Melbourne Convention Centre, 1 Convention Centre Place, South Wharf, Victoria, Australia
Since it began in 2002
the biennial Australian Landscape Conference has operated at the cutting edge of international landscape and garden design. Perhaps the most important word in that sentence is ‘international’, because no other conference worldwide has consistently presented such a genuinely global digest of contemporary work and thought. Under the leadership, first, of founders Warwick and Sue Forge, and now under the direction of Fleur Flanery, the conference has consistently striven to seek out the most interesting work in every continent and culture, taking the audience out of what may be described as the ‘comfort zone’ of gardens made in the Anglo-sphere. In the process, it has been striking to see how global trends and preoccupations can be discerned across disparate cultures.This year is no exception. With speakers from Asia, America, Europe and of course Australia, the themes being pursued generally reflect the dilemma of landscape design in the 21st century: how to create landscapes and gardens which are functional and beautiful, but which also cultivate a meaningful and harmonious relationship with the wider ecology. This impulse takes various forms, from the ‘naturalistic turn’ in planting design — which has seen garden-makers think in terms of ‘plant communities’ which are self-sustaining and in some ways self-designing — to an understanding of landscape design as a form of land management.
Of special interest this year are the claims that modern industrial agriculture and horticulture often seriously degrade farms and landscapes and that Australia’s thin soils are especially vulnerable. Current research suggests radical solutions. Even more remarkable is the notion that Australian Aborigines farmed in harmony with the land and the seasons, pursuing what would now be called ‘sustainable’ agriculture.
The reality of city living is also broached by the conference speakers — how could it not be, with so many of us living in urban areas now, and with those numbers set to increase as the century wears on? Parks and other forms of green space take on even more importance as the size and sometimes the density of our cities increases. Landscape designers have a key role to play in this development.
All of this is not to forget the role that domestic gardens play in our lives — the pleasure to be derived from simply being in a beautiful place, surrounded by plants and flowers. Even while our larger concerns as custodians of the planet develop, the transcendent power of the garden as a lived experience remains a constant, as it provides stimulus, solace and joy.