Lisa Ellis is a passionate landscape designer and horticulturist who has run her own business – Lisa Ellis Gardens – for the last 15 years. The business has three different teams – design, garden installation and maintenance. Whilst most of their work is in Melbourne and greater Victoria, they are now receiving an increasing number of commissions interstate. This week we spoke to Lisa to find out more about her and her design process.
As soon as you meet Lisa her warmth and enthusiasm for life and all things gardens shines through. We asked Lisa where that passion comes from and what drew her to the industry. “There is a fabulous quotation by French garden designer Dominique Lafourcade that I often think of which perfectly encapsulates the challenges, delight and privilege that comes with being a landscape designer: “A garden is first and foremost a work of art, with the gardener playing the roles of architect, sculptor, musician and painter in turn. A garden should move visitors, setting all their senses aquiver”
That quote really sums up why I love gardens (and gardening), and I often smile when I think of it.
As well as that, it’s wonderful to meet and develop relationships with different clients. Working with a client- learning about them and their lives – is frequently a privilege. Over the years we have been asked to design gardens with wide-ranging briefs; these include a garden design to remind a man of his childhood; another to encourage a professional couple to slow down on weekends and give them a reason not to go to their respective offices; and the third one that comes to mind was a brief for a garden sanctuary to mend a broken heart.”
The personal touch Lisa refers to is an important part of their design process. The studio offers a truly bespoke and tailored design response to the client’s design brief. It is the springboard for all landscapes they design. “No garden we design is like the next one. Unlike some other studios we do not have a prescribed material palette or plant list from which to select…it’s all about a considered response to the client, the brief and the site.” While having such a collaborative process in studio can provide a challenge at time there is no doubt the outcome for the client is always the better for it.
The collaborative nature of their work also extends past the design process as Lisa believes “one thing that characterises the horticultural industry is the extraordinarily collegiate nature of the various players that bring gardens to life. This includes design colleagues, material suppliers and people in the nursery industry along with architects with whom we collaborate on projects. One thing can be certain: in our game you can’t know it all- so it’s important to have ‘go to’ people who have the answers or perhaps just a better answer than you.”
As an awarding winning Landscape designer and horticulturist, we also could not resist picking Lisa’s brain on her secret in selecting the right pots for your garden and she happily obliged. “Pots can work as an anchor or focal point in a garden. Just as you might accessorise an interior, pots in a garden can bring interest and warmth. Round pots are also a great way to bring a softening element into a space with a strong geometric layout. The use of the same shape pot clustered in different sizes as a ‘curated collection’ is always effective. But the rule of thumb is generally the bigger the pots, and the fewer of them, the better.” And when it comes to choosing the right plants for those pots it is important to “consider a pot that will work for the plant when it is at its ideal size- meaning that the plant you purchase is very likely to become considerably larger than it is when you buy it. Understanding how you want to showcase your plants and create the effect you need is key to success in both pot and plant pairing.”
When it comes to choosing pots from The Balcony Garden Lisa cannot go past the JITT – she has found it has worked well with both period and contemporary architecture. However, her personal favourite is the Choob style “a contemporary ‘cut pipe’ aesthetic” and is eagerly looking forward to using them in her own garden. Construction is due to commence next month – much to Lisa’s excitement.
And what would Lisa choose as the soundtrack to her life? Having experienced her infectiously positive nature, it is no surprise to us that Lisa told us ‘Feeling good’ by Muse. However, her response to what would be her profession of choice if she was not a landscaper came as a shock. “I’ve always been a sucker for themes of espionage in both books and film. Recently my husband wryly showed me ASIO ads for new recruits to Intelligence. But now that you know that, I couldn’t possibly become a spy.” But that’s what she would say I guess !
When she is not designing gardens and dreaming of becoming a spy, Lisa is a keen traveller, informing us that “Morocco should be on everyone’s bucket list. And I’m a big fan of the short beach holiday- sitting beneath an umbrella with my Kindle. A great destination is Langkawi…the Andaman Sea is astonishingly warm and the rainforest with the monkeys, birds, colugos and wild boars is spectacular.”
Finally, we asked Lisa what the best advice she ever received and it seems she received plenty – probably why she runs such a successful business today. So, lay it on us Lisa!
“When it comes to advice I can think of three things that have helped me on my own journey as a business owner and landscape designer:
One simple but great piece of advice came from a former employer when I worked in marketing in my mid-twenties. She told me, “never assume anything”. That has paid off a thousand-fold. And that former employer has been one of my closest friends for many years.
The second pearl of wisdom comes from my father who ran his own business for most of his working life until his retirement last year. He said that he was always willing to work hard for decent people- clients who were both fair and reasonable. Occasionally I need to courteously remind a client that our work does not involve saving lives- instead we create gardens and beauty- and it can take time and patience to make that happen.
Another life lesson that I can strongly relate to can be taken from the fabulous Helen Mirren. She said that “if there were advice for her younger self, it would be to say “F*** off” more often and stop being so bloody polite”.
Lisa Ellis Gardens
A 177 Darling Rd, Malvern East VIC 3145