Back Streets


July 2nd, 2014

When we mention the word ‘unconventional’ as part of our modus operandi at Garden Studio we are not talking about a wild and capricious flaunting of the imagination which delivers a quirky, awkward, hard to live with garden regardless of its capacity to meet your practical needs. The intention, in making an unconventional garden, is to place the fundamentals of good design such as ergonomics, sustainability, function and aesthetics as roots from which ideas flourish and from which your personal ‘complexity of life’ can derive strength.

The following list attempts to represent some of the complexities or attributes of your life which we at Garden Studio will find quintessential when planning your garden:

  • Childhood adventures: story time, cubby houses, the woods, beach holidays
  • Ancestry: memory, longing, traditions
  • Storytelling: parallel universes, life narrative, symbolism, metaphor
  • The essence of things: water, earth, air, fire, love
  • Imagination: mystery, wonder, engagement, stimulation
  • Patterns and rhythm: where we least expect, natural cycles
  • Chaos and order: mathematics
  • Picnics: long table lunches, the heat, the shade, convivium
  • The sombre and the grave: there is tragedy, trauma, suffering, mortality
  • Understanding and compassion: conversation, family, friendship, dignity
  • Insight beyond reason – art, intuition, and the liminal: Basho, Bausch, Kiefer, Rothko, Tarkovsky, Fred or ???
  • Play and romance: swings, laughter, strawberries and peaches
  • Topography: terra cognitio, time and space, does the landscape have a voice?
  • Travel: adventure, risk taking, the exotic, a concession to luxury, revelation
  • Music: composition, emotion, exploration, discovery, catharsis
  • Passions and interests: your work, seaweed taxonomy, philately, current affairs, humanitarian aid, yarn bombing, the “polyphonic motets of de Lassus”, what gets you up in the morning?
  • Craft: thinking pleasure with tools
  • Quiet places: privacy, gentle breeze, contemplation, moonlight

Being such a comprehensive art, we believe it is our responsibility to make a garden or if you prefer, landscape, which attends to your needs through this lens of the complexity of life. This is what we mean by “unconventional” and we believe that as you experience your garden it will, increasingly as the years go by, become a solace, a source, a friend.



The Adelaide Review, 2009

I don’t think I’m alone in my enjoyment of reading maps. For centuries they have been works of art and articles of trade and adventure. We can use maps as analogies for our own journey through life, an anthropo-cartographic form to our experiences within the context of events that have shaped us. Some people don’t believe their lives are worth mapping whereas others may write memoirs or become subjects of biographies.

These ‘maps’ can be useful to others; friends, family, healing professions, priests, social historians and the reading public as examples. What I am proposing here is that our personal life experiences can be important when making a garden.

What is the purpose of a garden? What is its context in our lives? Can my life experiences, expressed in my garden, contribute to my future in a meaningful way? Some memories we wouldn’t want to retrieve but there are others that could arouse hope or provide a platform, metaphorically, for what vision we may have for our futures. Even touching an archaic nerve may deliver strength to persevere in difficult times.

Nevertheless, the requests many clients make for gardens are those which are emulated in much of the media – accumulated images of what is desired by others. There is little room for an expression of authenticity because there is no expectation that the designer will make an empathetic enquiry into the client’s life story. In any case, the process and outcome for authenticity, the discovery of ‘our deepest possibility in the world’ could be too revealing to express publicly and in a garden. However, it may not be something people other than the client can read. At this level, the garden may function aesthetically but not necessarily be beautiful in the traditional sense to enrich the user – the work of Schoenberg comes to mind.

Could this type of garden arouse some emotion like music, film, books, art, children or even some architecture does? Could our own garden transport us? I would like to think so.

In our age we might look for feedback after divulging something of our inner selves to make a garden. References derived from a life narrative may induce reflection whereby stresses become more navigable and cues remind us of something significant even something yet to be resolved. We move from the givens; plants, garden structures, access, spaces, sustainability, water, sunshine, shade, food and wildlife to play, culture, travel, passions, personal history, suffering, aspirations and so on.

To conclude, can a garden achieve a lot more for us? The designer as interpreter and empathiser, the client as the garden and the garden therefore as map of an inner life. From this perspective we can talk about metaphor, meaning, subtleties and contemplation where imagination, function and climate change become but shorelines to a marvellous land. And, if we throw a little more of our understanding of life, in particular our own lives, into our gardens we might, as Kant suggests, stimulate more free play with our imagination and increase not only their aesthetic integrity but also their capacity to console and excite us.


April 30th, 2011

I’ve placed myself in the shoes of first generation migrants who have left loved ones, loved places, experiences and often suffering. In my imagination, my reflections & empathy with them reach a peak of emotional resonance when I listen to Dvorak’s New World symphony – a record of his travel to the United States from 1892 to 1895. I suspect my experience is a common one as it is one of Australia’s favourites (according to ABC Classic FM’s recent polling). How do they do it? Composers using a structured framework; a combination of notes, chords, rests, instrumentation and so on which often connect us to our inner selves. Do they know what they do with our emotions? If Dvorak had called his symphony simply, Symphony No.9, would there still be meaning? Yet also for me, it’s not so much about music that is created as such but music that has been discovered by the composer. Bob Dylan said as much about his own work and there are many other works that touch the invisible; two of which readily come to mind are Bach’s, Air in G and Barber’s, Adagio for Strings. What I am proposing here is that gardens, if established with the view that access to the subconscious mind is desirable, can stimulate a thorough and expanding emotional, intellectual and imaginative experience.

