Paul Bangay, garden designer, 54
As one of Australia’s most celebrated garden designers, you’ve done projects on grand estates across the world. What stands out? Big country gardens are my favourite, especially when the owner is passionate about it. An exciting one was Larundel, outside Ballarat; I did the garden there for the Just Jeans family, the Kimberleys, when I was just out of university. And there’s one in New Zealand that I absolutely loved doing; it’s high in the Alps on the South Island and so remote you had to get there by boat or helicopter.
You’re co-presenting a doco to mark 90 years of the garden at Cruden Farm outside Melbourne. What’s special about that place for you? I first went in the 1980s when I was a horticulture student at Melbourne University and there were two really famous gardeners in the region: Joan Law-Smith at Bolobek, Mount Macedon and Dame Elisabeth Murdoch at Cruden Farm. I was very excited to go there. Dame Elisabeth showed us around; a few years later I started working for her grandchildren and got to know her a bit better.
What can you tell about the late Dame Elisabeth from her garden? She had a very relaxed sensibility – it’s not at all formal. A great love of trees and water. A generosity: the garden beds are very full and generous. And just a simple sense of style.
Michael Morrison has been head gardener there for 48 years. How does having a “long view” help a garden? Cruden Farm is very rare in that Dame Elisabeth was there for 80 years. She planted oak trees and saw them to maturity; not many people get to do that. I think the garden being so well loved and maintained is largely due to Michael; he still refers back to what he thinks “the boss” would want.
You’re known for the formal parterre garden, with lots of box hedges… I’ve been typecast with that look; as I’ve got older I try to do softer gardens. When I first started the fashion was for formal, Italianate gardens looking to that old European style; now the trend is for a prairie style of planting, romantic, organic shapes and lots of colour, which I think is wonderful.
Is there such a thing as a green thumb? And do you have one? I still make huge mistakes; it’s all about experimentation. I always say, “Try something, and if it doesn’t work pull it out and try something else”. In that way the green thumb really doesn’t come into it. I think the rest is about passion.
Stonefields, your 16ha garden near Daylesford, is open this month. What will people ask you on your private tours? Men ask about the lawn, and construction type of questions, and women ask about plant types and selection. I know that sounds sexist but this is what happens…
Do you still get your hands dirty? Not at work but at Stonefields, definitely – the vegetable garden is my thing.
A vegie garden sparked your passion when you were 10. What sort of child were you? I was very social – I had lots of friends at school – but I used to come straight home and look after my garden and goats; I milked them and sold some produce. I also loved wandering around the big old abandoned garden next door. I was always an outdoors person. is on the Lifestyle Channel, November 8, 8.30pm and on demand. The garden at Stonefields is open Nov 18-19 in support of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation. kitchengardenfoundation. org.au/stonefields