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Review: The New Australian Garden – Landscapes for Living

Meg Geary

Meg Geary

September 2, 2017

I was flattered recently to be asked to write a book review for GardenDrum, and excited when this book, ‘The New Australian Garden – Landscapes for Living‘ arrived last week in the post. Another one to add to my collection!

Images from The New Australian Garden by Michael Bates (Murdoch Books, RRP $59.99) Photography by Jason Busch.

As a bit of a bibliophile I do love a good read, however I have a confession to make – while I’m an avid reader, and have an extensive collection of novels and garden books – I tend to read for escape and relaxation – and usually while I’m in bed. So unfortunately while I’ve skimmed through images and content of most of my garden books, I’ve never actually read them cover to cover. Reading these, along with many other things, such as practicing mindfulness and doing more exercise, are on my ‘to do’ list, but I never seem to prioritise them. I even toyed with setting up a book club with fellow landscape designers and garden lovers so we could have an excuse and motivation to read our gardening books. I’ll let you know when that actually happens – maybe when the kids are no longer at home…..

However I do take my job of reviewing seriously, so I’m pleased to say I have read ‘The New Australian Garden – Landscapes for Living’ and have thoroughly enjoyed it. It offers a fresh and unique perspective in comparison to similar garden books that I have read previously.

Michael in his Sydney garden

Michael Bates is a landscaper and landscape designer who runs a landscape construction and design company in Sydney, Bates Landscape. He has worked with many of Australia’s top landscape architects and landscape designers on some unique and high end projects, as well as being an accomplished landscape designer in his own right. You may have seen him on the last series of Dream Gardens (Series 1, Episode 4 for those that want to take a look), with a garden he designed and constructed on the waterfront in Sydney. As a fellow designer it was an interesting episode to watch, particularly in regards to client/designer relationships.

In this, his first book, he has put together a snapshot of 18 different projects he has been involved with, either as designer or constructor. All are quite varied in their style, but all are very successful in the way they respond to the architecture of the house they surround, the wider landscape, and create spaces that the owners want to engage with and be in. To me a true measure of a successful landscape design.

He begins his book with chapters explaining his perception of the New Australian Garden and what it is, his role in creating them and his own background in landscape construction and design and how he came to it. It’s an interesting insight, and I can relate to many of his comments – especially around the way your own style changes as you are exposed to new ways of thinking and designing.

Michael’s accounts of each project are really interesting to me, not only describing the garden, but also giving some insight into the evolution of the project – often with collaboration between client, designer, architect and construction team to reach the final outcome. He discusses not only the layout of each garden, but the challenges in sourcing materials, finding ways to construct new elements, the way that plants are used in the landscape, the connection between the garden and the wider landscape and the unique aspects and challenges of each project. It’s a great insight as he has been closely involved in every project, living and breathing them while bringing them to life not only for the designers, but also for the clients who engaged them.

For each project there is a plant list with some of the more significant plants used in the design so you’re not left spending hours on google and combing through reference books trying to work out what it is you’re looking at. Where a landscape designer, landscape architect or architect was involved, there is an additional section where they discuss in their own words the project, design influences, their design ethos and the importance the garden plays in relationship to the house and wider landscape. Hearing from the architects was great, as it reinforced the value they place on a good garden to enhance the architecture of the house, and see it as an extension of the house itself.

Coming from Melbourne, I also found it enjoyable to read about the landscape scene in Sydney, finding out about designers and architects I’m not familiar with, and aren’t necessarily part of the wider public consciousness (or maybe I’ve been living under a rock). Not only do we learn about some of Michael’s own projects, but we also get to learn about projects from Myles Baldwin, Daniel Baffsky, Sue Barnsley & Kirsty Kendall, Vladimir Sitta, Phil Ayling, Phoebe Pape, Craig Burton and Jane Irwin.

Design Sue Barnsley and Kirsty Kendall. Photo Jason Busch

I found the majority of projects in this book to have a predominantly Australian aesthetic, or at least not overtly European as you often have in our colder climate down south. The use of plants, and the mixing of natives and exotics to suit the conditions was exciting to see, as it is something that I love to do in my own gardens. These are gardens of the now, and show what good design is all about, responding to each set of circumstances and criteria sensitively and boldly to create a garden that is individual. They really are ‘landscapes for living’!

Design Peter Sutchbury. Photo Jason Busch

In summary, if you enjoy shows such as Grand Designs and Dream Gardens, or are a budding landscape designer, or have an interest in residential landscape design then I highly recommend getting a hold of a copy to read. Not just another coffee table book with pretty pictures, but something to draw inspiration from and further your understanding of what good landscape design is really all about.

The New Australian Garden – Landscapes for Living
Michael Bates
RRP AU $59.99
Murdoch Books
ISBN: 9781743368107
September 2017

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Louise McDaid
Louise McDaid
6 years ago

I really like the idea of a book club for landscape designers – funnily enough I’ve been thinking about exactly that lately too! We should get our heads together and work out how to set one up online.

Meg Geary
Meg Geary
6 years ago
Reply to  Louise McDaid

That would be great Louise! I have chatted to a couple of other designers at the garden design clinics. It could be fun!