Designer Showcase - Michael Bligh


In the third in our Designer Showcase series, leading Australian landscape architect Michael Bligh answered our questions.

Michael landscaped the ground of the Rotherwood Estate, an historic, privately-owned homestead south of Sydney that features several David Harber sculptures including an armillary sundial.

How did you start out as a designer? I was brought up in a garden that my mother designed and created over 20 years. It was called Pejar Park and was considered the best homestead garden in New South Wales. My mother was also a published author. She was the very first person to write a history of the garden in Australia.

Mother was a big influence. When I left school like most country guys I thought I would be a farmer. But then there was a new course called landscape architecture, it was the first one in Australia. 40 years later I’m still designing.

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Where do you take your inspiration from in your designs? Renowned Australian designer Edna Walling – she designed superb gardens in the 50s, she came to NSW and the Ashton family commissioned her to design their garden. Her style is very relaxed and uses a lot of plants.

I've also traveled a lot, and have loved places like Stourhead designed in the eighteenth century in the grand English landscape style by Henry Hoare II. And of course Capability Brown. There are parts of Australia that really suit the English style, for example the English oak grows very well here. Oh and Piet Oudulf for his use of perennials.

What is your opinion on the role of sculpture in garden design? I encourage sculpture in most gardens. People can shy away from them, but I've always said they need to see one for themselves, and you’d be amazed what a piece can do for you. Every garden can have the trees, shrubs, lawn etc, but the sculpture can give the place a real lift.

Kernel sculpture as the focal point of Jo Manfredi-Hamer

How did you approach the Rotherwood garden design which includes our Armillary Sphere? I've actually worked with David Harber for many years and commissioned several Armillary Spheres over that time. David had a reputation for crafting Armillary Spheres that are not only accurate but so beautiful to look at. I originally heard about his work when I visited the Manon and Moss showroom in Sydney and saw a David Harber piece there.

Rotherwood is one of the garden designs I'm most proud of. It is a traditional historic house with parklands and five lakes. It's always been very well looked after, and is a beautiful place to work. There was this one sun spot in the garden where my client wanted a terraced garden. A gravelled area bounded by planting with a pergola. I wanted a focus for the space, and as it was such a sunny location I thought a David Harber sundial would be perfect.

We chose a stainless steel armillary sphere, as I love how the reflections from the mirror-polished surface reflect the sunlight and create a sense of space in the garden.

And here's a little tip for anyone installing an armillary sphere. I’ve always found a very suitable complimentary herb to plant at the bottom of them is Thyme (laughs...).

Garden designer Jo Manfredi-Hamer

What's the future for garden design? As I'm sure we're all aware, Australia is on the front line of climate change. We're dealing with colossal floods, and then excessive heat and drought. So we're steering our designs to places which can withstand the new extremes we're facing.

I'm also finding that my clients want to do their bit, and are taking measures to have gardens which don't require too much maintenance. For example, we would have watered parklands in the past to keep them green, but now a lot of people aren't and letting them silver off.

And the working from home effect from COVID hasn't gone away. People are still wanting spaces which they can escape to, create an extra room for their property that can be a haven of tranquility. I call it the home resort – it's all about creating a beautiful home environment.

David Harber's Designer Showcase will promote the work of garden designers through our website, social media and in newsletters. If you have worked with David Harber before and would like to feature in the Designer Showcase, please get in touch.

Kernel sculpture at Harrogate Flower Show 2019


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