It’s been almost 2 years since I first met Don Thomson, the Principal of Gardenridge Pty Ltd, and that chance meeting changed my life. I remember Don was having a holiday in Italy back in 2013 and I was in Sardinia, my birthplace. I had decided some time before this that I wanted to work in Australia as a landscape designer and I was busily sending my resume to relevant Australian landscape firms and Gardenridge was on top of my list. Don was actually commuting on a train from Milan to Rome when he received my presentation and he responded quickly. We organised to meet at his hotel in Rome not long after this.
I remember arriving in Rome from Sardinia, the sky was dark with storm clouds gathering before a heavy summer down pour. It was a hot summer evening, very still, and I was nervous with anticipation as I walked to the hotel where Don was staying. Don met me in the foyer when I arrived and we sat over a cool drink as I showed him my work. I think he liked what he saw as he invited me to come to Australia and work with him.
Fast forward to the present and this sees me as a successful finalist in the Boutique Garden Design Competition at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show (MIFGS). When we saw the Boutique Garden Design Competition advertised last year Don asked me if I would like to enter this. The competition had an open ended brief which meant we could decide the design theme of the garden. The only constraint was that the garden must fit within a 5 x 5m site. The design solution was obvious for us: we would tell the story about how Italian culture has impacted on Australian landscape design as this seemed to fit the new relationship between Don and me. The challenge was to try and convey this message in an innovative way that pushes conventional boundaries.
The arrival of Italian immigrants at Station Pier in Melbourne during the 1960s saw a collision of ideas, including the treatment of the landscape. The traditional Italian landscape school, centuries old and well established, offered a 3 dimensional geometric layout with terraced gravel and lawn spaces retained by stone walls, striking water features, statues, and framed by evergreen hedges. The very young Australian landscape school, born from our English ancestors, was struggling to find its own identity. Applying an English landscape model in our hot drought stricken climate with our impoverished soil had its limitations.
The garden that we have designed ‘LATIN INFLUENCES’ is not just a beautiful entertaining space that could be built anywhere in Melbourne, it is also rich in underlying subtext that references many things about Australia and Italy, and about multicultural Australia: the stepped entry into the garden showcases golden brass step risers, a reference to the Australian Gold Rush days. In addition to the brass, there is a trail of gold, black and white tiles that cut through the entry steps. Details such as this are a signature of the Italian Architect Carlo Scarpa, who designed many gardens around Venice during the twentieth century.
As you enter the garden, evergreen bay tree hedges and a striking backing wall frame an intimate and private space with table and benches centrally sited on raked grey gravel. The grey rendered backing wall presents a stunning hanging sculpture: a circle of burnt sticks with the ends painted vivid red. This installation ‘NATURA’ speaks of the regenerating ability of the Australian bush which burns in violent fires to be born again. The red represents the vital power and the circle is a powerful symbol related to the union of multicultural Australia. There is a second sculptural element that sits inside the circle: a bespoke light installation referred to as ‘SOL’ conceived by Melbourne based lighting designer Ilan El. SOL is a celebration of the powerful and sometimes brutal Australian sun, and takes inspiration from the art work of Bernini’s ‘Ecstasy of Saint Teresa’.
Opposite the entry steps you will find a small fountain nestled in the foliage filling the garden with the sound of water. Approaching the water will reveal a bit of theatre, with the submerged head of Michelangelo looking up from the bottom, with lips just caressing the surface.
A colourful perennial border fills the rest of the garden beds. The perennial bed has been designed to create a grid of coloured ’tiles’. Two complementary colours are used for maximum visual contrast. This colour blocking will guarantee interesting chromatic effects and is also a reference to the grid pattern of land subdivision employed by the ancient Romans. Broken red bricks have been used as mulch underneath all the garden beds as a reference to the colour of the Australian desert.
All retaining walls are dark grey and present a series of terraced spaces, with the dark grey reminiscent of the newest buildings in Milan and relating well to the signature bluestone of Melbourne. As you traverse the fine grey gravel paving the sound of gravel crunching under foot takes you back to so many Italian gardens including Villa d’Este, Villa Lante, Boboli , Isola Bella. In our garden we are using fine gravel as we think that tiny gardens such as this require tiny and sensitive details. Without doubt it is the attention to detail that makes LATIN INFLUENCES so special.
On the front wall of our garden is written ‘MEMENTO AUDERE SEMPER’ which translated means ‘to always push the boundaries’. Please come and visit us at MIFGS from March 25 to 29 (Site 80) and see for yourself.
[Special thanks go to Damien Thaus, our Project Manager as without him this project would not even have been possible. I would like to also thank our sponsors for their help and generous support:
Gold Sponsor: Warners Nurseries, Smart Grass, Ilan El Light Life, O’Sheas Timber, Dinsan Nursery, Austral Wright Metals
Silver Sponsor: United Media Group, Supersoil, The Renderman
Bronze Sponsor: Better Exteriors, Smart Water ]