Meet Michael Bates: Garden Designer, Landscaper and Plant Nut!

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3 Mar 2017

We met Garden Designer, Michael Bates last Thursday Night on Michael McCoy's Dream Gardens. We took a tour of Michael's Blue Mountains garden Friday on Gardening Australia. Here, Robin Powell talks to Michael about the inspiration behind his spectacular Sydney garden.

Meet Michael Bates, gardener

When Michael Bates took a holiday and garden study trip to Sri Lanka, it changed his life - and his garden.

Words by Robin Powell, images by Robin Powell & Jason Busch

R: How did you come to visit Sri Lanka?

"When my wife has insomnia she likes to look for fabulous hotels we might stay in. She found three magnificent hotels in Galle, in the south of Sri Lanka, all within a few hundred metres of each other, and we went and stayed there last year. Because we had 10 days there we had a chance to study not just the Geoffrey Bawa gardens but also to go off the beaten track and look at some other gardens."

R: Why the interest in Geoffrey Bawa?

"I have all his books and I’ve worked with so many architects who are fans of his work. He’s the architect’s architect really. He created these fabulous spaces that have been so influential."

R: So how did visiting the Bawa gardens influence you?

"It really did shape how we live now. Visually, I changed the planting in the garden and introduced more textural contrast in the foliage, added feature pots and art in the garden, made a water feature, and hung bits of found sculpture on the walls.

"We also changed the way we use the garden. Relaxation is not on the list of things I usually do, but there was something about these spaces… they just made you want to sit down with your wife and read a book! The big eaves and verandas, the day beds and pools – they just invited relaxation. When we came home I really looked to activate the relaxation spaces we already had here. All the verandas now have hanging eggs chairs and café tables and day beds and squatter chairs. We use the fire court and brazier more and really enjoy those indoor-outdoor spaces where you are almost in the garden, but feel protected and snug."

R: What are you looking forward to showing people on your tour?

"In a sense it’s the experience of how all these creative people lived in the ‘60s and ‘70s.The houses are held in suspended animation, Donald Friend’s murals are right there, and you can almost hear someone call for the next pitcher of gin and tonic!

"And Sri Lanka is such an interesting place because of all the cultural influences: the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English, on top of these cultures that already built beautiful gardens and pleasure grounds. After you experience that life you want to bring it home. And we should live like that. We can!

Michael Bates was a Collectors' Plant Fair committee member at the 2016 fair, and you can take a virtual walk through his Blue Mountains garden on ABC's Gardening Australia Saturday night at 6.30pm, or on iview.