Phillip WithersBecoming a landscape designer

Hi everyone, my name is Phil and this is my first entry for GardenDrum. I am a landscape designer and I love what I now do! That must reflect on people, as they already ask me “Why do you have so much energy?” The answer is “I love it!” It’s funny because if you ask me “How did you become a landscape designer?” the answer’s the same…

With Jason Hodges from Better Homes and Gardens TV, MIFGS 2012

With Jason Hodges from Better Homes and Gardens TV, MIFGS 2012

I think having the energy for it has really helped me over time, as there’s no written formula for becoming a professional designer to set you on your path, especially becoming one who has consistent work, anyway. There are some prerequisites that will get you there faster, and they are becoming more recognised as the industry and public now take landscape designers more seriously. These are to study a landcape design, landscape architecture or horticulture course at a recognised institution. The second is to go and work for an established designer and really start to understand how they do things.

With my construction team at MIFGS 2013

With my fabulous construction team at MIFGS 2013

The keys are knowing plants, gaining computer aided design skills, planning skills, and understanding construction methods, building regulations and council guidelines. You will learn the methods at school, but you will learn how to put them into practice by working with a landscape design company.

I guess at this point you’re asking, “But how can I get work with a designer? And how did you?” Well, that comes back to the part about energy, and actively seeking advice and asking questions. You won’t get anywhere if you don’t ask questions! Whatever you do in life, there’s someone who has it done it first and someone who can show you the way! Go and talk to them…If you’re at the point where you’re about to finish your course, start making contact with people and let them know that you’re ready. Send emails, make phone calls, don’t be scared!

In my 'Cube-ism' garden at MIFGS 2013. Julie Finning Photography

In my ‘Cube-ism’ garden at MIFGS 2013. Julie Finning Photography

I’ve learnt from and had the blessing of meeting some brilliant designers and landscapers over time, whom I’ve learnt from and respect, and it all starts from actively seeking to engage. You also need to push to actively look for opportunities within the industry to show people what you can do – eg – a garden show. It won’t happen overnight but if you really want something in life, you will get it.

Becoming your own company is an obvious progression in this profession – and seems like the hardest progression. It takes time and money as you need to slowly build your own name for yourself. “How do I do that?” you’re saying? Good question. Well there’s a few things…you need to advertise, get a website, etc in order to increase public awareness.

But, more importantly at the start, you need to engage the industry and let them know what you can do and why their established companies should get behind you. Just remember that the work’s already out there and there are a lot of people with proven methods in getting it. So it comes back to networking and building relationships, as you can have all the talent in the world but if you don’t know who to speak to about using it, or how to engage with them, it’s gonna be a tough gig. I wouldn’t have got halfway to where I am if it wasn’t for a lot of help from others. It starts from belief in yourself and bridges into others adopting the respect and trust in you. You can slowly build your name but the alliances you make will earn you the most to start with.

One benefit that we are lucky enough to have as an industry and as designers to promote ourselves in Melbourne is the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show (I hate calling it MIFGS) and this is definitely a source that I have been thankful for, and have benefited from.
I have been lucky enough to create three different gardens over the past three years for the Melbourne Flower and Garden Show, which has helped me to develop and start to build a name for myself.

My Achievable Garden for Swinburne at MIFGS 2011

My Achievable Garden ‘Boy Wandering’, for Swinburne at MIFGS 2011

The first garden I was involved with for the show was an Achievable Garden entitled ‘Boy Wandering’ for Swinburne University in 2011, which was a great way to enter, and isn’t regarded highly enough by students, I feel. There should be students battling to secure such a prize opportunity to interact at this level, when there is such a high standard of show gardens and exhibits surrounding these small gardens. These gardens are 5m x 3m and are a great way to introduce yourself to the industry and the public. It might be nice to see a mentoring program awarded to the winner to undergo with a professional in future events.

