If you attended the conference and your mind is still whirling from all the information and inspiration, or if you were unable to go, please read on for a wonderful summary of the key ideas explored.
Australian Landscape Conference 2023 Review
by Josh Arkey, JALA Studio
The 2023 Australian Landscape Conference by Outlandish must be considered as one of the most successful to date. This years line up of international speakers promised a weekend brimming with exciting and thought-provoking lectures, focusing on the notion of gardening Beyond the Boundaries.
We heard from Alison Page with her refreshingly frank review of colonial design and development throughout Australia. The Walbanga and Wadi Wadi woman compelled us to analyse our own design processes and seriously consider how our landscapes would look if we truly listened and learned from the unique environment that is our Australian landscape. She posed that with true collaboration with our First Nations peoples and their science and understanding of Country, we have the opportunity to form distinct and enduring gardens and landscapes.
Echoing this sentiment, Professor Andrew Campbell provided a startling review of the worlds food systems and the gigantic disturbance that humans are imposing on our alarmingly fragile planet. He noted that after 20 years of general food security, we are now facing another food crisis, driven by the ‘Three C’s’ - climate, COVID and conflict. Professor Campbell suggests that with careful consideration of our food systems, we have the ability to improve the resilience and sustainability of food crop management, but only if we understand what it should mean to ‘live like an Australian’.
After a short break, the ALC23 attendees were treated to the ‘serious fun’ that is Claude Cormie, and his studios refreshingly unique work. Unfortunately Claude wasn’t able to attend the conference in person, so joined us via video link from Montréal. His joyful vision for the practice of landscape architecture sees his studio weave colour, playfulness and humanity throughout the studios broad range of projects. Claude illustrates that his studio thrives under varying constraints, as this is evidently where they uncover the true dynamics of a site. From the ’18 shades of Gay’ installation to the witty dog fountain at Berczy Park, the ALC23 audience was taken on a fast-paced review of the studios work to date.
Fergus Garrett was the next speaker up. Described as the ‘Lionel Messi of horticulture’, Fergus provided a detailed exploration of his plantsmanship at Great Dixter. Often hilarious, his recount of Dixters rich biodiversity posed many in the audience to ask themselves how they are playing their part in offering rich garden ecologies. As Fergus stated ‘every space can play a part - wildlife will and can adapt and [we] don’t need to REWILD to do this. We can blur the edges between Horticulture and Ecology whilst creating beautiful artistic spaces’.
Professor Kongjian Yu showed us through the ways he and his studio -Turenscape - are healing the built environment throughout China. With his ‘sponge cities’ Yu has implemented innovative grey water treatment designs throughout over 200 cities in China, reigniting the connection between humans and nature. Kongjian Yu states that ‘by protecting and restoring the ecological infrastructure, we are able to secure and make wise use of natures services for the benefit of the planet and the welfare of people’.
From China, ALC23 were then transported to Italy, with Luciano Giubbilei. Based now in the UK, Luciano spoke of how his memory of light, texture and form of his birthplace, Siena Italy still informs the importance of his design style. Originally practising with a restrained palette of boxwood, hornbeam and ironwood, Luciano now describes the freedom he feels with his ever expanding library of perennials and grasses. Echoing the statements throughout the conference, Luciano stresses the importance of collaboration with artists, craftsmen and plantsmen, moving the practice of landscape design from the limitations of a familiar language.
Rounding out Day 1 of the conference, Director of City Design at the City of Melbourne, Professor Rob Adams gave us a snapshot of how he and his colleagues over the past 30 years have reclaimed and revitalised the cities green spaces. Their initiative in ‘Grey to Green’ has seen the introduction of hundreds of new street trees, garden spaces and car-free zones throughout the city. With a rapidly warming climate, Rob stressed the importance of this work, ensuring an adaptive yet completely hospitable urban environment.
Day 2 of the ALC23, and Georgina Reid from Wonderground gave an emotional address around the notion that ‘Gardening is a framework for being with the world. It is action grounded in attention and enquiry, care and humility, respect and reciprocity.’ Georgina suggested that instead of garden making, we should be garden-mending. She poignantly asked the audience to consider: What stories as designers are we telling? What stories are the materials and plants we use telling? How can we cultivate awe and gratitude? How can we truly sit with attention and presence whilst designing gardens and landscapes? Georgina provided a lens to which we all must ask ourselves: What will be the reaction from this action, whilst designing future garden spaces?
Following Georgina Reid, Teresa Moller, the designer of one of the world most recognisable landscape projects - Punta Pite, delivered a lecture stressing the importance of listening to site. Her studios principals are centred around ‘maximum economy, maximum design, maximum sustainability and aesthetics is not enough any more.’ Teresa is known for her uniquely environmentally sympathetic designs, with projects from her home country of Chile, to China, Germany and Italy. She spoke of her need to have the lightest touch upon a landscape as possible, but as we discovered this sensitivity demands incredible spacial skills and a detailed understanding of the sites history, geology and flora. With this comes some of the worlds most distinctive landscape and garden interventions.
Dr Julian Raxworthy, landscape architect, author and lecturer spoke to the dialogue between landscape architecture as a practice and the act of garden maintenance. From historic French gardens to modern day landscapes of South Africa, Julian was able to illustrate that we are able to read a landscape and the hand of man through garden maintenance as a lens into the history of the site.
Sean Hogan of Cistus Design Nursery was the next speaker to the lectern, with his comprehensive understanding of the abundant flora of the vegetation communities of Oregon, USA. Sean is known throughout the world as a leader in the mapping of the rare plant species of West Coast America. Through his garden designs, he showed ALC23 that although using climate appropriate species, Cistus design gardens of textural abundance, with low resource reliance or the need for intensive maintenance programs.
Unfortunately due to contracting COVID whilst in Australia, Japans’ Midori Shintani had to present her lecture via Zoom from her hotel. Midori is the head horticulturist at the Tokachi Millennium Forest in Hokkaido, Japan. ALC23 was treated to an in-depth overview in to a year at one of the most interesting new gardens of the world. Mirdori spoke of the collaborative process between herself and the UK's Dan Pearson in the creation of their project. Midori remains the creative force behind the project, and gave the audience a glimpse into how she and her team integrate both western horticultural practices, with uniquely Japanese traditions. We hope next time for Midori she is able to be with us in person.
Reflecting on the Australian Landscape Conference 2023, we are left with an abundance of inspiration from a diverse range of engaging speakers. Key learnings from this years conference is the interdependence of listening and observing site, collaboration between designers, artists, scientists and the respect and understanding of landscapes history. We are incredibly lucky to have such a diverse and generous garden and landscape community. Having been through the recent COVID-19 pandemic, we understand how significant our industry is in navigating the future climate crisis whilst providing gardens and spaces that restore, reflect and reignite.
Thank you to the conference owner and organiser Fleur Flanery of Outlandish Ventures for making it happen!
Written by LDI Member Josh Arkey, JALA Studio, Melbourne @jala_landscape_studio.
We have include a few photo's of some of the presentations for you to scroll through below.