“Do you have an affinity with your home?” he asks. His question is not inquisitive but rather a way to evoke feeling as he explains the impact his home and garden, the impressive Stonefields in Central Victoria, has on his life.
'He' is celebrated landscape designer and author Paul Bangay, whose skills are in demand in Australia and abroad. On meeting you quickly discover he is as keen to know if others love their home and garden as much as he does.
“I fell in love with this land the first time I visited it,” says Paul, surveying Stonefields. “I drove to where the house now stands and took in the view. Even now I get excited when I come down that driveway and know I have a few days here in which to relax and unwind. It’s an extremely beautiful part of the world.”
Stonefields, at Denver, east of Daylesford, has been Paul’s “patch of paradise” for about eight years. In that time he has placed his signature style of precise clipped hedges, oak-lined driveways, symmetrical parterre plantings and carefully manicured lawns and water features on what was previously a vacant paddock of nearly 20 hectares. With its magnificent rural views, Stonefields has since become one of the most iconic gardens in the country.
In designing the rural property, Paul has drawn heavily on the influence of his much-loved travels to Italy and France. Like the garden, the house is rich in detail, impressive and grand in its proportions and designed in sections. But grandness aside, the home is welcoming and relaxing. A true reflection of its owner, who doesn’t like the stuffiness of fashion and prefers to dress casually on any given day. He could easily be mistaken for one of the gardeners on the massive property as he effortlessly joins in their banter and prunes a few trees.
With its expansive open spaces, large windows and abundant French doors offer sweeping views of the gardens overflowing with herbaceous perennials, oak trees and tall hedges. All that’s missing are the Italian cypresses dotting the horizon.
The main door of the Tuscan-style villa leads into the living area with its oversized comfortable arm chairs and sofas, walls of bookcases and tables filled with magazines and books and an open fireplace.
Antiques, artifacts, statues, including Roman busts, and artworks fill the room and are reminders to Paul of his extensive travels abroad. At last count he has designed more than 2100 gardens around the world, including New York, St Tropez, Positano, Jamaica, New Zealand and The Cook Islands. Despite the demand and praise for his work, it still amazes him, he says, that the phone keeps ringing with people wanting him to design their garden.
“I sometimes stop and think maybe my time has come and gone, but the phone still rings,” he says, laughing. Perhaps, it’s because classic simplicity never goes out of style.
A large kitchen, laundry and mudroom complete one wing of the home, with Paul’s own bedroom suite completing the other downstairs wing. Access to the bedroom is via a door disguised as part of the bookcase that covers one wall of the living room.
An unassuming staircase in a corner leads to the guest quarters and sweeping views across the rear garden and Macedon Ranges towards Malmsbury, Bendigo and Kyneton - no doubt, an added pleasurable bonus for guests. The exterior is completed in a Porter’s limewash of Mocha Chocolate, which blends beautifully with the rolling greenery.
Paul shares Stonefields with his partner Barry. The couple, who met through friends in Sydney about two years ago, were married in a civil ceremony in the UK in June.
“I am very happy,” says Paul. “Hopefully, changes will happen here to allow others to do so.”
Timber the labrador and Ruby the spaniel puppy complete the family, both happy to follow Paul throughout the garden.
Paul says he loves nothing more than pottering in his garden or creating a new design in his studio, with Timber regularly at his side; although he confesses he is “better on the design side than the technical side of gardening.” He was always inspired by gardens, he says, thanks to his mother’s love of the outdoors; today he finds inspiration in traditional English and European gardens.
The pool in the rear garden appears to float into the horizon and is flanked by soon-to-be completed day beds set mid-way along the garden beds filled with those lush perennials.
As spring beckons, blossoms, dogwood, oak, roses and apple trees are slowly awakening from their winter slumber in the parterres, but the grounds are no less striking in the cooler months.
“The architecture is there,” Paul says. “And you can see how the plantings frame the property.”
Masses of red tulips are starting to bloom and a traditional potager, or French kitchen garden, will soon supply summer fruit and vegetables.
Coiled bronze brown snakes make dramatic water features in the central grey-stoned stepped paved entry area.
“I had to have something more native to blend in with the ruralness,” Paul says of the native water features.
Balls of box and stone orbs dot the pathway leading from the front walled garden to the front door. Two pavilions offer a quiet place for relaxation and to take in the views of the gardens. The roofs are of stacked slate, built by a local stonemason, he says proudly.
When you design a garden you must think about the water supply, it’s not endless.Paul Bangay, landscape designer
Paul still speaks fondly of his previous home of nine years St Ambrose, an old school house he renovated in Woodend, but he says Stonefields offers a more rural lifestyle and still inspires him every day.
“Woodend was developing too much for me,” he says. “I much prefer the laid-back style of here.”
Trying to drought-proof his property as much as possible was another reason for moving, he says, having been “caught out in the drought” at St Ambrose about a decade ago.
“When you design a garden you must think about the water supply, it’s not endless. Here we have natural spring-fed dams and we built in massive water tanks which gives us a little more security considering the garden uses a lot of water.”
On designing Stonefields, Paul he says he knew exactly what he had to do. He says he has an inherent ability to visit a garden and know exactly what to do with the space. He says it’s “his thing”, a gift and is never lost for words or inspiration when creating a garden vision.
“I don’t know why but I never seem to get designer’s block, as writers sometimes do,” he says, proudly surveying nearly a decade of work on his rural property.
While he is known as the landscape gardener to the rich and famous Paul opens Stonefields to the public a few times a year, in particular to raise money for the not-for-profit Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, of which he is a board member. He says it’s important to encourage a paddock-to-plate lifestyle of healthy eating with children.
Paul has penned nine garden books, including The Garden at Stonefields, which follows his journey in building and designing the property.
“I kept a diary on when I started here,” he says, clearly proud of what he has created.
“I also like showing people around the garden, it makes me happy to see that they are enjoying it as much as I do,” he says. Likewise, when his signature style is “copied” across Australian suburbs.
“I like the clean and simple lines in a garden - so if people like to replicate that that is fine, It’s nice to think that I have had an influence on how people design their gardens.”