Kate Seddon’s Glorious Gardens
Kate Seddon is one of many landscape designers shaping a new Australian garden vision. When I started designing over a decade ago, it was all about the features. Shiny things, big egos, bold statements. There was little softness or nuance, and the focus was on materials, not plants. Times, thankfully, have changed. Kate’s work speaks to this. It’s plant driven, sensitive, welcoming and gorgeous. Edna Walling would be proud.
As well as being an excellent designer, Kate is a fine human, and it’s a pleasure to share this interview with her.
Please tell us about yourself, and your life with plants.
I feel very fortunate that my profession allows me to engage with nature, to be grounded, to bring people joy through their connection with a garden space. Some people design outdoor spaces with the emphasis entirely on the built elements, but for me, the plants make the garden. Whilst structure and design are key, the finishing and softening touch is always plant life. Both my grandmothers were keen gardeners – of roses and scented plants, as well as producing preserved goods from seasonal abundance – this has influenced my love of gardens and cooking.
Can you also please tell us about your firm, Kate Seddon Landscape Design (KSLD)?
I started my design firm not long after finishing my second phase of tertiary study at the University of Melbourne (Burnley). I wanted to work for myself and had enough professional experience to feel confident in running a business, understanding client needs, interpreting briefs and designing and producing beautiful gardens.
We have been designing mainly residential landscapes in city, coastal and country settings for the past fifteen years and have now grown to a team of five landscape designers, architects and horticulturalists. We have a really special blend of talents and skills and what I enjoy most is the collaborative and sharing nature of our team.
What initially drew you to landscape design?
I had worked in advertising, but wanted a career change and more grounded existence after having children. As the daughter of an architect, I was always interested in design, and once I started studying at Burnley I felt that I was in the right place. I was fascinated, too, by what I was learning. I realized that I could make a career out of landscape design, entering a field which is of increasing importance both for its connection with the natural world, and its enhancement of homes, in both intangible and tangible ways.
Do you have a design philosophy?
Having a horticultural background does mean that plant selection and planting design is so important for us, but design wise, I take inspiration from nature and from other designers and landscape architects who have done so. Our design work has to be about the house, the surrounds, the broader landscape and aspect, as much as being about the people living there, and I am strongly influenced by the Modernist landscape architect Thomas Church, who wrote that ‘gardens are for people’. We want people to be in our gardens, to get out there, to engage or relax or play or be inspired, to look from inside and be comforted and soothed and enticed outwards.
How big of an influence does sustainability (biodiversity, origin of materials, water use etcetera) play in your design process? Has this changed from when you first began in the industry?
In creating gardens, we feel that what we are doing is giving not just to the home owner, but to the broader community, to that streetscape, to the biosphere, by planting trees and creating green outlook. We generally choose not to use mature trees that have taken a lot of time and effort to grow to maturity for transplanting into a garden, and to select semi-mature specimens instead, which are more likely to settle in and grow well into that landscape, with less external input and cossetting. We recognize that a new garden may need irrigation support in many cases, but intend for the garden to be weaned off this external intervention over time. Ensuring that there is site permeability is really important and we try not to work on projects which are built entirely on structure, with no real contact with the soil.
My Burnley training was very much about ‘the right plant for the right place’, and not adapting the site conditions to create the ‘ideal’ conditions for a plant which are often not sustainable, and sometimes, not successful either. That has been important from the start.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to somebody who dreams of beginning a career in landscape design?
One of my early lecturers at uni took us out on a bus trip and asked us to open our eyes. To what is growing and how it is growing, to how trees are pruned in streetscapes, to what is in season and how it changes over time. But also it is important to engage in art, music, architecture, materials and nature. There are many diverse (and often seemingly obscure) sources from which a design idea can develop.
Are there any trends in garden design that concern you?
I think we have all got a bit over excited by architectural concrete and the beautiful, clean forms that can be created with it, but it is not necessarily an environmentally responsible choice.
Can you please tell us about one project you really enjoyed?
That’s like choosing a favourite child. Not possible! But I have really enjoyed projects where I have found a strong and lasting connection with the owners, and continue to visit, refine, or just catch up, long after the garden has been handed over.
Can you tell us about your garden at home?
It is a combination of designed elements and those that have just joined the garden over time. I hate throwing things out, so good plants that are taken out of clients’ gardens will often find a new home at my place, or in my potting area in anticipation of another project. I like a bit of whimsy, so there a few hidden elements that only reveal themselves upon closer inspection.
What are three things all gardens should have?
A sense of intrigue, a lemon tree, something scented.
What is one lesson you have learnt from the natural world?
Plants don’t generally appear in straight lines, so we try to mimic nature with spontaneous groupings and non-linear plantings.
What other landscape architects/artists/creatives do you admire?
Plenty of people inspire me. Amanda Oliver’s textural and unusual planting designs, Michael Cooke loves a bit of whimsy, Michael McCoy‘s planting combinations, Steven Wells for his humour and compassion. Overseas (but still Australian) Bernard Trainor is a major source of Modernist inspiration, as has been Thomas Church. Willy Guhl’s pots and furniture, Olafur Eliasson’s and James Turrell’s use of light as art, Kennedy Nolan for their always original architectural details, Terremoto Landscape Architects, Claire Takacs for her wonderful perspective on garden photography, Nicole de Vesian, Dan Pearson and Piet Oudulf.
When you’re looking for inspiration for a new project, where do you go? That’s a hard one. Generally, I will get an idea or sense of how the project should be designed at the first encounter. Then it is about searching through the memory bank for visual cues.
What is your dream project?
One where the clients are passionate and have total faith in the opportunity for design to enhance their experience of the garden and house.
Do you have a staple plant? Why?
The genus Parthenocissus. Parthenocissus tricuspidata (Boston ivy), P. quinquefolia (Virginia creeper), P. sikkimensis (the evergreen creeping one), P. henryana (silver vein creeper) etc. A host of fabulous, hardy, fast growing, wall-covering, climbing plants that bring seasonal joy.