Brent ReidThis is your garden, not mine

I have literally walked out of a garden this morning and decided I needed to write about it. I am currently working with a client helping her get her garden in Chelsea Heights, Victoria ready for the Open Gardens Australia in late October. I started working with this client over a year ago when she approached me to help her get her garden “up to scratch” for her son’s wedding at the property last November. Walking in the gate of this garden for the first time I realised I had stumbled upon something special.

Cheslea garden, Chelsea Heights, VicThe garden is very well established with old trees, a chicken coup, bird aviary, old sheds and an outhouse. The moment you walk in the gates you realise this garden has character. What you can miss if you don’t open your eyes and your mind is that this garden has soul.

I find it interesting when I design a garden for a client. Often when you go back later they refer to it as “Brent’s Garden” or “Your garden”. I try to instil in the client that it’s not “my” garden, I was just lucky enough to be allowed to work with them on it. It is their garden!

Pear in Orchard by Willie Wildlife

Pear in Orchard by Willie Wildlife


Sometimes it is hard for people to take the ownership of a garden that has been designed for them back from the designer. I hear comments like “I didn’t want to wreck it” or “I wasn’t sure if you’d like it”? As a designer I stop short of selecting sculptures, water features and garden art for people. I am more than happy to help and point them in the right direction of artists I think are good and clever and creative whose creative work is good quality and going to last.

Rudi Jass sculpture in 'The Nest', Design Jamie Durie MIFGS 2010

Rudi Jass sculpture in ‘The Nest’, Design Jamie Durie MIFGS 2010



I find selecting art for the garden to be very personal. These are the signature pieces that clients can add to a garden that definitely takes a garden away from being “Brent’s Garden” and corrects it to be “our garden”. The personal details that people can add to their own space are now endless. There are so many different products on the market and many different artists out there doing some amazing with a price tag to suit everyone’s budget. The old phrase, “I don’t know art, but I know what I like” can now be used for features in the garden.

Orbs by Obscure Studio

Orbs by Obscure Studio

We often design a space for a sculpture with only a vague idea what it will end up being. We send the client out hunting for a piece they like, but generally they find something when they are not looking. I love getting a phone call to say “We have found a sculpture! But we need you to help us place it”. It is nice when clients add their own personal touches to the thought, creativity and effort we have put into their garden.

Take the garden back, we won’t be offended. It makes us happy to see you loving it.

Mosaic pelican at Chelsea

Mosaic pelican at Chelsea

I feel very lucky to have worked in a very small way on this garden in Chelsea Heights. This is not only a horticultural playground but the client has adorned the entire garden with her mosaic works as well as her own random collections. This garden is art. Not only do the static pieces get added to, moved around and changed so does the garden. Split that, move them, transplant, propagate. Things in this garden get tried. Things in this garden succeed and things in this garden fail. But it is a continual evolution of a piece of living art.

The static art that has come out of the owner is what gives this garden its soul. This garden is dominated by plants, trees, shrubs groundcovers and hanging baskets. If you choose to do so, everywhere you look is a different piece of art. A missing brick with a mosaic in its place, ceramic balls scattered through the garden beds, mosaics on walls, mirrors, urns, chooks and birds. This lady has taken a backyard and poured her heart and soul into this space and the result is therapeutic for anybody who walks in the gates and is prepared to leave their world on the street for a few minutes. You cannot walk around this garden without a smile on your face.

Mosaic chook at Chelsea

Mosaic chook at Chelsea

Not all gardens have to be technically perfect or have a long winded theory behind why it was created. I truly believe a successful garden can just make you happy. The most amazing thing about this garden is the owner has no idea how special a place she has created. She has made a garden her own with her own artistic creations and flair and in the process made a magical place for others to visit. After some convincing as to how special this garden could be to people other than its creator, on October 26 and 27 this garden will be open for the first time. The owner is a truly humble lady willing to share a very personal space for the first time. This garden is very much worth a look. Open your mind and your eyes and then go home and think about how some art added to your own garden could transform a nook, a corner a focal point in the garden and add your own personal touch and style.

[‘Chelsea’ at 145 Thames Promenade, Chelsea Heights, Victoria, is open through Open Gardens Australia on 26-27 October 2013, 10am-4.30pm $8, children under 18 free]

Like this post? Why not share it with a friend?

