Studio Visit

Phillip Withers

Our Gardens column has become one of our most popular features, yet for some inexplicable reason, we rarely interview landscape designers. Major oversight!

Today, we chat to Phillip Withers, the passionate Creative Director of Richmond-based  Phillip Withers Landscape Design.

You can visit the Phillip’s garden installation ‘I See Wild’ at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show, next week – March 29th – April 2nd 2017, Garden A76.

Lucy Feagins

‘Here and Now’ was the title of the design for the 2014 event. Photo – Patrick Redmond.

‘We believe gardens should be functional, as well as beautiful and reflective of each person’s own unique personality,’ says Phillip. Photo – Patrick Redmond.

The landscape designer has recieved several awards for his sustainability-focused designs. Photo – Patrick Redmond.

Detail of ‘Here and Now’ display. Photo – Patrick Redmond.

‘When I think of plants, I take a moment and think about two things – setting and use,’ explains Phillip. ‘How will I create the most amazing atmosphere based on what I have just been asked to do?’ Photo – Patrick Redmond.

Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show 2013 display by Phillip and his team. Photo – Patrick Redmond.

‘Cubeism’ was the title and concept of Phillip’s display back in 2013. Photo – Patrick Redmond.

Detail of cacti from the 2013 display. Photo – Patrick Redmond.

Phillip’s projects incorporate biodiversity planting. Photo – Patrick Redmond.

Inside Phillip’s ‘Cubeism’ garden design. Photo – Patrick Redmond.

Lucy Feagins
24th of March 2017

Phillip Withers Landscape Design is an award winning young design firm, creating unique outdoor spaces for both commercial and residential clients Australia wide.

Phillip’s passion for his craft in infectious. With his small, dedicated team, Phillip strives to create outdoor environments that are both beautiful and useful. Listening intently to his constant mentor, Mother Nature, Phillip addresses not just about the look of a space, but the feeling it creates, and the fundamental function is serves.

This year marks Phillip’s fourth installation at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show – a project which will see Phillip and his team create a lush 200-square-metre garden over 11 days, set against the leafy backdrop of Carlton Gardens!

Tell us a little about your background. What path led you to landscape design?

I started out studying a Diploma in Arts at RMIT University, majoring in screen print design, and learning the art of making clothes. I was then drawn to the garden through garden maintenance, and being wonderfully immersed into the world of plants. I ended up undertaking a Diploma in Landscape Design and Sustainability at Swinburne University, where I started to form my garden design sense.

How would you describe your designs and what influences your style across different projects?

Our aim is to provide a functional and aesthetically pleasing natural environment for the end user to enjoy and learn from. Our challenge with every space is to develop a system that works. Every garden needs fuel, good planning and maintenance.

We strive to create spaces which encourage the user to walk outside, dream and relax. Whilst we aim to create beautiful spaces, we also push to program practical and functioning areas that celebrate that use of food. Garden spaces are a perfect habitat to integrate an edible learning experience.

What inspires your work?

I’m often inspired by travel, and by the way things work. I think it’s easy to create something that’s aesthetically beautiful, the challenge is creating something that’s timeless and useful. That means considering longevity, function and use. Sometimes the best things are the most natural.

I’m lucky in the job that I do in that we are creating with nature. I often think that following mother nature results in the best ideas, she always know the answer.

Do you prefer to work with certain types of plants and materials?

When I think of plants, I take a moment and think about two things – setting and use. How will I create the most amazing atmosphere based on what I have been asked to do? It always comes down to nature. Nature will create the feeling for any space.

I then try and activate the space, thinking not just about the feeling, but how it will be used, how to pollinate and get the bees, how to pick and consume from the space, how to create scents and heroes within the garden. It’s a wonderful thing to do for a living.

The materials in the landscape are important. Incorporating natural, recyclable and sustainable materials is respectful; I think it gives substance to a project. Progressive material and techniques are about doing your research. It’s easy to follow the grain, but it’s better to challenge common practice.

What can we expect from your garden design, ‘I See Wild’, for this year’s Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show?

Our aim for the garden was to depict a setting where you look out to a rich and biodiverse environment most would travel the world to witness. Here, we have displayed it in a rural back garden setting.

Our brief was not just to create a sense of wild beauty, but also to incorporate a diversity of plants. Here the natives flow into the borrowed landscape, the flowers attract the pollinators and the fruits, herbs and veggies work into the wild for the family to pick and eat and learn.

We wanted to include timeless, natural and sustainable materials that bring the space to life for the whole family. The natural tracks through the garden, the rolling lawn and the living sculpture at the centre of the garden, which doubles as a kids fort, all enhance the sense of adventure.

Which other Australian designers, artists and creative people are you loving at the moment?

Joost Bakker He is imaginative, a brilliant mind with a great eye. He has an understanding of why he is doing what he is doing. It’s so nice to see a designer who thinks about the whole lifespan of things.

What are some resources that you turn to when youre in a need of creative inspiration?

The PlanthunterIt’s nice resource for me, I find their stories insightful, they have a great sense of ‘real’. I love that they are authentic.

Food magazines – I’m always picking these up at the shops.

The outdoors – Everywhere I go there is always something in nature that inspires me.

What has been your proudest career achievement to date?

It would be receiving back-to-back sustainability awards at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show. So here’s to hoping for a third!

Melbourne Questions

What’s your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood?

I enjoy wandering around Abbotsford.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

You will find me going for a swim and then heading down to the local market to talk food and grab some local supplies. I’m also normally getting in trouble for being there for too long talking to people!

Visit the Phillip Withers Landscape Design Garden ‘ I See Wild’ at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show. March 29th – April 2nd 2017, Garden A76.

Creative director of Phillip Withers Landscape Design, Phillip (centre) with his team of landscape designer Daniel Foot-Connolly (right) and design assistant Declan Broadbent (left). Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

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