Toggle navigation

Meet: Philip Johnson, landscape designer

Photo - Philip Johnson, from "Connected: The sustainable landscapes of Philip Johnson", Murdoch Books. 


Sustainable landscape designer Philip Johnson generated rare garden-related headlines when his ‘Trailfinders Australian Garden’ took out the Best in Show award at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2013. What happened next?



How has the Chelsea win changed your life?

It’s been incredible. It’s kind of pushed my boundaries of what can be achieved. I’d love to have a good go at public open space. I want to see an Australian garden style develop. It’s crazy that Australian plants are more popular in Europe than they are in our own country. I’d love to see us develop more a garden culture like that in Japan, where people really value gardens, invest money in them and love them.


Chelsea winner. Photo - Philip Johnson, from "Connected: The sustainable landscapes of Philip Johnson", Murdoch Books. 


So has it all been positive?

Well, there are highs and lows. One of the unexpected outcomes is that I’ve had people at times think that I’m out of reach, that I’d be too expensive. It’s a bit strange to have people stop ringing after a win like that! One of the great things though, is being given the opportunity to write a book about 18 of my projects in Australia and about how those gardens have transformed the lives of the families who live in them.


In your book you describe the dismantling of the Chelsea garden as terribly sad day. What happened to it all?

All the plants were auctioned off and the rest of it is in bits in containers all around the world. I’m still talking to people about recreating it. I’d be very content if it could be built for all Australians. How good would that be – to go to a public space and have people able to swim in a waterhole of water collected from the garden. That’s really what I’m about - connecting people to the beauty of nature.



Chelsea winner. Photo - Philip Johnson, from "Connected: The sustainable landscapes of Philip Johnson", Murdoch Books.

The waterhole concept seems like a radical departure from traditional pools.

Our pool industry is massive but we’ve never really stepped outside the square and gone down the path they have in Europe. The natural pool industry there has been going for about 40 years and there are hundreds of natural, chemical-free swimming ponds, each designed to accommodate thousand of people a day. The technology exists.


You have a natural swimming hole at your house in Olinda, in the Dandenongs outside Melbourne, and this is now where you have your office.

Yes, it’s much nicer hearing the sound of birds and frogs as opposed to traffic! All my designers are looking out in the garden as they work so they are connected to what we create. It also enables the people who are working with us to come here and be immersed in what we could create together. Even if it’s just a little two-metre by two-metre space we can look around here and talk about what can be achieved. This place is like my research laboratory.


Text: Robin Powell