Interview - Jim Fogarty, garden designer

In September 2009, garden designer Jim Fogarty decided to create a 100 per cent Australian garden on British soil.

Jim Fogarty, garden designer - image: Jim Fogarty
Jim Fogarty, garden designer - image: Jim Fogarty

Working with the horticulture team from the Royal Botanic Gardens (RBG) Melbourne, Fogarty developed a design based on RBG's Australian Garden in Cranbourne. The final phase of the 18ha project will open in 2012, for which this week's RHS Chelsea Flower Show is providing the perfect marketing platform.

Q: What is the idea behind your Australian Garden at Chelsea?

A: The Australian Garden in Cranbourne tells the story of the journey of water and we have taken the same brief but adapted it. We start in the outback with saltpans, water holes and sand. Then the water bubbles up into a river and cascades down a gorge, ultimately disappearing underground again so we have a full cycle. The challenge has been exhibiting plants from all the regions: outback, coastal, inland gorge, residential areas and temperate.

Q: How have you worked around the import laws?

A: We can send the seeds because they are not in the soil. It has been challenging, but even if we could send the plants over there would be transport shock and quality issues because it is such a long journey. We sent over seeds of some quite rare Australian turf, which is now growing in York.

We had some rare and threatened plants from seeds that were sent to the Millennium Seed Bank at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew as well, which are now growing down in Somerset. Other plants we have sourced from nurseries in Spain and Sicily that grow quite a lot of Australian plants, but there are still problems with timing the flowering.

We have had to go through a complex spreadsheet with all the plants and timings and it was a bit unknown because it is really up to the climate. It is a rare thing for the Chelsea show to have a garden with 100 per cent Australian plants and it's not something that an Australian entry could do every year, so it's important to raise the bar.

Q: Have there been any hurdles along the way?

A: Not really. It's been quite smooth. It helps that I have done Chelsea before. The important thing is to design something that you know will fit within the space. This year, the space has been cut short because the RHS is protecting some neighbouring trees, so that was a challenge, because I had to cut out a couple of metres from my original design. Luckily I was still able to fit those bits into the smaller design.

Q: What do you want people to take away from it?

A: This is a plant-lover's garden. I want people who see it to appreciate that even in places that suffer drought there is a massive variety of flora. We have really interesting plants that a lot of people here wouldn't even know existed - a diverse range of flowers, colours, foliage and shapes. Also, I don't know whether people really understand how big Australia is. We have cool areas, snow areas, outback and tropical. It's so diverse.

Q: What is the difference between working with your native plants and others?

A: Australian plants are a lot hotter in colour - reds, oranges and yellows - very vivid, bold and dominating colours that normally you might not include in a garden if you wanted to create a subdued, calm and relaxing atmosphere. They are in-your-face and evoke images of the vast blue sky and the red outback sand.

Q: Do you prefer domestic or show designing?

A: Show gardens keep me inspired, it's exciting and it's a great way to meet people. Domestic work is actually a very lonely career path. You're normally a small business that employs few staff, if any, and a lot of the time you are on your own designing, sourcing things and you can feel very isolated. But doing international shows you meet designers from all over the world and it's inspirational to see their passion.

Q: What do you learn from international shows?

A: I may see a Japanese design with native flowers and I will learn about those plants, find out what they mean in a cultural context and develop a different understanding for them, whereas some people may just see them as a product. In Japan, plants can be incredibly religious and spiritual and I have a lot of respect for that.

Q: How different is showing in Singapore and Japan from Chelsea?

A: Chelsea is the biggest show in the world. It has bigger budgets, more gardens and it is highly competitive. There are some amazing designers here. In Singapore and Japan there is a bigger cultural difference so I work with Japanese, Chinese and Singapore contractors. There are language barriers and people can be far out of their comfort zones. There is no doubt that the level of competition at Chelsea, is world class. You can't rest on your laurels. The other shows are a great training ground.


1992: Graduated from Burnley Horticultural College with a horticulture diploma majoring in landscape design and construction

1992-96: Various landscape design and construction roles

1996: Presented weekly TV gardening spot on Network Ten's Monday to Friday show

1997: Set up Jim Fogarty Design

1998: First show garden at Melbourne International and Garden Show

2004: Won silver-gilt flora show garden award at RHS Chelsea

2006-10: Show gardens in Singapore and Japan

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