If natural, Australian style gardens are your thing, you’d have to go a long way to find a book more inspiring than Phillip Johnson’s ‘Connected – The Sustainable Landscapes of Phillip Johnson’. From the moment you pick up this exquisite book, you won’t want to put it down; everything from the cover onwards is beautifully presented and the talented Claire Takacs’ photography makes you hungry for more with every page.
‘Connected’ is written as a series of twenty garden case studies, beginning with the garden Phillip grew up in, moving on to his current home garden and incorporating many designs he has created for private residences and international shows, culminating with the Chelsea Best in Show, 2013.
Each case study has a description of the brief and resultant garden but this book is a classic case of ‘a picture tells a thousand words’, with images stealing the show. The text is not entirely free of inconsistencies (was he 5 or 8 when he designed his first garden?), unusual assertions (Aspidistra is a ‘typical English plant’ – which doesn’t survive frosts) or questionable logic (Hydrangea planted to monitor a billabong’s water pH), nor does Phillip hide his light under a bushel (‘the Royal Horticultural Society.…fell in love with our concept and with my passion and drive….’), but as the story progresses, you can’t help but admire this man. As Phillip describes googling the Queen’s height in order to optimise the Chelsea garden studio’s dimensions for royalty, it is clear what a hard working, single-minded, passionate designer he is.
Phillip describes the impact of time spent as a teenager in rural national parks on his desire to replicate the natural environment in his designs. He has a particular passion for waterfalls and loves to design landscapes that capture water to use within the home and garden, using natural filtration methods for swimming pools. He is a huge proponent of sustainability and whilst many of his designs have made great leaps in this agenda, one wonders how removing large rocks from their natural location and transporting them many miles to an unnatural location can fit comfortably with this sustainability message. Phillip’s own garden in Olinda and ‘Lubra Bend’ in Yarra Glen are standouts of the book: stunning rural gardens that blend perfectly with their surrounding landscapes; the suburban gardens work to greater and lesser extents and arguably have both positive and negative impacts on sustainability.
Overall, there is no question that this is one of the best books in existence providing visual ideas for an Australian style garden. It doesn’t give much away in the form of written design tips, but the photos are clear and attractive, with a good mix of broad angle and close up shots; they alone will develop your thinking on Australian landscapes (and leave you dreamy with desire for one).
In particular, if you are thinking of commissioning Phillip Johnson to design your garden, this book will give you an extremely good insight in to what you would receive. Phillip is undoubtedly one of the leading landscape designers to focus entirely on natural, Australian gardens and even professional designers call on him to help with their home billabong construction. His publication is not only an ideas book, but also one with a ‘feel good’ message, portraying the triumph of passion and hard work over pretension and perfection, particularly demonstrated through the Chelsea exhibit. Frankly, in the world of gardening, what characteristics could possibly be more apt or feel more deserving of success than those of passion and hard work? It is uplifting to read of the achievements so justified in this story of exceptional focus and determination.
Connected – The Sustainable Landscapes of Phillip Johnson; Published November 2014 by Murdoch Books; RRP: $59.99AUD; 304 pages; ISBN: 9781743363331; ISBN-10: 1743363338