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Prickly Perfection: Meet Arid Garden Landscape Designer and Architect Andrew Laidlaw

From towering columnar cacti reminiscent of spaghetti western landscapes to small and jewel-like specimens boasting colourful whorls of short-lived blooms, the new Arid Garden is a feast for the eyes. We sat down with the Arid Garden’s Landscape Designer and Architect, Andrew Laidlaw for a behind-the-scenes chat about the inspiration behind the new cacti and succulent garden, and why it is one of the most remarkable spaces he has worked on.

What influenced the Arid Garden design?

The Arid Garden is a contemporary take on classic 16th-century parterre garden design, which consist of inward-facing large spaces broken into smaller spaces with pathways to wander along, so people can move freely around the garden while being able to pause and marvel at the plants. Early in the design process, I looked at the cellular structure of succulent plants, and the aesthetics of these cells carried through the entire design process and helped create an organic and contemporary feel.

Were you inspired by any landscapes or plants in particular?

The arid landscapes of the Americas, as well as the history of the plants in the collection themselves. In the 1930s, Victoria’s Ralph Field invested in German explorer and botanist, Harold Blossfeld’s expedition to South America to collect cacti and succulents. Ralph Field developed an extensive collection on his property which was then carefully maintained by his son, Robert. The Gardens has been fortunate enough to acquire the Field Collection, and there are specimens positioned at the heart of the Arid Garden that were collected by Blossfeld himself.

Can you describe the design process?

The simplicity of the Arid Garden design meant we needed to reduce a lot of clutter from the old collection as well as factor in the beautiful established trees in the area. We also had to create a whole new soil profile for the site, which required plenty of time and consideration. A lot of planning goes into the soil, water and drainage of any new landscape at the Gardens to ensure maximum plant performance and safety.

Why is the new Arid Garden significant for Melbourne Gardens?

What gets us excited at the Gardens are wild collections of plants with ‘known provenance’, meaning we can pinpoint exactly where they were sourced in the natural environment and when they came into our Collection. The Arid Garden consists entirely of wild plants from known locations, including specimens from Harold Blossfeld’s 1930s expedition to South America.

What makes the Arid Garden worth visiting?

The Gardens have never been more important to our sense of health and wellbeing and connection to the natural world. I enjoy designing them, but more importantly, I enjoy being in them. The Arid Garden is a perfect meeting place and provides a fantastic opportunity to see the extent of the stunning cacti and succulent collection. As a Landscape Architect, the opportunity to design a project with specimens as remarkable as the cacti from the Field collection in their many different forms, colours and textures, is a dream come true.

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