Words / Jake D. Frost – Landscape Contractor Magazine
Classically trained in horticulture with a keen aesthetic eye and a great respect for all surrounding elements, Myles Baldwin is a master landscape designer. Despite his renowned success, Myles admits to making a few mistakes along the way. In fact, it’s these mistakes that have helped shaped who he is, and, to an extent, the magical gardens he creates.
Born and raised in the Sutherland Shire of New South Wales, with his mum an avid gardener and his dad a draftsman and builder, Myles’ childhood would be a major influence on his career.
“Being the son of a builder, we lived in continual renovation,” the 37-year-old recounted, “and whenever my dad would finish off an area it gave the opportunity for mum and me to get out there and garden. On Sundays or after school I’d be in the garden shaping things or moving things about, digging up plants and building stuff in the backyard.”
Ambitious from a young age, Myles decided to aim high as he came to the end of high school, putting his name forward to do an apprenticeship at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney. “I took in photos of the work that I did as a school kid for mum and dad at home and for my aunts and uncles,” he recalled of his application.
Seeing his budding talents, Myles was successful in his bid, and at the age of 17 he found himself working at one of the most prestigious public gardens in Australia, among not only a plethora of incredible plantlife, but also some of the most well-respected specialists in the industry. “It was an excellent place to work,” Myles gloated. “In ’97 it was building up to the 2000 Olympics so there was lots of funding for new gardens and infrastructure going into the RBG. There were also a lot of great people working there. You had all these experts teaching you all these wonderful things. It was just fantastic.”
Perhaps his time at the top was too good, because after finishing his apprenticeship Myles stepped out into the real world and got a rather rude awakening. “In early 2000 the world of landscape design was in a bit of a sorry state,” he said. “It was a bit daggy, I guess; lots of white iceberg roses and formal hedges and that sort of thing. I’d just finished doing four years at the Royal Botanic Gardens surrounded by some the best plant material you could see, so heading out into the industry was a little bit of a shock.”
This didn’t deter the 21-year-old and he soon landed a dream job as Head Gardener of Bronte House where he was to completely renovate the land into one of the best period gardens in Australia.
It was also around this time Myles decided to start his own landscape design and construction company. It was an aspiring move, but one not without its downfalls. Looking back, Myles believes the main problem was that he was extremely young and perhaps a little green to be tackling such a heavy load. “In hindsight it would’ve been good to have a mentor,” he conceded. “It would’ve been great to spend some time actually working for another landscape designer or maybe a landscaping crew within the industry. I made a lot of mistakes. The thing is, you try to only do them once.”
“I made a lot of mistakes. The thing is, you try to only do them once.”
Learning along the way, Myles expanded, building on his business and his reputation at the same time. But by 2010 the monster had grown too large and something needed to change. “We ended up having about 17 staff, doing high-end gardens right across New South Wales,” he remembered. “It was tough, you know. I decided that running a contracting crew with multiple landscapers and construction workers wasn’t actually that good for my health. I thought in the end that the way forward for the business was to specialise.”
“I decided that running a contracting crew with multiple landscapers and construction workers wasn’t actually that good for my health.”
Myles needed to restructure and consolidate. He slowly divided and sold off various parts of his business, ultimately shutting down his construction division and refocusing more heavily on his true passion, landscape architecture and design.
“Now we’ve got six landscape architects working for us,” Myles stated proudly. “We’re currently building and are responsible for about 60 or 70 projects at any one time, so the sheer volume of the work has increased, but we’re now fewer staff and a lot more focused on delivering a better product.”
With no regrets, Myles still believes his time running the construction side of his company was vital, and that nothing teaches you more than actually getting out there and physically creating what you envisage. “What’s made us manage our projects better is understanding the aspects of construction. If you look at a lot of landscape architectural firms, they haven’t had that practical sense of what it takes to do these things. It’s very easy to just jot something down on a piece of paper without understanding what it takes to put it together. I’m thankful for that side of my knowledge.”
Myles’ respect for all related aspects of landscape gardening also extends to more peripheral facets. Having secured some of the most sought-after projects around the country, he’s had the opportunity to work along side a wide variety of master craftsmen, from stonemasons and interior designers to artists and architects. “The idea is to surround yourself with the right trades and credible people,” he advised. “The different contractors that we’ve worked with over the years, we’re always learning something from them. There are ideas and concepts there that expand your own knowledge and skill base.”
While collaborating with other professionals has helped his cause, Myles and his team really stand out due to their holistic approach to each project. His philosophy is to appreciate the unique value and history that each individual piece of land holds. “We do bespoke work, which is tailored to the architecture, the environment and the clients’ needs,” he explained. “We don’t just run around doing cookie-cutter designs; they’re gardeners’ gardens.”
“We don’t just run around doing cookie-cutter designs; they’re gardeners’ gardens.”
Whether you’re talking heritage private gardens or contemporary commercial masterpieces, Myles Baldwin has created some truly remarkable landscapes throughout his career. As a leader in his field and as an ambassador of the trade, he also contributes to the cause in other ways. A regular public speaker, TV presenter and writer of several books, it certainly isn’t about self-promotion for Myles. As he said of his media commitments: “We need these things to make the public aware to improve the industry and how we’re viewed.”
It’s with this gallant attitude that Myles also helped give rise to The Australian Garden Show, which officially launched in 2013. The annual show aims to bring our country inline with some of the other esteemed global garden fairs. “It’s about celebrating the actual gardener and plant material at a grandroots level,” explained the brainchild, “and then combining that with having big business invest into horticulture.”
When it comes down to it, Myles Baldwin likes to think of himself, and all others in the industry, simply as problem solvers. “It’s the challenge,” he summarised. “You come up with an aesthetic, functional solution that improves the house, the environment, even their lifestyle. That sort of problem solving is what I get really excited about.”
Myles Baldwin will soon be releasing an anniversary book celebrating 20 years of design and working in the industry. You can find out more about him and his company at mylesbaldwin.com.au