Best of est 2021 | Landscape Designers

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    Join us as we celebrate est’s top five Australian landscape architect and design firms in 2021.

    Over the past two years, our renewed appreciation for the natural environment has had a profound impact on the way we live. Now more than ever, landscape architecture and design are accelerating as a pivotal component of residential design.

    Forming part of the annual ‘Best of est‘ series, get to know our top five Australian landscape designers; who share the latest in design, environmental sustainability, and their most treasured garden spaces.

    Proudly supported by Rogerseller

    Conlon Group

    Describe the influence the past two years have had on your work. And more broadly, on the perception of Australian residential landscape architecture and design?

    Marc Conlon: In the short term embracing technology became increasingly important for our business to stay connected. Our projects slowed somewhat for a time, but beyond that, it has had a positive impact on our industry – which is a blessing. Over the past two years, we’ve seen a shift toward people appreciating their surroundings more and embracing nature. As travel lessened, it empowered people’s investment in ‘place’ – creating amazing architecture within nature and inviting the outside in, essentially moving into the natural environment and connecting more with the living world.

    What does sustainability look like in your projects?

    Marc Conlon: For us, sustainability is a way of thinking. It is integral to design and fundamental to making a project work. Working in our industry, it is naturally intrinsic in our decision-making. For instance, our plant selections need to be suitable for their ‘place’. That is, having the necessary attributes for the environment they will ultimately flourish in. In doing so, they are inherently sustainable. Whether it’s an 800 square metre project built to boundaries or many hectares, we instil different strategies for the long-term success of the garden. Further to that, plant life on the building itself can assist with insulation and can reduce ambient temperature by four to six degrees. This protection, combined with the natural forces of wind, can assist with tempering the environment, which is pretty cool!

    What key shifts have you seen in what clients are looking for in the past five years?

    Marc Conlon: Broadly speaking, we’ve noticed a shift towards integrating landscape with the built form. A ‘blurring of the lines’ so to speak, between indoors and out. Landscape is amalgamating more with architecture and has never been valued more highly. There is a movement toward horizontal, vertical, and internal landscapes. The landscape is part of the built form and is a considered element of the design process.

    Three words that most appropriately sum up your approach to landscape design are…

    Marc Conlon: Respect for nature.

    The one thing people always ask me is…

    Marc Conlon: “What’s the name of that plant?” (laughs). And from my clients, “how am I going to keep my plants alive?”

    What is the one key piece of advice you would impart to a young landscape designer?

    Marc Conlon: The key to success in this industry is passion and motivation. Without that, it won’t be a sustainable career option. I’d always recommend keeping an open mind and being willing to listen and learn – and keep learning as the industry shifts and evolves.

    What is your favourite space in your own garden and why?

    Marc Conlon: I would say the perspective looking back to my gardens from inside the pool area. It’s the perfect vantage point. The view is somewhat heightened by being immersed in water while admiring the natural environment.

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    Conlon Group Director, Marc Conlon

    Dangar Barin Smith

    Describe the influence the past two years have had on your work. And more broadly, on the perception of Australian residential landscape architecture and design?

    Naomi Barin: Recent years have seen a huge shift in climatic conditions throughout Australia, from bush fires to flash flooding and the emergence of La Nina. The general approach is to try and create gardens that respond to these changes and either adapt or are tough enough to handle both. As a practice, we strive for an enduring landscape, and while elements will always change over time, having a considered approach can allow for it to continue to flourish and appeal for many years. For my work personally, the past two years have given me the confidence to trust in my experiences and learnings working alongside Will and, more recently, Tom. As a practice, we are lucky enough to work with some of Australia’s best consultants and designers, who consequently push us to continue to better our knowledge and ideas.

    What does sustainability look like in your projects?

    Naomi Barin: A lot of this comes down to the sensitive selection of species that respond to site conditions. Through the introduction of certain native or endemic plant species, a garden can create habitat and refuge for native wildlife and be sensitive to the soils, aspect, and microclimate in a way that allows growth without excessive water or interventions. The strategic placement of vegetation around a building can significantly aid solar relief. For example, a deciduous tree planted in an appropriate position near a window can allow solar relief in summer and natural sunlight to warm in winter. I love to introduce permaculture philosophies to our garden spaces, whether by introducing edible species co-mingled with ornamental plants or supporting a client’s productive garden endeavours.

