Lisa Ellis Gardens is a multi-award winning design studio based in Melbourne. Since its establishment in 2004, the studio has formed strong ties within the industry – and is now a leader in its field. With a diverse portfolio of design work, the studio lives and breathes its strong values in every project.
Lisa Ellis, Lisa Ellis Gardens
What sparked your career in landscape design?
My first qualification was in business, majoring in marketing. I knew I wanted to pursue a creative career and felt marketing would be a good springboard for that. After working in publishing and marketing roles, and for a United Nations project for a number of years, I desired a big life change. Realising that I could transform my gardening hobby into a career, I enrolled at Burnley College almost 20 years ago.
What fuels your creative process?
There is great crossover between my work and how I spend my time outside work. Really, my work is my hobby so I spend a great deal of 'down time' not only gardening, but also reading about gardens, landscape design and plants. I have a large library of gardening and landscape books; I fossick around bookshops and hunt down books online. I subscribe to many magazines and journals about plants and how they can be used.
I also love to get in the kitchen and cook up cuisines from cultures all over the world, experimenting with different flavours and recipes.
Travel has always been an enormous source of inspiration for work. It's a joy to visit gardens in various countries and climes. Every garden has a story. I can learn something from most gardens … even if a particular garden doesn’t resonate strongly with me there is usually always something to take away from it. In this field you just never stop learning!
Why do you think people come to Lisa Ellis Gardens to create their garden?
While the design brief is the backbone of our work, we also like to have fun, challenge ourselves and each other. It would get a bit boring to duplicate the same look across many projects. That's just not our ethos. We have done our job when our client is thrilled with the result, and reports that the landscape is bringing them joy and changing the way they live for the better.
Our business comprises a small team of talented designers with diverse backgrounds, each of whom plays an important role in keeping each project unique and different to the last. Working together so closely allows us to bounce ideas off each other to produce something truly amazing for every client. We are continually learning and searching for new ways of doing things to inject freshness into our designs.
Describe your design process. Is it client led, or do you endeavour to include your own style?
Our process always begins with the client. We say that every client is unique and every project bespoke. A detailed, tailored design brief is developed for every project. Gathering as much information about the client is key – we learn about their family and the way they’d like to use the space. What excites one person does not speak to the next person in the same way. Most clients desire a green space that speaks to them personally. Gardens can easily become unique through thoughtful planting composition and texture.
Can you tell us about some design projects you're working on?
We've been working on some fabulous projects with wonderful clients (mostly residential). A number of large beachside projects are underway, each with a different brief and set of site challenges to overcome. When working with a client we always develop a detailed written brief to ensure we encapsulate everything that’s important to them, and how the client envisages using the new space.
Interestingly, we have a fair number of terrace and rooftop design commissions right now. These are often 'downsizer' properties owned by people who still greatly value garden areas. We refer to rooftop garden design as 'design by numbers' because it’s as much about the engineering as the budget that determines the outcome.
Another curious project in the works is known as 'Man Cave', which includes a basement garden and a 'cattle grid' walkway with greenery-filled voids to give the impression that you're walking on plants.
We're also redesigning tired outdoor spaces for multi-residential properties. Body corporates are increasingly seeing the value of gardens to create a calming green buffer for city living.
A project that's particularly noteworthy or challenging?
We've recently finished a large rooftop garden in inner Melbourne where the client trusted our vision. The design brief was unique and very personal, but there was great opportunity for interpretation and experimentation. We conceptualised an infinity lawn, and a sculptural light rod garden amongst flowering perennials to sit against the Melbourne skyline. It was a great project to be involved with and we're looking forward to sharing photographs soon!
Tips for linking an exterior space with the interiors of a home?
We are mindful of creating lines of sight through the garden to areas of interest. This offers a visual connection between interior and exterior spaces. We believe the relationship between these spaces can be strengthened through the cohesive use of materiality.
Often we work with interior designers and it's exciting to discuss ways to enhance the inside–outside interface. We're collaborating with architects and interior designers on current projects to link materiality and style, where the potential outcome can be something greater than the sum of its parts.
Do you have favourite go-to plants?
We nurture a diverse planting palette that we trust; however, we like to add and edit this regularly.
Each design is unique and requires different plants with different habits conducive to site conditions and climate. For example, a coastal garden design will require salt- and wind-tolerant plants compared to a tropical style garden where larger leaf plants will thrive.
We love to create 'clutch-your-pearls' moments where contrasting plants create a very happy composition. We often say to clients that one plant alone can look ordinary, but pair it with another and the two plants sing.
While we're on favourites, do you have a favourite Martin Kellock Pots and Planters pot?
We love the timeless simplicity of the Urbis range. These pots beautifully complement lush, textured foliage plants.
What trends do you see in the industry that excite you?
I am really pleased to see relationships deepening between designers and nurseries. It's great that more designers getting out and about and visiting nurseries to learn as much as they can from plant growers who have decades of experience and knowledge. Nursery professionals bring incalculable value to our lives, both in public and private spaces. They're often overlooked as key contributors to landscapes that perform well and get even better with time. I owe a great deal to many nurserymen and women for their generous sharing of information over the years.
Another stand-out trend is the fervour for indoor plants. People who would otherwise not have a garden have the ability to source many wonderful species for cultivation indoors. It's amused me over the last few years when I’ve heard of a friend or colleague making plans before heading away on holiday. They arrange for someone to visit their residence regularly, not to feed the cat or the goldfish, but to water the indoor plants!