Lily Langham has been living on her sprawling Daylesford property with her partner Rodney Baker for around 13 years. The land was originally part of Rodney’s family farm, and was gifted to the pair by Rodney’s late grandmother. A small stone building, which is now Lily’s studio, a few very old pear trees, a yellow plum tree and a rose bush were all that existed on the site when Lily and Rodney first arrived. From this framework, Lily began gardening.
‘The first thing I planted was a little garden outside my studio. It was mainly dianthus. Then the sheep got in and ate it all!’ Lily recalls. Then, she moved onto trees. She planted a bunch of oaks (Quercus canariensis), which are now over four metres tall. She now has around 13 different oak species growing on the property. ‘I’m a bit oak obsessed!’
Once Lily had some structure and shelter in place, she began gardening in earnest, guided by intuition and a desire to really listen to the land. ‘Part of making the garden here is really about the connection to the land,’ Lily tells me. ‘The land here, there’s something special about it. I’m always breath taken.’
I’m breath taken by her garden. It’s rare to see a garden that sits so gently on the landscape. It’s like it’s having a conversation with the soil; it couldn’t be anywhere else but here. It feels true to exactly where it is. ‘I’ve tried to create an honest garden without ego or expectation’, Lily explains. ‘As it grows, it’s just pure heart-felt joy and a wonderful delight to witness. It’s almost like music singing through my whole being!’
Lily studied fine arts and sculpture at university. She’s got no formal training in design or horticulture, but like she said, she’s grown up in the garden. The way she approaches plants and gardening is as an artist – ‘I just have a kind of primal instinct’ she tells me when I ask her about how she gardens. ‘I think about the seasons all the time, I think about the elements all the time. I think about what’s happening in the soil, what’s happening with the weather’. And then she plays – planting, propagating, testing, moving. She lets her garden speak, no matter how wildly. ‘Wild things in the garden make me weak at the knees. There is structure, hidden structure, to help hold it together, but the overall vibe is that it’s been here for ages.’
Our conversation doesn’t go anywhere near design talk or botanical names. No, it exists firmly in the swirling, misty space of experimentation and intuition and connection. It is here where Lily seems most at home. ‘I plant gardens that offer ways to connect with nature, to be involved with it – with the insects, the birds and the bees. It’s about being part of the land.’
Lily Langham has dug herself into this place, this patch of soil on the side of a hill and surrounded by bushland. Her garden is an illustration of her deep connection and sensitivity to place. It certainly couldn’t be anywhere else, and neither, I think, could she. ‘I feel like I’m part of the plants now, part of the garden.’