PHILLIP JOHNSON has long had an affinity for garden design. As a child the acclaimed landscape designer worked the earth beside his parents who loved the outdoors, and spent countless hours pottering in the yard at his grandparents.
It’s from his beloved Pa, Phillip says, where he learnt about ‘re-using and being self-sufficient”.
“I learnt that everything can be used,” he enthuses.
At his grandparents’ home he and his brothers would tend their own veggie patch. There were no sprays. “Everything was organic,” he says. “As a child I loved getting outside and getting dirty. And I hope that I am instilling that in my own children.”
At age eight, his parents gave him his own patch in their garden to design and and build in. He never looked back. His passion for gardens led him to follow both sets of grandparents in studying horticulture.
“I struggled academically and found learning quite difficult,” he says. “But I found that I got a special buzz from horticulture, so I managed to turn my learning difficulties from dyslexia into a positive.”
For the past 20 years he has led the way in sustainable design practices. It’s his philosophy.
“We create socially engaging and productive urban spaces that are habitats to many,” he says of his business, Phillip Johnson Landscapes.
He is regularly called on by leading developers, government department and architects to create gardens that minimise the use of water and are sympathetic to climatic changes.
But it is working with individuals on their own personal space that he takes the greatest pleasure in.
“Their spaces are very personal. Some people want a space that they can heal in, and I can empathise with that. I find gardens are beneficial for health and wellbeing and have tremendous healing properties.
“My dream is for everyone to have back yards in which they can connected to communities and neighbourhoods.””
Phillip has recently released his first book, Connected: The Sustainable Landscapes of Phillip Johnson. It features an array of gardens he has designed for families and offers a visual feast on what can be achieved through careful planning and correct indigenous plant choice and planting. It explores his love for Australia’s “beautiful plant palette” and shares the heartfelt personal stories of some clients.
“I wanted to share some special places that I have worked with families to achieve. It’s their personal stories,” he says.
To help spread his message of the power of connecting with nature, his business also creates a number of show gardens, including at the most prestigious horticultural event – the Chelsea International Flower Show.
In 2013 he made history, by winning ‘Best in Show’ and a gold medal for The Trailfinders Australian Garden. It was the first time Australia had been awarded. Other global awards have followed.
Awards aside, it’s retreating with his family to his own garden ‘laboratory’ that he takes most pleasure in.
“My garden is where I go to re-energise. There’s so much going on with family, business and the everyday in general.
“With a garden we are healing the environment by bringing back nature, and we’re healing ourselves at the same time. Beauty is everywhere and heals the soul. And I want everyone to be surrounded by it.”
Phillip will speak about his love for sustainable landscape design at this year’s Bendigo Writers Festival. Design for the Good Life is at the Capital Theatre on Sunday at 11.15am.