Interview Series: Renata Fairhall Garden Designs
Renata is a landscape designer from Melbourne who creates beautiful gardens that are timeless, evocative and sustainable.
Tell us about your path into garden design
I was working at the BBC in London as IT consultant. We had purchased a house, and while travelling to and from work on the underground I would sketch designs for our garden. I had the garden built and one day a friend commented that the garden was beautiful and that I should become a garden designer. The penny dropped. I was keen to leave the corporate world. This was the just the answer. It combined my creativity with my love of the outdoors (I loved hiking, rock climbing, skiing and windsurfing). I was 28 and soon after fell pregnant with my first son. While on maternity leave, I started studying horticulture in Kent. I never returned to work. My love of garden design had begun. A couple of years later we returned to Melbourne and I enrolled at Burnley. I studied part time while raising my two young boys and soon after started my business just designing a few gardens a year. It grew from there. I don’t think I will ever leave this profession. It’s more than a job. It’s a passion.
When you enter a garden, what do you notice first and why?
In a well-designed garden, I notice the ‘sense of place’. For me this is usually created by very intentional ‘look’ that is consistent through the garden. It may be indigenous, it may be seasonal flowers and grasses, it may be edible, it may be minimal. But done well, these can all feel wonderful. When I find myself in a state of wonder in a garden, I look at the texture, form and colour of the plant groupings to understand what is triggering this emotion. I look for plant combinations that work and that I might not have ever thought of.
What makes you most passionate about what you do – what do you find most fulfilling?
I see my work as a garden designer as that of an artist. I combine the colours, textures and forms of plants to create beautiful living art. I think of each house window as a frame for this beautiful art. But it’s art that gives - it gives flowers for picking, edibles for eating and scent for smelling. Gardens are so giving and so beautiful it’s hard not be fulfilled by the results.
Do you have a favourite project?
Not really. It’s like asking if you have a favourite child. You create these beautiful spaces and each is so different but so beautiful in their own way. At the moment, I’m really enjoying designing coastal native gardens. I’m enjoying the challenge of designing with a constrained plant palette. Super fun.
What was the last book you read or podcast you listened to?
I’m currently reading The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson – a futuristic novel looking at the effects of climate change and the international body tasked with trying to advocate for the world’s future generations. It’s a fascinating book. My other favourite books of recent times would have to be Educated by Tara Westover and The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. Amazing books. If you haven’t read them, do yourself a favour.
Tea or coffee?
Definitely coffee. It’s the first thing I do in the morning - make a coffee and head out for a long coast walk with my Border Collie x Kelpie. The perfect start to the day (or maybe a surf is . . .)
Who inspires you in work and life?
I take my inspiration from all walks of life but particularly those who forge a path that is passion driven rather than money driven, and who find a work-life balance. At the moment, I love the work of the artists Leila Jeffreys and Janine Mackintosh. I love the work Ocean Ramsey is doing to change how people view sharks. I love Fiona Brockhoff’s garden designs and her love for travel. I love people who are living ‘small’ – whether in tiny houses or vans. I love people who don’t feel they need to be famous. I love people who have figured out how to live in the moment and be content with themselves.
Ph: 0403 818 044
Interview date: April 2021
All images remain copyright to Renata Fairhall Garden Designs