Designer Profile: Sidonie Carpenter
At 4:45am when most of Australia is still sound asleep, Sidonie Carpenter is watching dawn break as she rows silently across the Brisbane river. This moment of quiet contemplation prepares the landscape architect and horticulturalist for the busy day ahead, which may consist of any or all of the following: traipsing through nurseries, sourcing plants and materials, in the studio drawing up designs, meeting clients, contractors and builders and more. Sidonie is a busy woman! Regardless, it seems there’s always time in the evening for her to retire to her garden sanctuary to tend to her veggie patch and feed the chooks.
Please tell us a little about your landscape design firm, Green Canopy. I started my own Landscape Design Firm in Sydney in 1996, focusing on small domestic design, installation and maintenance. In 2004, I moved the business to Brisbane and in 2007, I started Green Canopy Design. At Green Canopy I do all the design work and plant selection, and sub-contract out CAD, construction and installation work. I mainly focus on residential work, which can vary from small terrace and pot gardens to rural acreage with everything in between. I have completed projects all over Australia – from Tasmania to Longreach, Orange, Young, Canberra, Noosa and Chinchilla.
In 2007, I received an ISSI fellowship to study the design of green roofs and walls. On returning from this trip I was one of the founding members of Green Roofs Australasia, a not-for-profit organization that supports the growth of the industry in Australia.
What does a typical day in the life of Sidonie Carpenter look like? I’m a rower, so I’m up three mornings a week at 4am and on the water at 4.45am – being on the water at dawn is the most amazing way to start the day. Depending on what I have on, I’m either back in the office or on site by about 7am. With work, there is no ‘typical’ day. My time is spread across many areas – design and office work, traipsing around nurseries sourcing plant stock & materials, project site management, meetings with builders and contractors or seeing new clients.
My day usually ends around 6pm, by which time I’m well and truly ready for a drink and a wander around my own garden, maybe to pick a few veggies for dinner and feed the chooks.
What initially drew you to landscape design? I think I was always destined to be in the garden – my grandmother and mother were both avid gardeners and my mother ran a propagation nursery when I was a child. I have early memories of when I was about four, standing on a milk crate to help the Greek man who did the potting on. After finishing school, I completed a year of a science degree in coastal management, but with the birth of my first child I wanted to be closer to my family so I moved to Brisbane and transferred to a bachelor of arts with a double architecture/town planning major.
I realised, with my second baby on the way, that I could neither do architecture or town planning without another three to five years of study, so I decided to start a graduate diploma in landscape architecture. One of my lecturers advised me to go and study horticulture, which I completed three years later while working in a retail nursery.
Do you have a design philosophy? My philosophy is based always on listening to my clients. From there I advise and guide them through the design process and help them to achieve their dream garden while managing their budget and the environment.
How big of an influence does sustainability play in your design process? I have always been focused on and driven by sustainability. It plays a massive role in my design process and covers so many different areas – not only environmental sustainability but also economical – from both a financial and a time sense. I think it’s really important to do something once and do it well. Timeless design and materials are important, as is encouraging the client to engage with the design, ownership and management of the garden.
You moved with your family from Sydney to Brisbane. How did this move affect you personally? Which lifestyle do you prefer? The move was fabulous. It was originally instigated so we could be closer to family. The Brisbane summer heat and humidity is brutal and working outside during it is something that I hate but endure for the bonus of being so close to my family – I live next door to my mother and step father and two of my sisters. It was also great establishing my business here. My stepfather is an architect and my sister an interior designer so we have worked on several amazing projects together. Brisbane is like a big sleepy town compared to running a business in Sydney.
What are your favourite plants to work with in the QLD environment? I just love plants – ALL PLANTS. They never cease to amaze me with their beauty, resilience & variety. We are incredibly lucky in QLD, because of our climate there are so many amazing plants that thrive here. The other bonus is the speed with which things grow – getting a garden established is very fast! I’m always on the hunt for interesting new plants for my own garden but for most of my clients (who aren’t gardeners) I do have a go-to pallet of tried and tested plants. Obviously, this depends on availability and quality of plant stock from the nurseries.
