Jim Fogarty is an award-winning garden designer from Melbourne. He has been all around the world designing gardens here and there as he strives to learn and improve on his craft. Jim is driven by passion and we all know passionate people are destined for greatness.
I also quite like modernism and exploring Australia’s identity and culture where possible. There is so much history in our indigenous culture and I don’t think we have really embraced this. This is something that I am currently very passionate about.
We got the rare opportunity of interviewing Jim Fogarty. Budding landscape designers will certainly learn a thing or two from this interview so here we go.
- What do you love about gardening and designing landscapes?
I enjoy the process of design and then watching the build process come together. It is literally a process of creation and I always have the greatest respect for contractors but also for nature, as nature plays a huge part in the development of gardens. Seeing clients and their families get enjoyment out of a garden is extremely rewarding. I have also had clients make good money out of auction results that they attribute to the garden which is always nice.
- What sorts of things do you need to know to be a great landscape designer?
For me the greatest skill base was being a landscaper and spending the years getting hands on landscape experience when I was younger. Understanding how things are built is critical when designing but also you need a good grasp of how materials work and the associated build costs of what you are designing. There is no point designing the Taj Mahal if your client only has the budget for a compost bin. Also it is very important to have adequate horticultural training and qualification. Plant knowledge is a huge asset but also understanding how site soils, aspect and geography impact a site and specified plants is extremely important. Garden design is more than just having a marketing background. And finally I think it is important to have good technology. I am a fully licensed Archicad user and I am proud that I keep up with software technology that keeps me current and professional.
- What separates your designs from other designers?
Hard for me to say really. I like to think that I use a lot of plants in my designs and I try not to be impacted by trends or fads. I like to design for longevity. I also quite like modernism and exploring Australia’s identity and culture where possible. There is so much history in our indigenous culture and I don’t think we have really embraced this. This is something that I am currently very passionate about.
- Which is more challenging to work on – a residential garden or a show garden? Why?
Both come with challenges so it is hard to compare. And I think both are uniquely different disciplines. There are heaps of world class garden designers that for whatever reason have never done a show garden, and there is nothing wrong with that. Some people just haven’t had the opportunity or they don’t like the pressure of doing show gardens. For me, I really enjoy working together on site with contractors and tradesmen and women, all working together toward one common goal. This never happens with residential gardens as trades tend to work independently on site. I love seeing young landscapers rise to the challenge. Some people just really fall for the adrenaline rush of a deadline. But it isn’t for everybody.
- What does it take to become a multi-awarded landscape designer and photographer?
I certainly don’t see myself as a professional photographer but I have great admiration for photographers. I have great respect for the natural environment. Photography allows you to capture stills of the natural world that often form the basis of inspiration for landscape design. Noticing some of the finer detail like the lichen colour on the bark of a tree. Nature is always the best inspiration I find. Along with travel.
- Do you have a favourite project that you worked on? Which one is it and why do you like it?
Always hard to pick favourites as I have worked for many fantastic clients that have become good friends. As far as shows I have been lucky to have enjoyable experiences in many countries so it is hard to pick a single favourite. Working with Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria at both the RHS Chelsea Flower Show & RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show would be a couple of highlights. Working with a team of professionals always brings out the best in everyone and I have made some lifelong friends and contacts from these experiences in particular.
- Can you tell us more about your Chelsea Flower Show experience in London?
The first garden I designed at RHS Chelsea was in 2004 and it was a partnership with Semken Landscaping & Flemings Nurseries. It was the first time a team had travelled from Australia to do a Show Garden at Chelsea and it was awarded a Silver-Gilt medal on a very tight budget. It took many product sponsors and a lot of unpaid hours to make that first garden happen. In 2011 I designed the first Australian Show Garden on the Main Avenue at Chelsea for Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. The garden was awarded a Gold Medal. Chelsea is a brilliant life experience but it is not worth doing unless there is a business purpose. No show is worth doing just for personal PR or ego. Since 2005, every show I have done has been a professional engagement.
- We’re always curious of the garden designer’s home garden. Do you have a garden at home? Can you tell us more about it?
My wife and I have a small garden at home with our two daughters. It is quite contemporary and as I was doing quite a bit of work in Asia at the time I think the garden reflects this. It was during the peak of Melbourne’s drought and water restriction’s and I wanted to design a garden that was really green and lush. There is an emphasis on plant shape and foliage texture rather than flower colour. Our daughters are 7 & 5 now so the garden is mostly overrun by girls dolls, bikes and prams!
- Do you have any tips for photographing plants?
My photographic advice is probably really bad so avoid reading any further. But I have learnt that it is best to take photos on cloudy days or really early or late in the day when light is more emotive and less harsh. Working in media you are often required to take close up portraits of plants that show both flower and foliar attributes which can be difficult at times.
- You’ve been all over the world. What are some of the best gardens you’ve seen? Do you still have any countries that you’d like to visit?
I had never visited the USA when I was approached to design at the Philadelphia Flower Show in 2015. It was really tough as they sent me to source plants in Florida and I stayed in Miami. That was my first trip to the states. The Show trip was a different ball game. It was minus 17 degrees and snowing and I had never seen so much snow. The two trips were in complete contrast but thoroughly enjoyable. The more I travel the more I yearn for Australia’s rich and diverse landscape. That is what I am really focussed in now; learning about our own backyard here in Australia. That said I would quite like to work in Russia one day.
- You are good at what you do. Do you have any tips for new landscape designers that want to be successful?
Subject to opinion of course. I am always learning and that is the greatest tip for new landscape designers is that it is a career of learning. I don’t think you ever know everything which I quite like. Although there are plenty of people that will tell you otherwise. The best bit of advice is to get plenty of hands on experience, get horticultural qualifications, get licensed design software so you are legitimate, and make sure all your insurances are in place. Plenty of CAD training is good and learn how to properly document design’s that are suitable for construction issue. There is much more to designing gardens than just drawing pretty pictures. Not forgetting too that the most important thing is a love & appreciation for plants.
Images are used with permission from Jim Fogarty Design