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Garden Design

Latin Influences at Melbourne garden show

Carlo Gabriele

Carlo Gabriele

March 11, 2015

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.

Don Thomson

Don Thomson

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.

Gardenridge MIFGS show garden elevation

Gardenridge ‘LATIN INFLUENCES’ MIFGS show garden sketch-up

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.

Latin influences - MIFGS show garden plan by Gardenridge

‘LATIN INFLUENCES’ – MIFGS show garden plan by Carlo Gabriele (Gardenridge)

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.

A trail of black, gold and white tiles across 'Latin Influences'

A trail of black, gold and white tiles across ‘LATIN INFLUENCES’

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.

'SOL' in the Gardenridge MIFGS show garden

‘SOL’ lighting installation in ‘LATIN INFLUENCES’ MIFGS show garden. By Ilan El Light Life

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’.

The submerged face of Michelangelo looks up through the water at you

The submerged face of Michelangelo looks up through the water at you

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.

Colour block planting plan.

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.

Memento Audere SemperOn 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 ]

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9 years ago

Goodluck! Can’t wait to see it. It’s great to read about the show gardens up front as you never quite have time to absorb the story behind each garden when you are there on the day.

carlo gabriele
9 years ago

Thank you!

Anne Latreille
9 years ago

great writing Carlo. The combination of Italian and Australian design ideas is intriguing, the garden sounds amazing and I can’t wait to see it!

carlo gabriele
9 years ago

Dear Anne, thank you very much! I look forward to meeting you there!