'The Gift', design by Phillip Withers at MIFGS 2012

‘The Gift’, design by Phillip Withers at MIFGS 2012

The second garden I created for the show was ‘The Gift’ in 2012, which came through a yearly competition run by Landscape Victoria, in which students studying a landscape design related course can enter, and the top four are chosen and awarded a 6m x 6m garden at the show. I have seen first hand that it is something that many students anticipate and enjoy the chance to enter. The reward through this competition to build a designer garden gives students a chance to step up and say a bit about themselves as a designer – a chance to take a risk! It’s also great to see how the public and industry get behind the up and coming, and take fond interest in seeing the four built gardens and the fresh talent that’s coming through. Through this garden I gained a lot of the relationships and building blocks in setting up my own design business.

'Cube-ism', designed by Phillip Withers, MIFGS 2013

‘Cube-ism’, designed by Phillip Withers, MIFGS 2013

These connections helped me to gain a last minute opportunity to create a third garden, just recently, at MIFGS 2013, featured in the show garden category and entitled ‘Cube-ism’, presented by Gardenworld, Semken Landscaping and me. I was engaged through IMG and The Landscape Design Studio only 8 weeks prior to the show to make a garden happen. “Why?” you ask. Well it all comes back to making the right connections and not being scared to take risks. We were able to make it happen, thanks to a lot help from the industry, and the garden became all that I dreamed of and a really nice progression to build up to so far.

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Phillip Withers

About Phillip Withers

Phillip started his design through more art based development studying a Diploma in Arts at RMIT. He was then drawn to garden design through garden maintenance and construction, studying a Diploma in Landscape Design and Sustainability at Swinburne University. He started Phillip Withers Landscape Design and has been lucky enough to create 3 show gardens in different forms, from achievable, to student, to professional. He has also taught Computer Aided Design with Kangan Institute and now Swinburne University. Phil is also a keen traveller and believes that it is the key to keeping design interesting…

11 thoughts on “Becoming a landscape designer

  1. Ahhh so you are the designer who created Cubism. I connected with your use of of squares blocks of colour and it reminded me of the harlequin style of the 1950s-60s in our kitchen. I loved it, every cupboard was a different colour as was the drawer above it. I liked your exhibit very much. I also like the barrel cactus you used.

  2. Hi Sandra
    I would be interested to see that done in a kitchen environment and was fun to involve in the garden, the harlequin style is a good comparison and Im glad you enjoyed it, thanks! Barrel cactus are one of my favourites too, I love how they are such a unique plant and put on a show standing alone in a pot or can be adopted into a cluster to show its pattern in nature.

  3. Hi Phillip
    I love that you love the harlequin style. Obviously you love colour. I love colour. It was a great kitchen scheme. A lot of designers today just wouldn’t get it.
    Keep creating
    Cheers Sandi

  4. Good post Phillip. Love your work and your love and use of colour. Your story of your journey to achieving your dream is engaging and a significant boost to me who is trying to map a new path with gardens, too. Look forward to further words from you.

  5. Hi Julie

    Thanks for the compliment and remember to keep connecting and asking questions. Feel free to shoot me an email if you want some advice on the new path…

    Cheers
    Phil

  6. PaulG on said:

    Gday Phillip. What design software do you use? I’m a gardener by trade but am starting to dabble in basic design and have been hand-sketching designs up until now.

    Paul

  7. Hi Phil, thanks for sharing your experience, it’s inspiring, and congratulations on another brilliant garden! Looking forward to seeing what you’ll create next… Also loved the way you showed the individual character of the plants; again, inspiring.
    Having just completed a garden for the Achievable Gardens Avenue this year, I wholeheartedly agree with your opinion re the benefits of entering the student competitions. I encourage any current students to get involved. An opportunity to see a design come to life and be part of the process form concept through to construction is rewarding on so many levels.

  8. The program I currently use is called Vectorworks Paul. I find its very good for plants and has become widely used throughout Australia and you can learn more through schools such as Swinburne. Id say talk to a few people and learn what may work best for you..

    Thanks for the compliments Erica, and your garden was a great example of how to use a small space.

    • PaulG on said:

      Thanks Phillip. I’m in Toowoomba in South East Queensland so I’ll see what available up this way.

      Paul

  9. I was inspired by your article and I think I will pursue my career in landscaping. Thanks to landscapingcourses.com.au I can be like you without affecting my daily routine. thanks Phillip.

    • If you want to be a landscaper or landscape designer you are kidding yourself if you think you can do that through just an online course. Try it as a taster perhaps and then do some proper study at either TAFE or university.

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