    What key shifts have you seen in what clients are looking for in the past five years?

    Naomi Barin: A sentence I hear in almost every brief is a desire for a ‘low maintenance’ garden. Most people are incredibly time-poor, and while some, like me, de-stress by tending to their garden, most don’t have the time to be too hands-on. We always advise gardens will need some form of maintenance, but a general push to us less ‘needy’ and water-hungry plants is always a desired outcome.

    Tom: Natives are becoming a far easier sell to clients, particularly our younger clients, which is great! People are now actually requesting native gardens. While this shift undoubtedly stems from a green or sustainable consciousness, I think the growing collective works of native landscapes within the industry have helped highlight that you can have a beautiful well-considered garden, and it can be native!

    Three words that most appropriately sum up your approach to landscape design are… 

    Tom Smith: Simple, elegant, and considered. 

    What is the one key piece of advice you would impart to a young landscape designer?

    William Dangar: Young designers often try to overdesign a space, Design restraint is key. Our practices strive to create landscapes that appear to have a simple relaxed aesthetic, to quote my friend Karen McCartney (author of Perfect Imperfect). A garden that appears natural and without obvious heavy intervention from a consultant is in our view, what makes the hallmark of a great outcome.

    What is your favourite space in your own garden and why?

    Naomi Barin: The lounge chair next to my veggie garden. There’s something extremely satisfying about growing your own food and eating it.

    Eckersley Garden Architecture

    Describe the influence the past two years have had on your work. And more broadly, on the perception of Australian residential landscape architecture and design?

    Myles Broad: I think every landscape designer will be the same. We were shut in our homes, unable to travel or socialise, so our home became our sanctuary. Those of us fortunate enough to have designed and constructed gardens had a much better time than those who’ve been meaning to get to it.  The result is, we have been the busiest we have been. Ever!

    Australians have always had a sense of pride in their dwellings, but I think these last two years have taken it to the next level. I’m not sure whether it’s having the extra time to think things through or the extra disposable money from not going anywhere. Most likely a combination of the two. We’re seeing some beautifully resolved architecture and creating beautiful gardens to accompany it. 

    What does sustainability look like in your projects?

    Myles Broad: Sustainability is inherent in our landscapes. We create habitats for plants, animals, and people. We’re not native plant specifiers, but they certainly make up a large part of our palette. We are more about selecting the right plants for the local environment and not clipping them into round balls.  We use dry-tolerant plants, create passive solar microclimates for houses and people, and generally make the world a better place to live!

    What key shifts have you seen in what clients are looking for in the past five years?

    Myles Broad: People are opting for more streamlined, often cantilevered BBQs that are less monumental and obtrusive. Everyone wants a pool. I kind of wish they didn’t, because I love the beach and the planet – and it doesn’t get more unsustainable than a heated pool that gets two months of use in Melbourne. It appears that natural styles, like looser gardens like ours, are trending.  They work beautifully as a counterpoint to harder-edged architecture.

    Three words that most appropriately sum up your approach to landscape design are… 

    Myles Broad: Natural, liveable, grounded.

    The one thing people always ask me is…

    Myles Broad: “What’s wrong with my Fiddle Leaf Fig?” Despite their ubiquity, the little villains are quite hard to grow well.  They need a drained pot, plenty of light, and plenty of water. Occasional food doesn’t go astray either. It seems they end up in sealed pots, go rotten and die, or are in drained pots and don’t get put out for a good soak.  

    What is the one key piece of advice you would impart to a young landscape designer?

    Myles Broad: “Bugger off, this is my town!” (laughs). Then after that, “listen to your client.  Take notes. Read them.  Then go create!”

    What is your favourite space in your own garden and why?

    Myles Broad: I have a central courtyard within my house draped with Virginia Creeper, which has a bubbling pond and a relaxed feel. I love to unwind there with a beer at the end of the day.

    Jack Merlo Design and Landscape

    Describe the influence the past two years have had on your work. And more broadly, on the perception of Australian residential landscape architecture and design?

