Book Review: Paul Bangay’s Guide to Plants

By Gabrielle Stannus

As a designer and gardener with (quite a few) less years under my belt than Paul Bangay, I have always been somewhat intimidated by what I perceived as his intensely formal landscaping style.  How does Bangay, one of Australia’s most well-known landscape designers, create such elegant gardens, which much require great effort, and still manage to smile so much?

In Paul Bangay’s Guide to Plants, expanded and updated for its 10th anniversary, Bangay claims to be shifting to a more relaxed style in light of evolving landscaping styles:

Over the past 10 years, there has been a noticeable shift towards a more relaxed and causal approach to gardens. ‘Wild’ and ‘natural’ are words used to describe many contemporary gardens now. I personally have been adapting and softening my designs for many years now. Gone are the rigid box-bordered geometric garden beds in favour of more organic and relaxed shapes, with groupings of spheres or organic plant forms in accent areas of the garden bed.

Bangay’s more relaxed style is a lot more formal than I think mine will ever be! His chapter on clouding for example shows that his more ‘organic’ shapes still require a little effort. He must have an army of Edward Scissorhands on as apprentices to prune his creations.

However, jokes aside, it is evident that Bangay is changing with the times. This book features almost 30 new plants and two new chapters, including one on succulents. Bangay says that he is increasingly using succulents in his designs as he adapts to the vagaries of climate change. For each plant he has selected for inclusion in this guide, Bangay provides information on its mature height and spread, spacing, plant form/habit, position, leaf hold, benefits, climate and water requirement. Bangay also shares a brief description on how and why he uses it in his landscapes.

Bangay writes that this book is a very personal collection of his favourite plants, and it is not meant to be an exhaustive plant reference guide. He acknowledges that the plants he enjoys working with the most are those that enjoy cold to warm temperate conditions, plants that do well in the south of the continent and north up to Sydney and rural New South Wales:

I adore all the wonderful perennials and bulbs that require a cold winter and no humidity in the summer.

Therefore, if you are looking for plants for tropical or subtropical conditions, this is probably not the book for you. Luckily for me, I live in regional Tasmania, so many of the plants profiled in Bangay’s guide are suitable for the climate I work in.

If you are just starting out in garden or landscape design, then this book will help you understand what to plant and where, with Bangay providing tips to help you select the right plant for your site. If you love Bangay’s sense of style and would like to replicate it in your gardens, then what are you waiting for? Grab yourself a copy and learn from one of the masters of Australian landscape design.

Paul Bangay’s Guide to Plants is beautifully photographed by Simon Griffiths. Griffiths has photographed many of Bangay’s books including Paul Bangay’s Garden Design Handbook, a companion to this publication. He captures perfectly Bangay’s aesthete and sense of style with his images; and they will certainly encourage you to keep turning the book’s pages for more.

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Paul Bangay’s Guide to Plants is available online or at all good retailers.

RRP $59.99. Hardback. 416 pages. Released 3 August 2021.  ISBN 9781761043109. Penguin Lantern.

 

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