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Meet: Peta Donaldson, garden designer

Photo - Joslin Hartley Look Fresh Photography

The Urban Gardens at the Australian Garden Show Sydney were spaces for new designers to show what they could do with a limited budget and compact, 5m x 5m spaces. Best of an exciting bunch was The Terrace by Peta Donaldson, which included water and fire in a wonderfully inviting space.

You’re described as an up-and-coming designer. Tell us a bit about your background and what led you to garden design.

For the last 20 years I’ve been working in marketing, then account management, and then brand development. I was lured by the dollar, chased budgets with vigour and thrived on success. At the same time I have always, for as long as I can remember, been attracted to the nurturing, calming aspect of plants. I went to Europe for three months in 2000, and when I came back I decided to study Horticulture part-time at Burnley. More recently I realised that chasing budgets wasn't making me happy anymore. I needed a change. So I decided to combine my obsession with all things design with my longstanding love of plants. I went back to school and started studying garden design part-time two years ago. I have never been more satisfied or content. I am in the fortunate position of creating spaces for people to enhance how they live! How brilliant!

Have you designed show gardens before?

My first experience was with the Achievable Gardens at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show 2012. That was a 5 x 3m space. I then entered the Landscaping Victoria competition for Emerging Designers and was lucky enough to be one of four students chosen to build their garden at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show 2013. Myles Baldwin saw my garden and invited me to participate in the Urban Gardens for inaugural Australian Garden Show Sydney.


The Terrace. Photo - Joslin Hartley Look Fresh Photography

How does the process differ from doing a client’s garden?

The process for building a show garden is exactly the same as for a client garden, just on steroids! I still follow the process of receiving a brief, drawing up a concept plan and then the master plan, which contains all the construction details, material and plant specifications. However, the time frame for constructing a show garden is usually 10 days – completely unrealistic! The main difference though, is that show gardens are built as temporary installations, whereas client gardens are built to last and sustain years of enjoyment!

What did you hope that people would take away from your design for The Terrace?

I wanted to show people that much can be achieved in a small space - if it is designed appropriately. A small garden can be functional, beautiful, lush and provide many sensory elements.

Fire feature in The Terrace. Photo - Joslin Hartley Look Fresh Photography


In what way was it indicative of your approach to garden design?

I design contemporary gardens with strong architectural lines, using natural materials such as stone and timber and lush green planting with textural differentiation. I also like to include sensory elements such as water, fire and lighting in my gardens, which extends the use of the garden throughout various seasons and times of day.


Peta won Best Urban Garden, which came with a prize from Debco worth $10,000 for her to put toward a garden for Australian Garden Show Sydney 2014. If you can’t wait that long, see more of her work at

Text: Linda Ross

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Author: Linda Ross