Claudia Nevell

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Garden designer Claudia Nevell transforms outdoor spaces into natural havens filled with luscious plants and plenty of practical space for living. We catch up with Claudia to find out what makes the perfect garden.

What first drew you to horticulture and landscaping?

My grandfather in Germany was a keen gardener, and as I realise now, had a very good eye for design.He had a fabulous large garden with stone arches, wrought iron gates, cobbled paths and a swimming pool. When we were children, we spent a lot of time there, and I suppose I developed a certain sense for aesthetics and expectations on how my surroundings should look from there.

When I had to decide what to pursue after finishing school in the late seventies, the green movement was just gaining momentum, so the move into horticulture and design seemed a logical choice.

> What did your industry training entail?

Initially I worked as an apprentice in a specialist perennial nursery in Germany, followed by a three-year course in horticulture and design in England. From then on I worked in various aspects of the industry in Germany, England, New Zealand and finally in Australia. I never thought of doing anything else, so all up I have accumulated over 30 years of experience.

I started my landscape design business, Garden Expressions, in Coffs Harbour in 1995 and have been working in this area and up and down the coast ever since.

I still have strong connections to Europe and also completed a couple of projects in Germany and Switzerland .

Being a Member of the Australian Institute of Landscape Designers and Managers (AILDM) makes it easy to stay up to date with industry developments, and I contribute regularly to a national landscape magazine showcasing some of my projects.

> Tell us about some of the projects you have worked on.

Over the last few years, I was fortunate to be able to work on some very satisfying projects. A few sizeable country gardens in particular stand out for me. These type of gardens take some time to mature to reveal the structure behind the design. They are not always easy to photograph immediately, but I feel gardens should be designed in such a way that they grow and mature over time rather than being an instantaneous quick fix. Saying that, I also enjoy transforming small spaces into beautiful outdoor rooms that give people pleasure to be in.

Another aspect of my work are commercial projects. Currently I am working on a major pub renovation in Yamba. Another recently completed project were the East Apartments at the Jetty. For both projects I selected mature trees and palms, which were craned into place. I enjoy the logistics of organising such projects, and in this case the effects are instantaneous.

> What are the major aspects of garden design?

Garden design is an art form that transforms a space. In order to do this successfully, strong technical and horticultural knowledge is required. When I first look at a new project, I assess the topography and the aspect of the land and talk to the client about their requirements. Everything follows from that.

A completed garden design includes the layout of all areas to be landscaped, including finished levels and drainage, which means it shows paths, lawns, paved areas, steps, retaining walls, boundary fences, driveways, utility areas, maybe a pool, pool fences … the list goes on. There is also a Schedule of Finishes, which specifies all materials chosen and suppliers of materials, general specifications, construction details and a detailed plant list.

> What are some of the current trends?

The way I see it, current trends seem to go in different directions. There is the ‘less is more’ trend towards more sustainable gardens; people are keen to incorporate a vegetable garden, they want less hard surfaces, materials chosen could be recycled ones. On the other hand, there is a push for very sophisticated outdoor living areas, such as a perfectly equipped kitchen in a gazebo being part of a new swimming pool project.

Thankfully, one very clear trend, however, is the return to a more varied plant palette away from minimalist spaces with a few ‘designer plants’. Plants are ‘in’ again, and people are prepared to spend more on larger plants to start with. The nursery industry is responding to this trend by producing a wide range of great quality plants in large pot sizes.

With very few exceptions, paving must always be installed on a concrete slab. This ensures a durable, good quality, ‘hassle free’ surface. Given the financial outlay required, it is important to select the right paving for the job. Paving materials available have improved a lot. Whereas previously there were mainly concrete and brick pavers to choose from, we now have anything from Egyptian Limestone to Chinese Granite and Australian Sandstone readily available.

> Tell us about your business here on the Coffs Coast.

Garden Expressions aims to provide a high standard of landscape design. I don’t like to follow fashions, each project is unique. I take my inspiration from the style of the house, the context of the garden in the landscape or suburb, and of course, it has to suit the owners and their lifestyle. The budget available has to be taken into account from the beginning. It is easy to underestimate the cost of landscaping. Engaging a landscape designer allows for making informed decisions throughout the design process, allocating the budget where it counts, cutting costs where it is not so noticeable.

It is important to me to guide a project through to the end of construction. After all, garden design is not about producing plans, but creating gardens for people to enjoy for years to come.

I am involved in the selection of the landscape / building contractors and discuss any issues coming up during construction with the contractors and the client. I also source and supply all the plant material for each project.

> What are your plans for 2011?

A highlight on the professional calendar is the biannual Landscape Conference in Melbourne. The international speakers are always an inspiration.

On a personal level, I look forward to a trip to New York, followed by visiting some gardens in California.

> Thank you Claudia.


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