You know that feeling you get when you see something beautiful and it hits you smack bang right in the centre of your design heart? When everything stops and you stare in awe? When you study all the details and store them away in virtual archives in your mind, hoping they will one day be retrieved at the perfect time?
Well this happened to me recently while looking through images of gardens from the 2014 Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show (MIFGS). The garden that had my attention was 'The Muse' by Peta Donaldson of Natural Design.
But studying the images and 'mind archiving' wasn't enough. My heart was telling me I had to know more. So I reached out to Peta, who ever so kindly responded, and it was through this correspondence I learned why 'The Muse' had struck me like it did. It was more than just a gorgeous and beautifully styled space. It embodied my thoughts on how one should feel and exist in their own garden.
And, as it so happens, we share a very close path to how and why we do what we love. I must have needed to learn her story as much as I needed to share it. And to make it a little more insightful for you, I've included my thoughts and comments to these similarities in italics below.
I hope you enjoy...
MON: Peta, I LOVE your profile on your website where it states:
"Her inspiration stems from an architectural and design perspective rather than a gardening one and as a result her landscapes become distinctive with a focus on form, texture, shape and colour."
This completely resonates with me. You have articulated it so beautifully. An outdoor space should be as functional as it is aesthetic. You seem to have such a great understanding of what Garden Design means. Was there a definitive moment that made you want to become a garden designer, or had it always been in you?
PETA: I have always loved plants and design; along with art, architecture and interior design. But I never combined my love for them until recently. After a stint in Europe in 2000, clarity prevailed and I came to the realisation that plants, in fact, made me happy! When I returned to Melbourne I immediately began studying horticulture at Burnley. At the time I was also lured by the dollar, so instead of following a career in horticulture, I further developed by marketing career, chasing a financial goal and driven by success in the corporate world. It wasn't until halfway through 2011 when I had an epiphany, after many years obsessing over works from Paul Bangay and Rick Eckersley, I remember saying to myself, why don't I study landscape design? From that moment on, the path was very clear. I enrolled in a course the next day and have pursued what I adore ever since!
It was while I was travelling around Europe and living in London that I realised I wanted to be a garden designer. It was such a renowned profession in Europe but I had hardly heard about it at home. When I moved back to Perth I enrolled in Horticulture in Landscaping. There wasn't a landscape design course offered in Perth at the time but after my first year of study a course became available at TAFE. I was a student in the inaugural class for Landscape Design in Western Australia.
I have three design books on the desk at the moment - one is by Paul Bangay, another is by Rick Eckersley and the third is by Karen McCartney. I wonder if she owns any of Karen's...
MON: When and where did you start up Natural Design? And had you been thinking of its inception for a while or did it happen quite quickly?
PETA: Natural Design came about as soon as I started studying. One of my very first designs was accepted into the Achievable Gardens at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show in 2012, so I made it a priority to launch my business in line with the privilege of having a presence at the largest horticultural event in the southern hemisphere. It was all very surreal!
I also started my first landscape design business while studying and collaborated in a display garden at Garden Week (Perth's answer to MIFGS), taking out gold for 'Best Designers Show Garden', which was a huge help with launching the business.
MON: This is such a beautiful industry. What is it you love most about it?
PETA: This industry is a beautiful one. We create spaces for people which enhance how they live! The majority of us spend a large percentage of our time at home, so to be able to turn an underutilised outdoor space into a fully functional and aesthetically beautiful one that extends the entire living area of the property, is so completely rewarding. To hear a client a year or two down the track about how happy they are with their garden is one of the greatest compliments I could ever receive.
MON: I came across you after lusting over your AMAZING garden display at MIFGS this year, 'The Muse'. Can you tell us how you became a part of this fabulous event and fill us in on the inspiration behind this outdoor space?
PETA: 'The Muse' came about as I was in a fortunate position to become the first woman to ever achieve 3 consecutive show gardens over a 3 year period in the 19 year history of the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show. In 2012 was the Achievable Gardens where 'Verdure Ignited' won a bronze medal. I then entered the Landscaping Victoria competition with 'Resilience' in 2013, which was themed 'Landscaping for Bushfires' and was lucky enough to be one of four finalists to have their gardens constructed at the show. And then to 'The Muse' at this year's show.
The concept behind 'The Muse' stemmed from a moment of reflection, a day in which I was reminded of how quickly time disappears... You do need to stop, take check and appreciate the moments you have in life. I then reflected back to the time I spent in the garden as a child and what it was that resonated with me. It was time standing still, hours felt like days, lying on stone that had been warmed by the sun, watching ants carry things 4 times the size of themselves in a line that went on forever, playing boat races with leaves, watching rain fall on still water and being mesmerised by the ripple effect. I wanted to celebrate being still, being able to have the time to appreciate what a garden has to offer and supplying the space and comfort in which to do so. It was the elements from this reflective process that let to the design of 'The Muse'.
I am sure this resonates with many of us.
MON: Were there any constraints you had to consider while designing the space, as it was a display garden?
PETA: Designing and building a show garden is exactly the same as creating a garden for a client, except for the fact I am the client! And the whole process is on steroids! We literally have 10 days to build the garden so it is very much a temporary installation. It is very different to how we build a 'real' project which can take weeks, even months to come to life. The main reason is a show garden only lasts 5 days. A garden for a client has the potential to last a lifetime.
In Bali they call this 'same, same but different'.
MON: I hear you have a very exciting project coming up where you have been commissioned for both the interior and exterior space. It must be so rewarding to work on a space in such a holistic way.
PETA: Yes, this is a very exciting project for me. It is a striking architecturally designed home located in a beautiful secluded spot on a dirt road along the back beach of Blairgowrie. It is of paramount importance to me that the whole project, both internally and externally, complements not overrides, the architecture of the house. The entire property has to be seamless. I have to say that it is an enormous privilege to be handed the responsibility of bringing this home to life. I look forward to sharing the finished product with you!
I would love to share this project with my readers when it's complete. I'm sure it will be absolutely stunning.
MON: So what do you see ahead for Natural Design in the coming years?
PETA: Natural Design holds design and design integrity very close to its heart. I want to nurture creativity within my team whilst maintaining a consistency of style throughout our designs so that our clients can be comfortable in our delivery and expectation of the final result which of course, is to provide them with a space that makes them smile for years and years to come.
Thank you so much for connecting and sharing your story with us, Peta. Beautiful stuff x
WATCH THIS VIDEO TO SEE THE SHOW GARDEN AS IT UNFOLDS & TO GET THE DETAILS FOR THE MATERIALS & PRODUCTS USED