    Jack Merlo: People have had no choice but to stay home, working and homeschooling during the past two years. People value their homes more and want to create an environment that includes their gardens to escape. Landscape design, when considered, connects indoor and outdoor living seamlessly. Not being able to travel, people see the value in investing more in their homes.

    What does sustainability look like in your projects?

    Jack Merlo: It depends on the application and type of project. We are always very mindful of the plant selections, drainage systems, and soil selections. In larger gardens and coastal projects, we use a lot of indigenous plants, and in urban projects, Mediterranean species are water efficient. 

    What key shifts have you seen in what your clients are looking for in the past five years?

    Jack Merlo: Smaller footprints. Clients are opting to downsize and value apartment living more, choosing to have large lifestyle properties outside of Melbourne.

    Three words that most appropriately sum up your approach to landscape design are… 

    Jack Merlo: Considered, functional and lush.

    The one thing people always ask me is…

    Jack Merlo: “What is the one design feature you would recommend in every garden that looks good all year round?”

    What is the one key piece of advice you would impart to a young landscape designer?

    Jack Merlo: Work out what area of landscape design you are passionate about. Always keep one step ahead and be innovative. Travel and be worldly. 

     What is your favourite space in your own garden and why?

    Jack Merlo: Using the pool and terrace area in the summer months with family.

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    Jack Merlo Design & Landscape Director, Jack Merlo

    Myles Baldwin Design

    Describe the influence the past two years have had on your work. And more broadly, on the perception of Australian residential landscape architecture and design?

    Myles Baldwin: The pandemic dialled things up, which is very fortunate for our business. We became exponentially busier and even had nurseries regularly contract-growing to keep up with the demand of our projects. We are now engaging with suppliers much earlier than usual to ensure materials are ready for installation. Reflecting on this past year, we are astounded by what we have achieved. At any one time, we now have 180 clients on our books, work with 32 landscape gardeners, and have purchased over four million dollars worth of plants for our projects. It’s an exciting time for the business and the work we are generating for our suppliers and contractors.

    What does sustainability look like in your projects?

    Myles Baldwin: Our industry is inherently carbon-reducing as we sow plants. I guess you could say ‘we plant air-conditioners’ to put it in layman’s terms! Moving forward, I’d love to see a dial down of watering on our projects, but that’s still a work in progress.

    What key shifts have you seen in what clients are looking for in the past five years?

    Myles Baldwin: Stylistically speaking, we have seen a marked increase in clients seeking a Californian aesthetic. Reminiscent of the Napa Valley or Palm Springs, for example. At the upper end of the scale, we’ve seen requests for multiple swimming pools. For example, a lap pool near the home gym or an adults-only pool just for the parents. Flowers are also back, which is exciting for me being a former Horticulturist. People are excited about blooms again and are edging away from the green-on-green textures. Lastly, the ‘formal garden’ hedge is on its way out. They are making way for hedges with depth. It’s not uncommon to see two-three metre wide cloud-form Buxus arrangements that fall to meet clean-cut grass. The kind of hedges David Hicks was known for in the 1960s. Clients are also falling back in love with twisted, tortured Australian native trees; paperbarks and the like look fantastic.

    Three words that most appropriately sum up your approach to landscape design are… 

    Myles Baldwin: Architecture, client, environment.

    The one thing people always ask me is…

    Myles Baldwin: What should I plant here? What should I do here? I am basically ‘the plant doctor’.

    What is the one key piece of advice you would impart to a young landscape designer?

    Myles Baldwin: Gain a mentor. Look for someone whose style you resonate with and learn from them. Starting on your own as a sole trader won’t provide you with the wealth of knowledge. Instead, you will benefit from working with someone who has been in the industry a long time.

    What is your favourite space in your own garden and why?

    I would say my street-front verge (nature strip) which is 30 metres long. I gave myself the challenge to build a street-front perennial garden with plants that were five dollars or less each. It’s an eclectic mix of grasses, salvias, saltbush, succulents, rosemary, Russian sage Perovskia, catmint, geraniums, and much more. Passers-by have their wedding photos taken in front of it. So I’m pretty proud of that!

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    Myles Baldwin Design Creative Director, Myles Baldwin

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