In July 2016 I will have my show garden ‘The Butterfly Effect‘ on display in the Landscape Garden category at the prestigious Singapore Garden Festival. For any garden designer it’s a huge and daunting honour but for a relative newcomer to the landscape industry like me, developing a new career and managing a young family too…Just how did it happen that I’m now designing and building a show garden for one of the world’s biggest garden shows?

After starting out with a degree in industrial design and working in exhibition design, toy design and fashion design I realised that landscape design, and working with plants and thinking about sustainability was where I wanted to be. After completing a post graduate certificate in garden design at Melbourne University, I was looking forward to working in the industry but I really wasn’t sure what the next step could be, so I joined Landscaping Victoria as a student member to gain exposure to the industry and begin to liaise with professionals.

Alison Douglas Design. 'Pipe Dream' MIFGS 2015. Photo Tim Turner
Alison Douglas Design. ‘Pipe Dream’ MIFGS 2015. Photo Tim Turner

In the meantime, I continued to work part time in the fitness industry with a newborn at home but there came a time when I had to admit to myself that I wasn’t actively doing anything to pursue my ‘garden design dream’. Eventually I realised, with encouragement from my husband, that if I didn’t give up the fitness work and really push myself to make landscape design my career it was going to be a long time happening.

Alison Douglas Design 'Pipe Dream at MIFGS 2015. Photo Tim Turner
Alison Douglas Design ‘Pipe Dream at MIFGS 2015. Photo Tim Turner

Soon after that decision I noticed that Landscaping Victoria runs a ‘Boutique Gardens’ competition at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show (MIFGS) each year. But there was so little time left to get in an entry! With the odds stacked against me, even my husband was sceptical that I could complete a design concept within the short week-long deadline, but he did say:

‘No harm in trying’.

This was my first major goal – make the deadline! Letting my imagination run free I developed a brief and concept on time.

It was beyond my expectations to be selected as a finalist…. This was my first landscape design project! Quite a public debut. My next goal was to build it!

'Pipe Dream' by Alison Douglas Design MIFGS 2015. Photo Tim Turner
‘Pipe Dream’ by Alison Douglas Design MIFGS 2015. Photo Tim Turner

With no construction team lined up or nursery supply contacts I felt overwhelmed. But I picked up the phone and I asked a lot of questions of a lot of people. Everyone was extremely helpful and I managed to pull together a team of extremely talented and passionate people.

The result was incredible. My garden, ‘Pipe Dream’ was very well received and won the Boutique Gardens Gold Medal at MIFGS 2015, and the exposure that it received has generated a lot of opportunities.

Topping all of this off, I was invited to design a garden for the Singapore Garden Festival!

My path to Singapore:

It’s been such an honour to have been selected to participate in the 2016 Singapore Garden Festival as one of the designers in the prestigious Landscape Design category. My design is well underway and the first trip to Singapore to meet with all the parties involved was very successful.

On site with Prince
On site with Prince

I have been teamed up with a local implementation partner Prince’s Landscape & Construction Pte Ltd which is responsible for the build and maintenance of the display.  Logistically it is like working with any manufacturer offshore, something I am familiar with from my days in industrial design, and it has its own set of benefits and challenges. As a local Singapore company, they are extremely familiar with the local plants and materials. But unlike when you build a design at home, I can’t rush to the nursery to check on the plants.  However we are in constant contact and I receive lots of photographs, detailed dimensions and material options.

My garden is called ‘The Butterfly Effect’, based on the concept that:

”… something as small as the flutter of a butterfly’s wings can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world.” – Chaos Theory on the butterfly effect.

This garden design draws on Chaos Theory as a metaphor and carries the central themes of peace, love and acts of kindness. The idea is that even the smallest act of kindness can resonate far beyond its initial place and time, enriching the lives of many people in the future.

Licuala grandis, one of the plants I'll be using in my Singapore garden
Licuala grandis, one of the plants I’ll be using in my Singapore garden

I don’t want to spoil the surprise for everyone, but I can say that the design of this garden contains structural elements such as a unique pergola design, modern water feature and a sunken seating area. The design of this garden is organic in its styling with feminine fluttering curves. And I hope the colour palette is a welcome surprise!