With 14 years of experience in the industry, Brent Reid is one of the most accomplished Australian landscape designers. In 2006, he started his own firm Candeo Design, after eight years of working with Semken Landscaping, and Jim Fogarty for three years.
He is a recipient of numerous awards for his show gardens at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show, Australian Garden Show, and Sydney and Malaysia Garden Festival.
1. What was the most important lesson you learned in your 14 years of experience in the landscape design industry?
I love learning, looking, investigating in Landscape Design and in life so I certainly hope I still have a lot of important lessons left to experience. There are certainly a few important lessons I have learned over the journey so far. I can’t put a finger on the most important one but some of them are; When in doubt leave it out. Listen… Your gut instinct is usually right. No matter how much you think you know there is always someone else who knows more. Treat everyone with respect. Most important, have fun. We have a great horticultural industry here in Australia with some brilliant people in their chosen fields why not make friends and learn.
2. You worked with Jim Fogarty for 3 years. How would you describe the experience of working with him? Did he impart some invaluable lessons and tips that you follow up to this day?
Working with Jim was my start in design after 8 years working for Semken Landscaping building and maintaining gardens. I was itching to get into design after being exposed to it through building Show Gardens at Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show and the creativity in me was bursting to get to the other end of the Landscape process. Turning up to work at JFD was a huge learning curve; I’d never worked in an office before. I, to this day appreciate the opportunity Jim offered me, I was amazingly fortunate to be able to work with Jim and Amanda Greer at that time. We were all involved in the gardens in terms of measuring and taking levels then it was handed back to Jim to put his ideas on paper ready for Amanda and/or I to draft. We often sat in presentation meetings with client and took notes for the meetings. All of this was a very broad exposure to the whole process of designing a garden.
There are still many things I learned from Jim (and Amanda) about designing gardens, running a business, dealing with clients but most of all, the biggest thing I learned from that office was a LOVE OF PLANTS. Until that point I never understood walking through gardens on weekends, investigating plants, testing and trialling plants and photographing plants. It is now a passion that I thoroughly enjoy.
3. We’re always interested in seeing a garden designer’s home garden. Do you have a garden at your home? What’s it like?
My garden at home is a “Work In Process”. I go through stages of bursting to get work done on it. I even drew a concept for the garden so I couldn’t change my mind half way through. That’s a good idea for anyone out there contemplating landscaping, get someone to design it before you start… 😉 Set yourself a finish line. My friends pick on me about being a Landscape Design and having a half finished back garden. The truth is, I spend a lot more of my time designing and helping other people do their gardens than I get to do mine. It is coming together. I extended the decking area, I have built retaining walls which are ready to be clad, I just keep changing my mind about the stone I want to use on them, poured slabs for paving, put a lawn in and after a lot of back and forth made a decision on 2 feature trees; Parrotia persica and Pyrus nivalis. I really want to plant, however I need to get the cladding and capping on the walls first.
Writing this publicly is actually motivating me to do it. I also want the trees to put a bit of canopy on so I can plant what I really want under them. I did make one beautiful mistake during the process of building a garden, 6 months ago we got a puppy, the arch nemesis of great gardens. Yesterday I came home to a Viburnum that was actually planted on the weekend transplanted into the middle of my garage. Lucky she is cute…
4. Do you still have goals that you want to achieve? What’s the next big thing for Brent Reid?
Of course I have goals. It’s really funny, I still feel like I am the new kid on the block. I still get an amazing feeling when I go and see a project that has just been built. The rush of “WOW… this is better than I hoped”. I genuinely love seeing the skill of the landscapers go into creating a garden that was a vision of mine. I love seeing my gardens being used in the way they were intended. I love getting random photos of my gardens sent to me at obscure times of day with a note from the client “The garden just looked good, thought I would send you a photo”.
The most immediate next thing for me is a Show Garden for Northern Territory Tourism at Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show (MIFGS). We worked with NT Tourism last year at MIFGS and I am very excited to be doing a second garden for them this year. It is going to be extremely different from last year’s garden. There are some really interesting opportunities starting to present themselves to me so I am very excited about whatever may lie ahead in my future and the future of Candeo Design.
The biggest thing I am starting to look for is building a rural garden with my fiancé. It’s been a dream of mine for a long time and we are now starting to look for a suitable property to build a house and garden on. This is the “Life Project” but it excites me.
5. Out of all the designs you created, which one is your favourite?
That is a super tough question. I have a few gardens I adore. As a general rule, the gardens I love the most have a couple of things in common. A beautiful house, awesome clients and a great design brief.
I have a garden in Balwyn I designed in 2006, the house is untreated besser blocks, mission brown timber and slate floors, True 1970’s architecture. The clients are the most beautiful people and their garden matches their house and their own character. I have made this client promise if they ever decide to sell the house that I get first option on it.
I designed a garden last year for one of the owners of Globewest Furniture. The renovation was done by Bower Architects and is stunning!! The clients are great people, awesome to work with and really open to investigating interest through plants.
