Concepts to take from Australian Landscape Conference

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Everything from the lifespan of lavender to the restoration of deserts was discussed at last month’s Australian Landscape Conference, which attracted more than 750 attendees and – given the biennial event is for sale – was almost certainly the last in its current guise.

The eight speakers, all landscape designers from overseas and Australia, expanded our ideas about what private gardens and public landscapes could be. Here are some of the concepts to take away.

Setting a garden in its wider landscape
In an age where garden design is often viewed as “interior design outside” (to quote speaker Bernard Trainor) the general consensus was that gardens should be connected to their place.

Trainor, who grew up on the Mornington Peninsula but has long lived and worked in California, does this by using local plants and vernacular materials, especially stone. Cassian Schmidt, director of Hermannshof garden in Germany, does it by keeping a close eye on the habitat and origin of plants.

Dry prairie planting at Hermannshof garden, Germany.

But Miguel Urquijo, who hails from central Spain, warned against too much blurring. He showed how walls (and this includes hedges) can create a sense of division between garden and wider landscape and thereby refine views and creates spaces.

UK designer Andy Surgeon outlined how in city gardens – ringed by buildings rather than natural landscape – he can ignore his surroundings completely but even then Kathryn Gustafson, whose work is outside American museums, inside Singapore offices and across Arabian deserts, said she only comes up with a design after “two to three months of research”. “We don’t just put stuff on land. Everything is tied into the place and the people.”

Importance of ecological functioning

Freewheeling plantings inspired by the airy aesthetics of meadows and grasslands are springing up all over the world, but English writer and garden designer Noel Kingsbury said they should also have a rich, functional ecology and provide environmental benefits such as attracting insects, reducing pollution and sustainably managing storm water.

An example of steppe planting at Hermannshof garden, Germany.

“Since we have trashed so much nature around the world we want to create genuine spaces for biodiversity in our cities.”

Place for Australian plants

Not surprisingly, discussion of Australian plants largely fell to the Australian speakers. Sam Cox, who trained with the late, great Gordon Ford, encouraged people not to be distracted by the array of new cultivars in nurseries but to keep their plant palette small to create continuity and a “natural sense” in the garden.

Kate Cullity, a founding partner of Australia’s Taylor Cullity Lethlean (TCL), spoke about how her work – even in Berlin – had been influenced by her experiences in the Australian desert and Aboriginal methodologies of cultivating land, including fire-stick farming.

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