A master of his craft and renowned for his contribution to the field of garden design, Paul Bangay will one day occupy a special place in history alongside the likes of other celebrated Australian garden designers like Gordon Ford and Edna Walling.
If you’ve seen any of his works, I’m sure you’ll agree that each conveys a sense of timelessness, balance, and above all, personality. Perhaps, like many others, you aspire to bring a touch of Bangay into your own design work, whether it be into your own garden or someone else’s. Of course, not everyone is in a position to commission him!
Anston Architectural has had the tremendous fortune to be the supplier of choice for many of Paul Bangay’s garden creations for more than two decades now. They are thrilled to have the opportunity to use images of his projects to showcase both his talent and the materials they proudly manufacture that were selected by Bangay to be installed in his compositions.
Although I can’t lay claim to applying the same design sensibilities as Bangay in my own work, as an experienced Landscape Architect in my own right, I am able to ‘read’ the language of his designs and identify some of the numerous techniques he employs in crafting his signature aesthetic for you.
In this article I want to extract five of the most common of those techniques, patterns or even instruments that I see at play in a Paul Bangay garden design. Using the images from the Anston library to illustrate, I’ll describe these instruments in my own words and hopefully in a way that might offer you additional reference points in your own repertoire of ideas to quote, reflect or respond to in your next project.
BALANCE: THE ART OF CONTRAST
The overall layout of a classic Bangay garden typically balances structure with softness.
To create a sense of order, simple spatial arrangements are clearly framed with bold forms, such as a densely planted hedge; a deep green, impermeable volume. That boldness is then both accentuated and softened by adjoining it to another material, texture or form that creates contrast between the two.
In that sense, a large hedge would seem to be proportionally balanced with the much lower, softer plantings of flowering grasses beneath it. The contrast doesn’t always occur only through planting, it may also be the finished texture of the adjacent ground surface or the proportional contrast of a single ornamental pot.
A path rarely meanders through a Bangay composition, but that doesn’t mean that straight edges aren’t softened by voluptuous topiary Buxus, Gardenias or some strappy green Liriope. A swimming pool and lawn, while similar in scale, help each other to feel more generous than they might otherwise be when positioned adjacently.
The end result? The finished design looks balanced to the eye and feels great to be in; the various elements of the design aren’t trying to ‘out-compete’ each other, rather together they occupy space harmoniously through contrast in material, texture and form.
AXES OF INTEREST: GARDENS THAT LEAD
Particularly in his earlier works, one of the striking similarities between many of Bangay’s published designs is that your experience has been crafted to begin within the house, after which you are led out and literally into the garden itself.
This inevitably begins with an axis drawn from the house toward a distant feature specimen, a folly, a sculpture or a generous piece of furniture; something clearly inviting or intriguing. It also needs to be of the right proportion when viewed from the house.
This distant feature is framed, slightly obscured or even momentarily interrupted by things to look at in the foreground before your curiosity moves you deeper into the garden to find the end of that axis.
Bangay designs invite you to spend some time in the garden, rather than just looking at it, so you can expect to find a generous garden bench or the canopy of a shady tree waiting for you when you reach the next space asking you to stay a while longer.
This idea of a garden that leads you dates back to garden designs of the 18th century, and is a significant part of the reason Bangay’s gardens carry a sense of timelessness. It’s a design technique that works, and has done so for centuries.
SYMMETRY AND REPETITION: INSTRUMENTS OF COMFORT
A symmetrical garden does something to you when you’re in it. Its predictable arrangement offers you the chance to feel a sense of contentment, even stability.
Knowing one side is going to be identical to the other is something you can immediately count on to be just how you expected it to be. In that sense you’re spending less time trying to decipher what your surrounding environment ‘means’, and can instead spend your time simply enjoying it.
A Bangay garden is designed to give comfort, put you at ease, to give you some space, to invite you to listen. Repetition is another instrument of design, working in conjunction with or in contrast to Symmetry to achieve these qualities.
Through their predictability, the rhythmic pattern of the pleached trunks of a boundary hedge gives you the reassuring presence of order and safety. The repeated use of those iconic buxus balls that have gained enormous popularity in recent years are a great example of the feeling of delight and comfort that repetition can offer in a design, even though they’re so often used in contrast to a formal hedge.
Repeating materials throughout a design is reassuring, because you can literally see and feel the relationships occurring within the space. Contrast in proportion or texture can subtly add interest and balance to the use of a single paving material throughout an entire project.
GREEN ON GREEN: SUBTLETIES OF NATURE
Although his newer gardens might feature splashes of colour, Paul Bangay’s classic garden designs illustrate that there is more than one shade of green in nature.
Many landscape designers will be familiar with the term ‘green on green’ to describe the layered effect that can be achieved using foliage species alone in a planting scheme. This is typical of all classical gardens, and certainly a common feature of Bangay’s planting schemes.
Frequently seen are hedge species that produce small, sparse or short-lived flowers for a year-round green backdrop. This provides the main colour of the overall palette.
In the foreground, immediately and beyond, alternative shades of green (such as the citrus-green shoots of an ornamental pear or the mass planted infill of grey-green Arthropodiums arching over the low border of English Box) all come together to create symphony in green.
Aside from the aesthetic character of Bangay’s plant selection, it must be noted that he is the master of species selection according to soil type, aspect and climate. Knowing that the species he chooses will not only look great but will actually survive and thrive is the true keystone of the success of his gardens.
As you know, many ornamental varieties simply aren’t suited to Australian rainfall conditions, no matter how much you wish they were! Similarly, the drastic variation between heavy clay and sandy soils will affect which species will be successful depending on where your project is located.
That said, there are some great alternatives to the formal garden classics. Taking the time to understand the general and micro climates of the property you’re designing for is a great place to start.
It also helps to actively observe successful species in other gardens in the area, and to learn from local industry professionals (particularly experienced horticulturists) to ensure you make the right choice.
A brown hedge with a huge gap in its side is no Bangay masterpiece!
Want to know more?
Paul Bangay has published numerous books showcasing his projects, discussing his approach to design and sharing his personal journey. If you’re genuinely interested to learn more, I can definitely recommend adding one of these publications to your collection.
If you’d like to learn more about the actual materials selected by Bangay for his designs, please feel free to contact our sales team, who’ll be glad to help you with some inside knowledge!