Australian garden designer Paul Bangay’s book “The Garden at Stonefields” is a masterpiece.
David Hicks, the late British interior decorator who spent the closing years of his life designing geometrically precise gardens, wrote in the late 1990s, “Before meeting Paul Bangay 10 years ago, the only gardeners whose feeling for design and planting I could totally relate to were much older than me…Paul is one of their caliber, a designer whose work has a discipline, simplicity and style that comes from an eye rather similar to my own.”
Paul Bangay must have been in his early twenties when he first met Hicks; now in his late fifties, Paul has published some nine garden books of his own, of which “The Garden at Stonefields” is perhaps his most personal testament to the joy of creating formal landscapes from the raw materials of nature.
This is his compelling account of how he took “40 acres of rolling green meadows with abundant water and rural views,” in the Australian state of Victoria, some 60 odd miles from Melbourne, and virtually willed them to become his own verdant, earthly paradise, one that includes a handsome, Australian-styled villa, that he also designed himself.
When you thumb to pages 312-313, you’ll see a charming overhead diagram of Mr. Bangay’s house and gardens, done in the classical manner. Looking at the plan, you may be struck by something not readily apparent in aerial photos of his beautiful garden: the plot plan for Stonefields, house and garden, bears an uncanny resemblance to the traditional Cruciform of a Gothic cathedral.
It’s difficult to grasp without seeing the drawing or a photo of the actual garden, and I’m no architectural historian, but for example, the forecourt and entrance court form the portal. The long water rill of the central axis, a Persian influence, flanked by parterres, the blue garden, a rose garden and an apple walk, form the long nave. The house itself forms the transept or transverse arm. Finally, the long, rectangular swimming pool at the rear of the house continues along the central axis, forming the choir extension.
Gothic builders “regarded themselves as building in the image of a divine order… That order was embodied in the circle and the square, within whose perfect shape… the human body exactly fit,” according to author Vincent Sculley. Leonardo DaVinci’s “Man of Perfect Proportions” pen and ink sketch famously illustrated that point.
Bangay has brilliantly incorporated circles and squares in the four rectangular parterre gardens that flank the central axis in the “nave.” They contain nearly 200 neatly clipped cylinders and cubes of English boxwood, that when viewed from above, form perfect circles and squares. The parterres are punctuated at intervals by eight clipped Italian cypresses, symbolic columns, perhaps?
Paul Bangay has created a personal botanical cathedral that has been his residence now for more than ten years. Is it any wonder that he writes, “It has not only become my home and my studio, but a part of my very soul?”
Anyone who has ever dug a hole to plant a five-gallon shrub, or pushed a wheel barrel full of damp soil up a garden path, can appreciate what one wag observed: “Gardening requires lots of water, most of it in the form of perspiration.” Bangay is fully aware that without a gardener’s perspiration, a garden is not long for this world
“Gardens are such delicate and ephemeral things, they are so easily lost without constant love and attention. The only way they can be preserved is through publishing,” he notes
Hence, he wrote this book, a lush coffee-table sized tome, chock full of Simon Griffiths’ color photographs of Bangay’s beloved Stonefields garden. These are not the blurry, stock matte photos contained in coffee table garden books of a generation or two ago. Griffith’s images are high-resolution, printed on glossy paper, that show off Stonefields’ garden during all seasons, in colors that come alive, some with a near 3-D detail.
If you seek inspiration for your own backyard, look no further. The wisteria that cloaks pillars, arbors and even a neo-classical statue at Stonefields is a personal favorite.
The only criticism to be mustered over this glorious volume is of the publisher, who bound the book so weakly that it began to fall apart at the spine virtually upon arrival. No worries, however, as treating this book with the gentleness normally reserved for a treasured literary heirloom seems altogether appropriate.
Formal gardens have been losing popularity at least since the 18th century when English landscape architect Capability Brown began replacing them with faux copies of nature, “facile compositions of grass, tree clumps and rather shapeless pools and lakes,” according to one critic. And as Paul Bangay, himself, admits, maintaining a formal garden is “a lot of work.”
One can only hope that the garden at Stonefields will be an exception to the harsh rule of garden survival. Perhaps a century or two from now, future garden aficionados, defying the stifling coercion of groupthink, will stroll the grounds of Stonefields just as we walk the grounds of the Villa d’Este or Versailles today, jaws dropped in wonder of one man who succeeded in bending nature to his will, in awe of one man who, wittingly or not, tried to touch the face of God. Let the record show that this, too, was humanity
- Hardcover: 356 pages
- Publisher: Lantern; 1 edition (25 September 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1920989633
- ISBN-13: 978-1920989637
- Product Dimensions: 25.4 x 3.3 x 33 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 2.8 Kg
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 115,633 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)