Life is Messy!

I was recently given a shaving kit¹; badger bristle shaving brush, classic butterfly wing double sided razor and beautifully fragrant, soft, shaving soap. I enjoy shaving with this classic, refined and somewhat luxurious gear because it furnishes my morning with a touch of aesthetic order in the form of ceremony and elegance.

Being Messianic, I am familiar with ceremony and order – my own Messianic community will sing hymns and spiritual songs, pray together, read from the Bible, listen to a preached message and share in the remembrance of Yeshua in the form of bread and wine. In fact, if yielded, knowing Yeshua brings one into the order of freedom, love and peace. Often also, I’ll play the sacred works of Bach, Palestrina, de Lassus, Byrd, Tallis, Schutz and Monteverdi. Works by these composers connect me with something greater than my quotidian experience, they provide me with a sense of order, of dignity and opportunity for flights of the imagination and, like books on theology, they minister to my spiritual, intellectual and aesthetic need.

I wonder if you also value order in your life and what steps you take to achieve it? Life is messy and we can be occupied much of the time trying to reduce its impact on our wellbeing. Command and yield are the tropes of the military in ascertaining order. In the plant and animal kingdoms, ‘Class’ is one of the higher ranks of order separating plants and animals with similar attributes from others. There is a ‘Class’ garden for example on the northern perimeter of the Adelaide Botanic Gardens. Order, when you look for it, is everywhere; packing up toys, studying, washing dishes, driving a car, displaying rock collections, renovating a house – you can drill down into order with a decisive obsession. Order is, in the end, satisfying. Well, mostly!

So what has order to do with my front and rear gardens? My view is that designed order in formal gardens for instance is less about one’s ability to control nature and more about certainty, elegance, balance, scale, proportion and having everything in its place (including the birds) as respite from the vagaries and machinations of work life, relationships, stress and prolonged, trying circumstances. A luxury car can fulfil a similar purpose.

You may have heard Glenn Murcutt interviewed on ABC TV recently bemoaning the shunting of gardens on small blocks to the fence line to make way for the massive house. This is not order, this is anarchy. We have denied ourselves the blessing and privilege of interaction with nature, of creating a rapport with it, a sensitivity to it. We are part of our environment but a significant group of us ignore it’s voice largely, we haven’t been educated to respond to its love, its order. These types of homes call for a garden of something rather outrageous, operatic, not traditional or token gestures, as a means of redemption.

We at Garden Studio create order in gardens through various means. In our initial interview with you, our clients, we attempt to discover who you are and how you got to where you are. Also, we want to know what you want and need. Knowing you as much as is possible keeps us within a relevant orbit if design ideas embody a questionable pertinence. Also, we are always guided by our reading, research of the hour and the bank of previous enquiry. Very often reading takes on its own trajectory and it is surprising how often it can enhance the design imagination for current projects. Visiting galleries and craft studios also provide substance for thinking through problems in new ways and can help establish an aesthetic motif. Then we analyse, survey and interpret your property and location in relation to relevant information including, bird and creature habitat, sustainability, architecture, soil type, proposed uses and needs, noise abatement and so on. This is the intelligence gathering and processing phase. Slow food, ‘slow professor’², slow design – we want things done quickly, we expect it, we get impatient in fact with waiting for virtually anything. At Garden Studio our best ideas need time to germinate, time spent in nature, in the gallery, in conversation, in a book, just thinking. You, our clients, are best served if we follow this procedure, this order.

Sometimes our thinking, our personal logic, calls us to a different paradigm from the one which may prevail in the media, legislation or amongst friends, family and peers. Thinking for oneself, an attribute worth guarding, is not an easy pursuit and one in which disagreements in conversation may arise but discovering one’s personal identity and integrity, one’s order, is surely worth the travail. This is where the cool summer breezes are to be found, where trees give shade, shelter and definition to the mental landscape, where the plasma of the evening is felt most acutely. Order can be deep, elegant and pure!

Life is messy! If you are considering engaging a landscape/garden designer to help you make sense of your life, to help you in your desire for order, Garden Studio will listen to you, discern your needs and respond with imaginative, elegant and sensitive garden ideas. Let us introduce you to order in your garden, complexity and order!


²’The Slow Professor’, Maggie Berg & Barbara K. Seeber, University of Toronto Press 2016


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