When Phillip Withers set out to write a book about natural gardens, he knew he wanted to capture the methods and practices of his namesake landscape architecture and horticulture studio. He also wanted to share his longstanding work in sustainability and regeneration, and his passion for balancing natural and architectural elements in gardens that respond to the local landscape.
“I started thinking about things that could help regenerate our landscape. As time has gone on, we’ve really been able to turn that into some strong principles and make that guide our work,” says Withers, who founded his studio in 2012. “And also learn about building connections to local materials and make sure we’re not using too much of resources like water.”
The resulting book, Naturescapes was made in close collaboration with horticulturist and journalist AB Bishop and photographer Amelia Stanwix. Bishop is the horticultural editor of Gardening Australia magazine, and Stanwix and Withers have worked together many times over the years to capture the breadth of his finished designs.
This being Withers’s first book, Naturescapes is partly a showcase of his work and partly a practical guide for home gardeners who want to apply similar methods. “Here are some principles about what our environment is [in Australia],” says Withers. “Let’s start there in terms of thinking about our garden and about local plant life and materials. We want to build a garden quite artfully and curate it, but let’s start local. For example, let’s think about that beautiful stone that has a story attached to that location.”
Withers’s subtle combination of natural and architectural elements has become his signature, which explains why it’s a key focus of Naturescapes. “It’s something we definitely home in on,” he says. “It’s all about going out into that landscape and starting to see things that can really inspire us, whether it be rock formations or trees. We really build that into our work. Things need to be practical and have some durability, but we make sure it’s not overbuilt or overusing energy.”
He is also dedicated to supporting local flora and fauna, and encourages readers to consider how certain plants can realistically feed the soil, and how a garden can be used to harvest water rather than waste it. There’s also thought given to feeding endangered species and the larger ecosystem, creating bio-links between areas.
You needn’t be an expert gardener to benefit from Withers and Bishop’s collective wisdom. A novice could try certain parts on their own, but Withers does suggest always getting professional advice before embarking on any major landscaping project. That way, you can get a workable plan in place with an expert before hiring a contractor to head up the work.
Withers’s methods can be applied anywhere, too. As well as winning awards at the Melbourne Flower Show and undertaking landscaping projects for the Melbourne Cup at Flemington Racecourse, he and his staff designed a garden for the 10th China Flower Expo in Shanghai, a project that is still thriving today.
“The regeneration of landscape works just as well internationally,” says Withers. “When we went to China, it was the same principles but we learnt a hell of a lot about what’s local to that particular province. That was a great exercise for us to have gone through as a team.”