Design Moment Surveying the prolific career of renowned landscape designer Paul Bangay.
A passion for plants sown in childhood has borne a lifetime of fruit, writes Chris Pearson.
Next door to Paul Bangay’s childhood home in Melbourne’s outer east was a rambling Edwardian estate, complete with orchards, formal gardens, paddocks and gardeners’ cottages, unoccupied and in a state of decline.
“I had free rein of the property, space in which to roam and dream,” says the renowned landscape designer (inset).
Unlatching a gate his father had installed in the fence, Paul entered his own secret garden. At the tender age of 10, he planted his first garden there, lovingly tending to beds of peas, beans, zucchini and rhubarb. Each evening, as he returned to his bedroom, he dreamed of working in landscape design and buying his own country property. “The experience gave me a sense of large-scale gardening and a very European sensibility,” says Paul. And it kept his family in fresh vegetables.
There were lessons learnt on his own side of the fence, too. Paul’s mother, keenly aware of garden trends, embraced the native-plant movement in the 1970s, decking the family garden out in natives, then replanting it in the 1980s when the English country-cottage style took root. “Our garden was never static,” he says. From this, he gleaned that a garden is ever-evolving, from one year to the next, from season to season, even within the space of one day.
Graduating from Melbourne University with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Horticulture in 1985, Paul opened an upmarket nursery in Toorak shortly afterwards, as well as designing gardens under the PRB Design moniker.
In 1994, he won a Melbourne Arts Centre travelling scholarship to study landscape design in Europe, which further shaped his design sensibilities. Two years later, he penned his seminal book, The Defined Garden. That, in turn, defined him as the master of the formal European look, its lush, sumptuous pages celebrating Buxus, pencil pines, stone ornamentation, gravel paths, symmetry and scale. In 1998, he followed it up with a tome for those pressed for space, The Boxed Garden, while 2003’s The Balanced Garden was an ode to symmetry. Paul achieved the second part of his dream in the 1990s, buying his first country property, St Ambrose Farm in Woodend, Victoria, followed by Stonefields in nearby Denver in 2006. Meanwhile, his business thrived, with commissions coming from all over the world, including New Zealand, Europe and the US.
WHAT IT MEANS TO US
Paul Bangay brought Buxus- lined gravel paths Down Under, the style translating easily thanks to the plant’s hardiness and drought-tolerance. “It’s a very formal look, shaped by my passion for Italianate gardens, evergreen, precise and perhaps a little static,” he says. But, echoing his mother’s garden, his designs have evolved – and relaxed.
“I began with just white and green palettes, but now I am planting out herbaceous perennials in tapestries of warm, clashing colours, such as reds, oranges, russets and yellows, in hardscaping with more curves, organic shapes and textures.”
His lawns are shrinking and the beds are deeper, too. “Deep beds can be filled with layers of plants, making them much more interesting,” says Paul. “This complexity of planting provides seasonal delights, such as flowers and perfume.” Perhaps he is moving towards that luxuriant, unkempt garden of his childhood…
Paul Bangay’s garden at Stonefields (left) in Denver, Victoria, is open on November 17 & 18 to raise funds for the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, of which Paul is a member. See kitchengardenfoundation.org.au/stonefields.