It’s one of the great irritations of life in the big city -“ Sydney’s perfect weather, combined with the limited outdoor areas most of us have available for gardening.
Paul Bangay is one of Australia’s most famous garden designers and garden writers. At 40, he has more than 30 years of gardening experience, starting with a small plot in his mum’s backyard. Now, he travels the world designing people’s outdoor areas. At time of writing, he’s currently involved in a couple of houses in the Hamptons, a castle in Dublin and a small villa in St Tropez.
But Bangay’s versatile. He’s a city-dweller now, and knows about the restrictions of the urban outdoors.
I got my first real garden in 1997. It was inner city, it was very small -“ although it was quite a large courtyard, it was wedged between a big warehouse and a big townhouse behind. So it was a real typical little inner city courtyard, Bangay says.
I think what most people tend to do with courtyards is they try to jam too many things in -“ they try and overcompensate for the space being so small. So you find people sticking a whole lot of little different things in there.
You’re better putting less but bigger things in. So it’s a less-is-more approach, but with over-scaling. Most people do the opposite -“ putting more things in but under-scaling them. As far as plants go, with courtyards you need to get things that will span both light and shade. Courtyards are uneven in the way they receive sun. Maybe one half gets full sun and the other gets shade. You need to go for plants like jasmines, the succulents. Those sort of plants that take both sun and shade. I think that’s the trick.
At the mention of those two frightening, overused words, water and feature, Bangay laughs.
It’s just the term -˜water feature’ that everyone hates, he says.
I still love water, but the use of water features has been overdone a little bit. And with water restrictions you’re not really meant to fill them up any more. But I think a small water feature in a balcony or courtyard can look really good. If the space is too small, they don’t look right. You need a fairly big space for them to work.
And, he says, don’t get too hung up on right angles.
There’s definitely room for chaos in gardens and the bigger a garden is, the more room there is for chaos.
For the record, Bangay has been openly gay since the start of his career. He’s the only gardening writer who is on sale at the very discerning Bookshop Darlinghurst. He has done garden design charity work for HIV/AIDS organisations in Victoria and, in February this year, he was named one of The Age’s 25 sexiest people. The Age called him the darling both of the Brighton lovelies and Melbourne’s A-Gay list who looked like something from the cover of a Mills and Boon.
Paul Bangay’s 1996 gardening classic The Defined Garden has been recently released in paperback