David Mamet in his recent Theatre spoke of art as “the spontaneous connection of the artist to his own unconscious – about insight beyond reason”. So one can assume that if a composer as artist can touch our emotional ‘beach retreat’ it is, in many cases, via their subconscious creative process. Don’t the works of art we want to buy often promise a lifetime of interaction or contemplation? – don’t they provoke our imagination? Memories of brilliant performances stay with us for life, the subconscious insight of the artist touches the rest of us and often profoundly. Nevertheless, if we look at Picasso, his talent was not only intuitive, he referred to his work as ‘researches’ and spent a lot of his time with the luminaries of Paris exploring amongst other things non-Euclidian geometry. One of them, the French mathematician Henri Poincaire insisted, “the unconscious work is not possible and in any case is unfruitful, unless it is preceded ….. by a period of conscious work”.

And so to my field – landscape design. Design seems a droll occupation beside talk of the subconscious and even the brilliant landscape architect Fernando Caruncho mentions that “the invisible thing is always the most important part of a garden”. If you are in need of a new garden would you engage a dreamer to make one for you? I believe gardens as art, and that art referencing the client’s revealed inner life, can dislodge the grip which reason jealously maintains over who we are holistically – so beautifully human! Why subject yourself to another Lomandra or Phormium, more synthetic grass, another mass of moss rocks, acres of paving and soulless pergolas – you had a childhood, you dream, you read, you talk, you have ideas, you care about relationships, the future – you are beautiful, you are beautiful! We are all far more than what we often accept as our lot in life or what we are led to believe about ourselves.

So if Dvorak is for you, if you want to step outside and into your ‘beach retreat’, if you want to explore your own subconscious when you get into your garden, make sure your ‘designer’ is a dreamer, an explorer, a researcher. Having said that, the designer is of course obligated to produce a result which is ergonomic, a practical resolution of a client’s needs and which has environmental responsibility. This is really where design stops unless you call imagination a design function. However, I am talking about connecting an underlying reality within the client to what is invisible in their gardens – it will always be unique, bespoke.

Further, a prime motivation for the practice of both science and art is to make contact with underlying reality. Psychotopia is how garden critic and writer Tim Richardson describes it – how we experience place in life not just how it is objectively assessed. This can be achieved for the client through inquiry, as a precedent to intuition, and a developing trust relationship with the designer. There is a marvellous story about Australian architect, the late Robin Boyd, who prior to designing a house for some clients spent 6 or so evenings at dinner with them, apparently not even talking about the house. Courageous wouldn’t you say? Those of us who are older would do well to remember ‘the conviction so indigenous to youth that anything is possible’. And why should ‘Eureka’ moments, the province of the sciences (and more recently miners) at least since Archimedes, not be experienced by garden designers and their clients with the development of ‘invisible gardens’? Passion and patience, hopefully, will yield satisfying outcomes for design artists/interpreters unless they become overburdened by isolation and timidity – a measured, self-discovering exploration of imagined or intuitive concepts must strike a chord over deference to a market imperative sooner or later.

Gardens therefore, like the noble music of Dvorak, Dylan, Bach or Barber potentially can speak to us with a voice which touches our inner lives, expressing the power of understanding and compassion, the bittersweet complexities of life and our losses and gains. They, after the assiduous pursuits of our own crafts become our spas after work, our own Alexandrian libraries of discovery, our connection to misty Arcadia and realms only the client can discover.


The Adelaide Review, January, 2011

As with travel, residential landscape can now be experienced as luxury. One is compelled to consider a day bed, spa and pool, outdoor kitchen, sexy furniture, some engaging art and a ‘water feature’ when installing a garden. But, just as travel used to be synonymous with adventure, landscape as we know it, and in my experience – is yet to discover the heady mix of risk taking and the exotic.

I’m not saying that design practitioners lack imagination as such but evidence suggests a need for the development of a philosophical framework to give their imagination substance. The best gardens, surely, hit the deep pleasure of aesthetic delight when the imagination has free play with the understanding (from Kant). Without understanding and the nurture of the sub-conscious the designer is unlikely to make a garden in which the client receives some cultural stimuli. Soetsu Yanagi, in The Unknown Craftsman, puts it more prosaically: “all works of art, it may be said, are more beautiful when they suggest something beyond themselves than when they end up being merely what they are”.

I took my 10 year old son, some marshmallows, bacon, frypan and some matches to Mt. Crawford forest in early October. The Forestry Board, thankfully, still permit the lighting of fires outside the fire season and “it was a beautiful thing”; shaded sunlight, that sound the breeze makes through the tops of the pines, the quilted forest floor and the piquant mix of smoky bacon and pine fragrance. This arousal of primeval senses stands diametrically opposed to the calibre of much of the landscape in which we nestle our homes or which we find in style magazines or garden shows these days.

I suspect that for many of us, there is no longer a sense of need for an organic connection to our Earth which winter/spring forest campfires, walking barefoot, or gazing at the moon help to arouse. One would hope that the increasing proclivity to sustainability (angle of the sun, recycling, water harvesting and so on) will address this to some degree.

It is interesting to note that the dormant people of courage in our community awaken in times of trauma – neighbours rescuing neighbours when their houses are burning or in a previous generation, civilians volunteering for war service though underage. It would appear that the opportunity for the landscape design community to challenge the market imperative which for decades has imposed an arbitrary style on us all has arrived. Ours is a time of creative trauma! We need landscape design professionals to break with the powerful status quo position of the tyrannical, circuitous market and long entrenched bourgeoisie and consider how to act courageously, how to connect with their own sub-conscious, the client’s sensibilities and life on Earth. When a client calls for a landscape design service they should at the least be entitled to expect the unexpected and as Robin Boyd has emphasized in his The Australian Ugliness, pertinence.

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