Landscape designer Paul Bangay grew up living next door to an overgrown Edwardian country property. He’d spend days rambling through the wild garden overflowing with wisteria, aging pencil pines, an untended orchard and scatterings of bulbs. ‘This is where my complete love affair with everything country began,’ he writes, in his new book Paul Bangay’s Country Gardens. ‘I would go home to my bedroom and dream of the day when I could have my very own country property.’
Fast forward a few decades, and Paul has achieved more than owning his own country garden, he’s designed them the world over! In a career spanning 30 years, Bangay has developed an international reputation for designing grand gardens overflowing with seasonal planting interest, and of bold yet simple proportions.
Paul’s love of plants and gardens began in childhood. After a degree in horticulture at Melbourne University, he opened his own plant nursery in Toorak, and before long he was fielding design commissions left, right, and centre. He now works with a team of 15 employees from a big old warehouse in Cremorne, but of course his country property, Stonefields, is where his heart lies.
We recently caught up with Paul to learn a little more behind this man with an insatiable green thumb, and eye for unparalleled garden design.
What early influences have shaped your love of gardens and design?
My mother had a deep love of plant material and garden design. Her own garden was very special, and as children we were encouraged to work in it regularly. It changed as fashions changed, and showed me as a young child the power and importance of design in a garden space.
Tell us about your design background – what did you study and what path led you to what you are doing today?
I studied and Bachelor of applied Science in Horticulture at Melbourne University, Burnley campus. After graduating I opened a boutique nursery in Toorak, which had a courtyard that I landscaped. Design commissions followed, firstly in Melbourne then nationally, and finally internationally.
When did you launch your landscape design business, and how would you describe your style?
My design career began in 1986. I would describe my style as deeply appropriate to the site and style of architecture it surrounds; I try to keep it timeless, but also use contemporary materials and crafts.
You work on a great variety of projects, what have been one or two of your favourite projects recently?
The South Hampton garden, which is illustrated in the new book, is one of my favourites. Working in America with such a good site and budget was life-changing for me and my sense of style and standards.
Another great recent project, also in the book, is a garden at Mount Algidus in New Zealand. It was probably the best site I’ll ever get to design a garden on – it’s high in the Alps with the most amazing view of two wide braided rivers converging and surrounded by snow capped mountains.
Tell us about your new book – Paul Bangay’s Country Gardens. What was the inspiration behind it?
Country gardens are my favourite. They provide the designer with amazing freedom and scale. Until now, I had never done a book solely on country gardens, yet I’ve designed many. This book was a natural thing to do.
How does designing country gardens differ to designing urban spaces?
In country gardens there’s no oppressive council restrictions, no overlooking neighbours, distant views to be captured, and generally a great sense of space and scale. Large trees can be used and allowed to grow to their natural size, too. In short, in country gardens, the genius of the site can be exploited and not muted.
Can you give us a little insight into the inner workings of your design business? Where are you based, how is your office structured, how many people do you employ, and what significant tasks do you outsource?
We have a large warehouse space in Cremorne with open plan working spaces and large courtyard garden. I employ 10-12 people. I also work remotely from my studio at Stonefields and from my apartment in Sydney. Working all over the world and interstate weekly, it’s important to be able to work remotely and my staff have set up systems to be able to cope with this. We outsource all the construction for our designs.
Which other Australian designers, artists or creative people are you loving at the moment?
Christopher Boots – I love his lighting, it’s so different, fresh and modern.
Myles Baldwin gardens – His planting schemes are amazingly textural and new.
Rob Mills Architecture – Rob is a contemporary architecture genius.
Can you list for us your top resources across any media that you turn to when you’re in a need of creative inspiration?
Magazines – I subscribe to lots of international magazines, which I get air freighted weekly, these are my lifeblood!
Instagram – I follow a lot of the international interior and garden designers.
Books – I am very old fashioned and still prefer books. I love touching them, storing them on shelves and creating a library.
What has been your proudest career achievement to date?
The garden we just finished in Prato Italy for Monash University. It was a great honour to be asked to do it, and the result was highly rewarding.
What would be your dream creative project?
A huge estate in the UK.
What are you looking forward to?
I’m looking forward to slowing down and working more from my garden and studio at Stonefields.
What is your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?
South Yarra for its cafes and proximity to the botanic gardens.
What and where was the best meal you recently had in Melbourne?
A home cooked meal at Stephanie Alexander’s home. I’m helping her with her new courtyard garden.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
Walking around my garden at Stonefields.
What is Melbourne’s best kept secret?
Cremorne, especially the design precinct in the back streets behind Church Street.