Open House, Open Garden
“There’s nothing better than creating a space people want to wander into, finding a feeling of greenery and calm. They drift out into nature, their senses activated, and are transcended to another place,” says landscape designer Phillip Withers, the man behind the charming entry garden at this year’s The Design Files Open House event in Melbourne.
Now in its fifth year, Open House is the baby of TDF founder and all-round powerhouse, Lucy Feagins. Bringing together the work of over 40 Aussie creatives at a lofty warehouse space in the Collingwood Arts precinct, this year’s pop-up promises to be the biggest and most exciting yet.
Phillip’s courtyard garden, Mountains, is the welcoming gift to Open House visitors. Beneath the shade of a huge plane tree, Phil and his team have created a rolling wilderness with hardy natives, exotics, edibles, grasses, cacti and succulents; a natural relief from the starkness of the industrial space and the hurriedness of the city.
We’ve developed these rounded mountains full of vegetation and life right in the middle of the urban environment. You get the feeling of an escape into nature – it’s a nice juxtaposition to the backdrop of the city,” explains Phil.
A gravel entryway bordered by mounded plantings of fence post cactus, opuntia, agave, conifers and succulents invite the audience into the courtyard and the home. Strappy lomandra, sedges, kangaroo paws and yellow buttons weave amongst the banks, evocative of the Australian landscape. “All these plants have their own set of values in regard to water needs, soil type, shade and heat tolerances. The trick is knowing all of that and then playing with it to challenge traditional planting themes – there’s nothing better I think,” says Phil.
“The gardens I find the most interesting are the ones that really blend those styles – that lead from a succulent garden into natives or wildflowers. In the Open House garden, the plants are up on these little mountains so it’s about putting together plants that are happy being elevated and with a lot of drainage.”
The space is activated, Phil explains; alive with colour, texture, scent and interesting shapes to create a sensory experience for all visitors. Interspersed throughout the courtyard are places to sit and linger awhile, hidden benches of recycled materials, floating timber decks and sculpted limestone seats by artist Stephen Clarke of Den-Holm. “The adults can sit and relax in these wonderful areas and the kids can be out adventuring in the garden: touching, smelling, picking at the edges. It’s about being able to tick the boxes for the whole family I reckon,” says Phil.
Casting your eye around the garden, there is a sense of moving amongst the wilderness; a testament to the clever design of Phillip Withers and the power of nature in transporting us to another place.
Instead of just looking at Mountains as they walk through, I really want people to slow down; to pause and understand how important the role of the garden is in the urban setting,” says Phil.
“If you can get that connection to happen between the people and the space, then I reckon the garden has done its job.”
The Design Files Open House and Mountains is open to the public from Thursday November 23rd to Sunday November 26th, 2017, 10am to 5pm daily at the Collingwood Arts Precinct, 35 Johnson Street, Collingwood. It’s free entry, family and pet friendly and wheelchair accessible.
All images by Amelia Stanwix.