I worked in Dubai for 3 years designing gardens and pools. I designed a garden where I used only tones for the hard landscape. White, soft grey, charcoal and black were used. In a country where everything is painted, rendered, tiled or finished in a shade of “sand” this was a little out of the ordinary and created a bit of attention throughout the Middle East Homes and Garden magazine and media.
My first Gold medal Show Garden at MIFGS in 2012 was pretty special also.
6. Why landscape design? What sparked your interest in landscape design? Was it your dream from the start?
My dream was to ‘Draw for a Living’ but landscaping and garden design was never on the radar until I lost my job in graphics at a printing company. My best mate’s Dad asked his brother to help me out with some work. Martin Semken offered me 2 weeks work in November 1996. I did the first day and went home and told my Mum I wasn’t going back. She said I had to finish the week and then tell them face to face I wasn’t coming back out of respect for my friends dad who got me the job. I finished the week and decided I’d finish the two weeks. Somewhere in that 2 weeks I feel in love with the industry, the work, the lifestyle and 8 years later after studying at Burnley College and Holmesglen College I moved into landscape design. My dream was to always get back to drawing/designing and the creative end. I just needed to work out how to do that in this industry that I had fallen in love with. Meeting Carolyn and Jobe Blackman of Vivid Design while working on their first show garden at MIFGS showed me that designing gardens was even possible as a career and have been friends and mentors ever since.
7. Do you have any success tips you can share with budding landscape designers?
I have been very blessed and privileged along my journey so far. Meeting amazing people and learning from some of the best in our business. I have worked very hard to do what I wanted to do and the rewards have followed that hard work. I cannot comprehend people who finish their studies and immediately start their own Landscape Design business. I am not saying it is a bad thing; it is just so far removed from the journey I took I get nervous for them. I learned how to build gardens and maintain gardens from one of the best landscape contractors in Melbourne and then worked for a high level landscape designer. I got to learn and make mistakes in a very safe environment. Even now, running my own business I am learning and making mistakes but I did my apprenticeship learning first. The flip side to that coin is there are not a lot of designers out there offering to employ people and train people so maybe we need to try and change that in our industry also.
Build relationships with good people and quality companies in our industry. Never stop working on those relationships treat people with respect and you will get it in return. Once you have respect and good relationships with people and companies it is easy to ask questions and ask for help when you need it. Our industry is AMAZING and full of people who have been down the same road we are traveling and happy to share their wisdom if you ask the right way.
8. What are your favourite plants/plant combinations when designing?
There are a few plants that get a good run in gardens I design. Usually these plants have an ability to do a few different things, or grow in some different areas/conditions or have a great ability to cover issues that may have arisen during construction or were known about prior to construction. Some of these plants are; Liriope muscari ‘Evergreen Giant’, Parthenocissus quinquefolia, Hydrangea quercifolia. I love things with interesting foliage texture and colour. I often work with flower colour as a bonus rather than a focus which can create some really interesting combinations. My landscapers often get stuck into me about my “Nana” plants.
9. What do you consider your best achievement as a garden designer?
I hope some of my best achievements are still ahead of me. I have been very fortunate with opportunities that have presented themselves and I have a lot of fond memories and stories. Probably my greatest achievement is that I met my fiancé through designing gardens. She is so passionate about horticulture it keeps me inspired.
Living overseas while still working in my chosen field was very good for me, my career and my personal growth. Awards are nice. I have almost the full collection from Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show. The two awards that elude me are the ‘Best Construction’ award and the City of Melbourne ‘Best in Show’ award. Winning the ‘Best Use of Plant Life’ was an award that I feel was important to me. It is something we certainly take very seriously in everyday garden design as well as show garden design.
My proudest moment for Candeo Design was not even my achievement. It came at the Australian Garden Show – Sydney when Kim Earl (who works for Candeo) won a gold medal and “Best Balcony Garden” award for her garden ‘Revelation’. She had left no stone unturned in designing that Balcony Garden and she earned every ounce of that achievement. I got to sit in the back ground and mentor. The success or failure of that garden was entirely on her and it cleaned up. A great moment in the business history.
10. If I was a home gardener designing my own garden, what’s the most important tip you can give me?
I touched on it earlier. Have a plan or an idea before you start. Create a finish line so you know where you are headed. No finish line?.. How do you ever finish that project?
Soil preparation is key. Never underestimate what your plants need to grow. Continue to try and improve your soil even after the garden is planted. Once you start to maintain, you are going backwards. Always improve!
A good planting scheme can save a bad landscape. A bad planting scheme can ruin a good landscape.
The most important tip is; Have Fun! Gardens are beautiful living things. Building them is just the start of the enjoyment and the start of the gardens life. Things will fail. Things will over perform and the garden will evolve. Enjoy the evolution of your garden remember the history of your garden. Share the stories from your garden. Enjoy learning what happens in your own garden throughout the year. You can be an expert in your own back yard with a little research, bravery, some work and dedication.