Catherine StewartTea with designer Phillip Johnson

There was a time when he was told that his designs would never be in demand. But Phillip Johnson, a gold-medal winning designer and the man behind this year’s Australian Garden at Chelsea 2013 has proven them wrong. Over an afternoon tea down by the Yarra River (and punctuated by a few passing trams) Phillip and I discussed how he got his start in horticulture and landscaping, his ‘natural system’ style of design including billabongs and water filtration, as well as how he intends to build and plant out his ambitious Chelsea Flower Show design. And how much he loves to hand water….

Click on the podcast above to listen to my full (and fascinating) interview with Phillip.

Phillip Johnson's Chelsea Garden 2013

Phillip Johnson’s design for his Chelsea Garden 2013

Phillip Johnson

Phillip Johnson putting together the Australian gorge with Scottish rocks

Phillip Johnson putting together the Australian gorge with Scottish rocks

Beautiful local weathered Scottish rocks

Design Phillip Johnson

Melbourne garden design Phillip Johnson

design Phillip Johnston

Phillip Johnson’s MIFGS garden 2010

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Catherine Stewart

About Catherine Stewart

Award-winning garden journalist, blogger and photographer; writer for garden magazines and co-author of 'Waterwise Gardening'; landscape designer turned landscape design judge and critic; compulsive networker and lover of generally putting fingers in lots of pies. Particularly mud pies. Original creator of GardenDrum. South Coast NSW.

7 thoughts on “Tea with designer Phillip Johnson

  1. Phillip’s such a trailblazer.

    He’s almost single handedly changed the tone of the discussion around using local plants in home gardens. Decades ago it was the natives -v- exotics divide, which moved onto natives -v- locally indigenous natives. The latter is still the prevalent paradigm at the moment, I think, although things are beginning to change.

    Phillip’s influence has brought the discussion to a much more sensible medium. Putting plants that work together well to achieve an overall effect is the ideal outcome, not some politically driven point about indigenous or native plants being the only options one has to choose between.

    It’s a great topic and I could talk about it until the cows come home!

    Great interview, Catherine!

    • I think that the divide is perpetuated by nurseries, which continue to always have a Native Plant section (often containing South African proteas and leucodendrons as well!). And there’s many native plant enthusiasts who want it to stay that way. But I think that type of plant apartheid works against promoting Australian plants as good garden all-rounders and makes people think they should be grown separately as well.

  2. I love Phillip Johnson’s gardens.They always look so natural.I can’t wait to see what he does at Chelsea so I wish him the best and hope he brings home a medal and educates people on better use of water in the garden.I agree on hand watering too,much more satisfying.

    • It will be fascinating to see how Australian this Chelsea garden still feels, translated into Scottish stone and including local plants. In a way I hope it feels Australian inspired rather than looking too much like an Australian landed in London.

  3. Finally had time to listen to the whole interview which gave a good chance to absorb Phillip’s holistic approach to building gardens. It’ll be fascinating to see the outcome at Chelsea!
    Thanks – that was great.

  4. Looking forward to seeing the garden at Chelsea. As an Australian living in Scotland I like the idea of combining the two!

  5. I’m sorry, but there is nothing here I like.

    It is near impossible to successfully impersonate a natural pool or spring on any kind of scale that lends itself to your average garden. Rocks need to belong to their place of origin to sit well in a garden so there is at least a modicum of a relationship to the soil and surrounds.

    The expense, scale of engineering and the amount of deception involved in these kind of ‘natural’ hydro projects is truly immense if they are to succeed. By deception I mean hiding and obscuring the engineering of the thing to get those edges right.

    Perhaps Philip and Flemings will pull it off, I wish them well, but with waterworks – artifice wins every time.

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