Brent Reid

About Brent Reid

Brent has worked in the landscaping industry for 16 years, learning the ropes at Semken Landscaping whilst studying Horticulture at Burnley College and Holmesglen College. After working with some of Melbourne (and Australia’s) best landscape designers at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show, Brent’s passion for landscape design was born, which led to designing gardens for shows, Backyard Blitz and as a design advisor on Burkes Backyard. Brent spent 3 years in the United Arab Emirates designing and constructing pools and landscapes, including Palm Jumeirah (The Palm Island), Emirates Hills, Sharjah Botanical Museum, Sharjah English School and the Oundle School in Dubai. He also wrote a weekly column for Emirates Business 24/7 newspaper and articles for YOU! magazine. See Brent's work at Candeo Design on the Candeo Design Facebook

6 thoughts on “This is your garden, not mine

  1. Wow, Brent, what a terrific post!

    Some years ago, I photographed and wrote an article about a garden called “Tickletank” here in South Australia. What you describe about your owner and garden applies 100% to Tickletank and its owner, too.

    The house is a concrete water tank, the owner a warm, empathetic woman with a huge heart. Every centimetre of that garden reflects who she is as a person. It is the most restful and enriching garden I’ve ever experienced – a garden with soul. A garden that is small, but in which you can spend hours. You leave feeling good about yourself and the world. I’m not an especially spiritual person but the place gave me goosebumps (in a good way!) and, some months after my first visit, I brought an unwell friend there to experience what I have no doubt is a healing, positive energy.

    The garden was difficult to photograph because every corner had something in it – including the owner’s own mosaics and sculptures! But it wasn’t cluttered or busy, because the owner’s taste and presence was so unifying that it created a delightful consistency throughout. I was never 100% happy with the photos – they were fine individually, but I felt that together they didn’t reflect the garden as a whole. In hindsight, perhaps what was needed was a portrait photographer, rather than a garden or landscape photographer!

    I sold the article and images to Your Garden magazine, but then a change of editor meant a change of taste. The new editor preferred more modern, minimalist lines and disliked the “cottagey” style. It’s ironic that, of 100s of garden articles I’ve sold, this favourite is one of only three not to appear.

    It was also this wonderful garden that gave me the confidence to create my own in exactly the way I liked. Previously, I’d felt that I should somehow include certain design elements and of course basic structure helps create a beautiful space… but clearly there are also things that completely transcend rules and fashion. And for this reason, in my own blog, I always strongly encourage everyone to just “have a go” and follow their own hearts and taste.

    • Hi Helen,
      Thanks for your comments! I love how gardens provoke such stories. I appreciate you sharing one of yours. One of the great pleasures of my job is hearing the stories certain plants trigger in peoples memories and I am glad my post did the same for a garden you love. It really is a treasure when you find a place with the qualities you describe.
      I am about to do my own garden… I am pretty excited that I really dont have to follow any trends, fashion or even a design brief!! We’ll see what sort of mess is running through my head in the coming months.
      Thanks again for your story.

  2. Thanks for a fantastic post Brent. The garden sounds wonderful and I’m only sorry I won’t be in Victoria to visit when it’s open. I very much like and agree with your sentiment about sculpture and features being such a personal thing, linking the garden to its owner. It was great meeting you at the show in Sydney, and love how Catherine and GardenDrum makes these connections possible.

    • Hi Louise,
      Thanks for your comments.
      It was great to meet you as well as put some other faces to names while in Sydney.
      Great to have a chat in Front of Brendan’s garden.

  3. Dear Brent, a lovely article about a beautiful garden indeed. You raise so many salient points about special gardens: who they ‘belong to’, their own spirit, and the joy that they bring not only to their owners but to all those lucky enough to get to enjoy them.

    It sounds like there is some overlap in the kind of work I do. I also ultimately want my clients to see the garden as theirs, but as one makes a contribution, so one’s own personality plays a part. I don’t feel this necessarily detracts from the garden or its ownership.

    Sometimes I have visited a garden that I was once involved in, because I have not seen it for a while and actually miss it. I find garden owners are happy to share the way their gardens have developed with you, and are pleased you still care!

    Well done on the article, and good luck to the garden owner for fine weather when she opens! Bernard Chapman

  4. Hi Bernard,
    Thanks for your detailed comments.
    I have a couple of gardens that I have done over the years that I get to a point where I really need to see them (and the clients). Its always a nice feeling to go and see the “babies” and check on them.
    I think you and I may share similar theories on what goes into a garden… heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears…
    Thanks for the comments.
    Thanks again.


Leave a Reply (no need to register)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.