An Australian Garden?

Art from the Warlayirti community of Balgo Hills WA was until recently hung in the corridor between the main body of the Art Gallery of South Australia and its restaurant/café. As we know, much of indigenous art tells a story. Further within the Gallery and adjacent to the Pissarro enclave is a work, on board, by Englishman Victor Pasmore – an esoteric mapping of landscape and music. I believe art works such as these, including the landscapes of Fred Williams, contribute significant insight into the ongoing evolution of an Australian character garden. Are we still curious about what might constitute an Australian garden? We may now, unlike 20 years ago, not consider the quest about how we see ourselves of much importance. Does the Australian landscape affect how you understand yourself? You may reflect as Tim Winton does in a recent memoir, ‘Island Home’ on what we, especially our children, have lost. Certainly, we can play around with ideas and through exploration propose concepts which may satisfy a conversation with foreigners or each other about identity, landscape and gardens.

In a residential sense, as in the bigger picture of landscape architecture, there are many factors which influence garden design: the physical; topography, soil, climate, view, waterways, biodiversity, sustainability, access, ergonomics and so on: the cultural; history, fashion, ancestry, civilization, arts, suffering, aspiration and: the ethereal; imagination, metaphor, storytelling as a start. Are you still with me? It is possible to make a garden which satisfies intellectually and emotionally but how much of what we do as designers just exposes our predilection for style?

I don’t know whether they still follow the ‘form follows function’ mantra in university design courses but one doesn’t have to ignore function to look beyond the literal translation of need – abstracting form as one example. And, isn’t it to do with the designer’s skill to interpret true need, ascertaining meaning in a client’s life not acquiescing to a predetermined model or arbitrary imagination? Would it not be possible where, prior to visiting the intended site for plotting and analysis, we might get to know our client away from their intensity of need? To spend time with them; conversations of enquiry, humour, empathy, vision and meaning and from which the designer might derive and create a piece of art, a map, a story reflecting something of the style of indigenous art – a framework – and onto which the more objective information can be superimposed and manipulated? Having a different language or medium such as art to express and discover ideas and concealed knowledge – a platform for intuition – may awaken the latent mysteries that reside within us all and which may be useful for penetrating the emotion of wonder – remember that? Most adventurous clients in conversation will provide stories, and the intensity of need will recede as the affection for the ‘stress of the contemporary’ gives way to self-discovery, revelation, love and adventure.

We might think of our isolation, iconic landforms, indigenous plants, biodiversity, heat, time/space realization, water scarcity or abundance and even the notion of ‘walkabout’ as essential components of an Australian garden. What I’m suggesting here is that we allow the ebb and flow of a meaningful, revelatory conversation with the client to determine how need is expressed, documented and satisfied. The history of civilization places us in a bigger arena than what our landscape can provide in any case wouldn’t you say? In other words, and it is my view, literal and abstract intentions as symbolic references to our landscape for creating an Australian character are not sufficient to communicate a full and edifying 21st century experience of residential garden. What do you think?

August 22nd, 2015