A Growing Interest: creative Brisbanites share their gardens

Nicole Phillips

I’ve noticed that many of the creative people I meet around Brisbane have a keen interest in the landscape. Whether it’s their own garden, a local park, or a place they’ve visited on holiday, these folk can all talk with great passion about a landscape that is special to them.

I’ve enjoyed hearing about these special places so much, and I thought you would find it interesting too. So today, we bring you the first in our new quarterly series ‘A Growing Interest’.

It’s a privilege for us to be let into the private gardens and treasured landscapes of these busy creative people, and to hear what interests them about gardens and landscape.

To start us off we have the lovely and fabulous Nicole Phillips. It’s taken us quite a while to get our schedules (and the weather!) to align, as this super-talented typographer, graphic designer and print maker is a lady in high demand, but we finally managed to sit down and talk recently.

 Nicole Phillips in her print pavilion. Her 1872 Albion press is shown behind. Photo: Toby Scott.

Nicole Phillips in her print pavilion. Her 1872 Albion press is shown behind. Photo: Toby Scott.

Nic, where are we today?

You are in our backyard, tucked behind our modest postwar house in suburban Brisbane.

What do you love about this place?

Since we planted a lot of natives we are fortunate to attract a lot of wildlife: we have fantastic birds, lizards, tree and marsh frogs.

 Grevillea and Silky Oak shine in the sun.

Grevillea and Silky Oak shine in the sun.

 The beautiful foliage of the grevillea...

The beautiful foliage of the grevillea...

 ...and its equally stunning flowers.

...and its equally stunning flowers.

I love that our garden comes alive with birdsong at dusk and dawn, and with the call of the tree frog in times of rain and of an evening. I also really enjoy being in the pool because it’s tucked away behind the gabion walls.

 Nicole's equally talented husband Michael made the gabion screens throughout the garden.

Nicole's equally talented husband Michael made the gabion screens throughout the garden.

 More grevilleas grow around the base of the timber-clad pool.

More grevilleas grow around the base of the timber-clad pool.

It’s quite private and peaceful – it feels like an escape! I also really enjoy seeing our pups play and enjoy the space. Cooder our oldest dog had always lived in apartments and small courtyard town houses. When he moved in here it was as if he had won the lottery.

 Lottery winner Cooder.

Lottery winner Cooder.

How long have you been gardening here?

We started work on the garden 6 years ago. Its form and function have evolved numerous times since then to suit our needs so it’s still very much a work in progress.

When we moved here there was a hills hoist in the centre, a large pile of rubbish where the pool is now, and the rest was just grass. There was a small wooden deck riddled with termites. It was more a utility space than somewhere to be enjoyed.

Even though neither of us have green thumbs we were excited by the potential of the space so we created large garden beds and started planting. It took a lot of trial and error - many of the plants we were familiar with from home (New Zealand) failed spectacularly. We planted pittosporum and flaxes, none of which did well. I also had a thing for roses, hydrangeas and gardenia (do I sound like a nana?!) but all those floral shrubs also died off quickly.

The natives we tried went really well, as did the frangipanis.

 White flowers on the Plumeria pudica beside the print pavilion.

White flowers on the Plumeria pudica beside the print pavilion.

So once we worked out what would thrive here we planted more of those species. I especially love the ground covering plants (we have a lot of Dietes) as they minimise the weeding I have to do!

 Kalanchoe 'Flapjack'

Kalanchoe 'Flapjack'

 A stunning Bismarckia nobilis (Bismarck Palm).

A stunning Bismarckia nobilis (Bismarck Palm).

Eventually as our budget allowed we pulled up the old termite infested deck, and Mike built us a steel and modwood platform which was much more robust and generous in proportion. We also added a steel and danpalon roof to protect us from the elements, and a small pool to keep cool in summer.

 Shadow play on the deck roof.

Shadow play on the deck roof.

 Signs of life.

Signs of life.

Slowly our lawn space has become smaller and smaller as our outdoor living and garden beds grew. The most recent addition to the garden was my new print pavilion.

 Chunky, dark stained timber wraps the pavilion. Translucent panels open to allow additional light and ventilation.

Chunky, dark stained timber wraps the pavilion. Translucent panels open to allow additional light and ventilation.

 Nicole designed the weathered steel panel that marks the entry door.

Nicole designed the weathered steel panel that marks the entry door.

What changes have you noticed in that time?

Brisbane has seen a cycle of extreme drought and wet since we have been here and our garden has coped well with both. It’s a totally different experience in dryer times than it is when it’s wet. The garden grows differently, smells and sounds different. Its also been great to see a lot of the small trees and shrubs we planted mature and flower or bear fruit for the first time.

 Pennisetum casts shadows on the rough rendered walls of the house.

Pennisetum casts shadows on the rough rendered walls of the house.

How is this place important to your creative work?

As the print pavilion is in the back yard it is vitally important as it’s where I produce. I find inspiration here – I often curl up with a book or notepad to research and develop concepts in the daybed under the tree. It’s a beautiful space to work in, I love the quality of light, the privacy, the sounds and fresh air my garden workspace affords me. My consulting practice is also based from home in a small studio at the front of the house and so on days I am working in there I usually take my lunch breaks in the pool or on the back deck. On those days the garden is a space is where I relax, recharge and replenish.

 Richard keeps an eye on things. He was made from Hebel by a Gold Coast craftsman.

Richard keeps an eye on things. He was made from Hebel by a Gold Coast craftsman.

Describe your dream garden or landscape for us:

I like the feeling of being enclosed. My dream landscape has me surrounded by dense planting and with the sound of water either from a nearby beach, a quick flowing stream or perhaps a waterfall! I like varied planting with lots of different texture. I like landscapes that engage all the senses, so I think the smell of a place is important too.

 Shallow water bowls create a 'dream garden' in miniature.

Shallow water bowls create a 'dream garden' in miniature.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I think one of the best parts about living in Queensland is the climate enabling us to spend time outdoors. It’s such a gift. Our garden is the most used living space in our home.

 

Well, our climate might be a gift to Nicole, but her generosity has been a gift to us. I hope you’ve enjoyed taking a look at the garden of an inspiring member of Brisbane’s creative community.

To learn more about Nicole’s work visit her website http://www.nicoleap.com.au/

 

Now it’s over to you.

What do you think of our new quarterly series? Did you enjoy hearing a creative Brisbane person talking about their garden? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. If you know someone who might enjoy reading about Nicole's garden, feel free to share this story.

Our next edition of A Growing Interest will come in Winter, so be sure to sign up for the newsletter so you don’t miss out. See you next week for more from the world of landscape, architecture and design.