How to Create an Iconic Garden at Home

As the creative mind and green thumb behind some of Australia’s - and the world's - most iconic gardens, who better to share tips on how to create your very own at home, than Paul Bangay.

Best Gardens Australia is a 10-part series on LifeStyle HOME that celebrates the uniqueness of Australian gardens; the depth, breadth, heart and soul of these tranquil and unique spaces.

At the helm for one special episode, Paul Bangay strolls through his pick of the most iconic gardens. Here he shares exclusively with LifeStyle what that means to him.

What makes an iconic garden?

“An iconic garden has to be timeless in its design,” Paul notes, first up. Not merely highly fashionable and subject to short-term trends, for Paul, it’s the scale, proportion and balance that are the most critical elements to take into account before breaking ground on a groundbreaking garden. Furthermore, individuality plays a big part, he adds. “It also has to be highly personal to its creator.”

Golden soil

Paul is widely regarded as one of Australia's foremost designers, with his private and public commissions spanning from Europe and North America to the West Indies. But closer to home – where Paul is based and continues to design prolifically – it's the Australian weather cycle married with the terrain that creates our homegrown personality, he explains.

“A harsh climate and expansive landscape causes the garden creator to design a garden that is protective, sheltering the house and owner from the dry and heat,” he notes. This then creates a sense of “enveloping” paradise that Paul says is quite unique to Australia. 

Big impact. Small space

Paul is quick to dismiss the notion that iconic and memorable gardens can only be created on acres of lush land. The reality is quite the contrary, he explains. “There is a very famous courtyard in New York City in the Frick Museum courtyard, created by John Russell Pope that is internationally iconic. The size of the space is not important,” he assures. “It's how the creator organises all the elements within that space.”

Five iconic elements

Whatever your outdoor expanse – or experience in planting – here are Paul’s Top 5 Tips for creating your own ‘iconic’ garden.

* Scale: “It has to be perfect, not under or over scaled.”

* Balance: “And with that comes harmony within the garden,” he notes.

* Individuality: “This is derived usually from the creators personality,” Paul explains.

* Light: This is important in all corners of your garden, he enthuses, noting that emphasis should be placed on the correct play on light and shade that leads around the garden. 

* Proportion: “Allowing the correct sizes of spaces and objects to compliment each other within the garden.”

Paul’s favourite global and local gardens

Sissinghurst in England

Rousham in England

Stonefields, Victoria (Paul's own garden) 

Bolobek, Victoria 

Cruden Farm, Victoria (a 1928 wedding gift from Keith Murdoch to his then 19-year-old bride, Elisabeth) 

Top tip

Forget a green thumb and a load of green backs. Paul assures budding gardeners that the integral ingredients for creating a lush, much-loved space are actually free. “Personality and passion; if you have both in huge measures, express them in the garden and don't follow current tends.”

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