The best garden designer in Australia?

Succulents and natives in Melbourne

Arriving at Cameron Paterson’s Toorak garden

When I arrived at Cameron Paterson’s Toorak garden I was expecting to see something that was nice enough.  I had seen a few pleasant pictures online, but you know, they don’t always accurately reflect reality.

Modern Australian garden by Cameron Paterson

The front courtyard was absolutely stunning

One step behind the front fence and my husband and I were quite literally stopped in our tracks.  This garden was breathtaking.

Now, Paul and I don’t always see eye to eye on gardens.  I have never been able to get quite as excited about fuchsias as he is and he has always struggled to come to terms with my soft edges spilling over the lawn.  Paul loves his lawns and his bright colours, neither of which this property had.  It seems this garden would transfix anyone.

Front entrance to Cameron Paterson's Australian garden

Not only were the plants incredibly well chosen but every hard landscaping surface was thought through to perfection

Later the same day we went to visit Cameron’s garden in Balwyn, an equally wonderful, if very different, place.  He also showed us before and after photos of a country property he had developed.  And having seen the three gardens, it dawned on me what it was that made Cameron’s designs so very special.  They all had that elusive, intangible but very real when you feel it, ‘sense of place’.

A serene courtyard at Cameron Paterson's Toorak garden

Cameron’s garden had variety and interest and he created a serene feel to the rear courtyard whilst retaining the vast majority of the space clear for entertaining

The Toorak house was modern Australian.  Very much so.  And what it needed was a modern Australian garden.  Cameron’s ability to see a patch of dirt and envisage the perfect solution is, I think, better than any other designer I have ever come across.  He isn’t wedded to a particular style, or to particular plants, he just has a vision of what will sit perfectly and seeks out the materials and plants to fit.

Yellow and purple Mediterranean garden

Lovely yellows and purples in this rear courtyard which had quite a Mediterranean feel to it

Annoyingly, he was also the most humble, modest, friendly person you could ever meet.  And I so wanted to find a flaw in him!

Warm textures and colours in Cameron Paterson's Australian garden

These warm colours and textures give an unmistakably Australian feel

Interestingly, the front courtyard was, I would say, less than 20% natives.  And yet I had it firmly labelled in my head, a native garden.  And so I have made a big decision.  Unless a garden is 100% natives, I am now going to refer to them as ‘Australian’ gardens, rather than ‘native’ gardens.  And with that, I feel a very bright light bulb has come on.

Brightly coloured native garden in Melbourne

Grevilleas and Kangaroo paws mix well with succulents and carefully placed rocks add to the Australian feel

You see the thing I love about the old ‘native’ gardens is their sense of place.  They just look so right in this country.  But actually what I am saying is that they look ‘Australian’.  It doesn’t really matter where the plants comes from, just as most ‘English’ garden plants come from anywhere but England.  It is the feel of the garden that counts.

Kangaroo Paws (Anigozanthos) look stunning against this wall

Stunning Kangaroo paws (Anigozanthos) are the perfect plants for this narrow space against the wall

Cameron captures that ‘feel’ of Australia with immense skill.  But in mixing his natives and exotics, he also creates a lush, tidy garden, suitable for the smallest courtyard, where a native bush garden would traditionally be quite out of place.

Natives and succulents at Cameron Paterson's Toorak garden

Grey foliage is softened with flowers and lush greens

His use of grey foliage helps conjure the Australia bush, softened and contrasted by bright and deep greens.  He also uses flower colour with great skill, adding just the right level of highlights but never letting one plant dominate.  His use of yellow in the rear courtyard is striking, but subtle at the same time.

Shady woodland garden in Melbourne

Shady woodland garden at the side of the house

And in the shadier side garden, he isn’t afraid to put rich, exotic greens throughout.  A woodland garden, it has its own little sense of place, blending perfectly well with the other areas.  He has enough of the lush green throughout the property, so all the little pockets tie together beautifully.

Sansevieria (Mother in law's tongue) look great on mass

These Sansevieria (Mother-in-Law’s tongue) look fabulous en masse with the form highlighted against the wall

Creating gardens with a strong sense of place is something that very few designers ever conquer.  Cameron is one very, very talented man.

Modern fruit, vegetable and herb garden in Melbourne

Even the fruit, vegetable and herb garden is fresh, attractive and modern at this garden. When Cameron came across a disused concrete pipe in the garden, too heavy to remove, he simply chopped it into lengths to create these beautiful planters.  Inspirational.

8 thoughts on “The best garden designer in Australia?

  1. sarahnorling2014 says:

    Just read this, Janna. Great garden (and lovely photos). He is blending plenty of things here and hitting all sorts of marks – stylish, welcoming, functional, not looking too overdone. I really like your thoughts about using ‘Australian’ to define gardens like this.
    Not entirely sold on those Sanseverias though…..

    • jannaschreier says:

      You don’t like the sansevierias? Interesting. I thought they did work within the whole context. Photo 6 above probably shows them blending into the garden better than the close up of them. I agree they can sometimes look a bit harsh and out of place though. I am fascinated by the variety of ways people view gardens – it really makes me think! Thanks for your comments.

  2. Jack Hanbury says:

    I have just come across your blog and feel compelled to endorse your great impressions of this garden – and it is great to see some more pictures of it! Of the 20 or so city gardens we visited at Garden Designfest ‘way back’ in 2014, this one was the standout for me. A great combination of open and intimate spaces and a refreshingly different plant palette. Big congrats to Cameron Paterson and his team!

    • jannaschreier says:

      Thanks so much for your comment, Jack. It’s always nice to hear that someone else concurs with your thoughts. The garden was certainly a stand out for me. I’ve just had a look at your website and I love your designs, too. If any of yours are ever open I’d love to visit one or two when I’m next in Perth. We have very good friends on Salvado Road, which can’t be too far from you at all!

      • Jack Hanbury says:

        Thank you Janna! The selection of pics on the website are all private clients in Perth, so none are open as such, though one of the ones featured is our garden.
        Ironically, you are living in a part of the world that is very close to my heart and one that I know very well. I grew up in Kensington and still return every May/June to visit my mother and son and go to the Chelsea Flower Show. Let me know when you’re next heading out Perth way as it would be great to catch up for a coffee if you have time.

        • jannaschreier says:

          How funny that you grew up in Kensington! It’s actually all new to me; I grew up in the Buckinghamshire countryside. Will definitely let you know when I’m next coming to Perth; that coffee sounds great.

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