I don’t like to ‘theme’ my gardens as such but I do think its important to select plants from the same family/style. By this I mean if you want a tropical garden stick to tropical species, if you want a classic garden use a palette of classic species. Without this structure, you lose the continuity and definition of the overall design.
If I had to choose my favourite plants it would have to be the tropical plants that grow here – the shapes, sizes, colours and textures are just amazing – and fast growing!”
Your gardens are usable green spaces that connect beautifully with the urban landscape around them. How important is the relationship between nature and the built environment? This connection is very important, especially in our climate. The outdoors is such an important part of our lifestyles in QLD and the gardens need to support and enhance that. I always strive to give gardens a sense of purpose and ask my clients to think about how they use their gardens both as a visual connection from inside and the physical connection to being in the garden.
The garden is to a house like lipstick and shoes are for a fabulous outfit – it’s the last 10% but without it the house will never be finished.”
What kind of garden do you have at home? My garden is a bit of everything. It’s a test plot for new species that I trial, and a rescue garden for the leftover plants from projects. Its my sanctuary and sanity, and my escape. It’s a teaching garden – for my staff and gardening clubs who run workshops in pruning and propagation there. It’s a veggie garden, an orchard, a flower garden (my mother is always picking amazing bunches of flowers for friends or my sisters restaurant). It’s a party garden with long lunches, bocce, back yard cricket and jumping castles, dinner by candle light and barefoot dancing on the lawn. It’s also a dry creek that becomes a raging torrent when it rains… It’s heaven.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to a young graduate landscape architect about to start their career? I mentor several students and often have kids doing work experience. My business is definitely not what you would call a ‘normal’ landscape architecture practice so it gives them the opportunity to see what is on offer and just how diverse the industry is.
My one bit of advice would be the advice my lecturer gave me when I graduated from landscape architecture – go and study horticulture!”
What draws you to plants? Where do I begin? Their beauty, how they adapt, the fact you have to be patient to nurture and watch them grow, the variety, the form, texture, colours, smells…
What are three things all gardens should have? A purpose, a beautiful feature – this could be a tree, a pot, a piece of sculpture – and a caretaker – gardens are so easily lost.
Can you please tell us about one project you really enjoyed? I enjoy all my projects. I’m incredibly fortunate to have great clients and the best job. The projects that would stand out are the ones I worked on with my step-father, architect Geoffrey Pie, and my sister who is an interior designer and who I have collaborated with on a couple of projects. These projects were fantastic – the client got an amazing finished product because the entire job was designed, managed and detailed with consideration to the other parts rather than in three different stages, as is the case with most projects.
What is one lesson you have learnt from the natural world? Patience.
What helps you to feel connected? Starting the day rowing on the Brisbane river, watching the moon set and the sunrise.
What other landscape architects/artists/creatives do you admire? I love the work of landscape architects: Fiona Brockhoff, Andrea Cochran, Piet Oudolf, Miles Baldwin, Hugh Main, Peter Fudge. Art plays a huge part in my life – I studied three years of Fine Arts at Sydney College of the Arts and taught pottery for five years. Artists I love are: John Olsen, Cressida Campbell, Mirka Mora, Camie Lyons, Clement Meadmore, Will Coles, Ben Quilty, Gria Shead, James Drinkwater, Luke Sciberras, Nicholas Blowers, Laura Matthews, Daniel Shipp, Shantanu Starick, Soren Startbird, Michael Cook, Murray Fredericks, Gwen Hansen Piggott, Cameron Williams, Milton Moon. Just to name a few…
Food also plays a very import part in my life – my grandmother and mother are both amazing cooks. I love growing food, cooking it and sharing it as a dinner for two or a party for two hundred!
What media resources do you look to for inspiration? Pinterest, Instagram, Design Files, The Planthunter.
What is your dream project? I don’t really have one, except for maybe the dream of one day buying some acreage in a cool climate! That, and designing and planting my own garden, orchard and veggie garden.
What are you looking forward to? Being a grandmother… my daughter has just announced her engagement!
I can’t wait to take my grandchildren into the garden to show them the wonder and joy of plants, gardening and getting your hands dirty.”
If you were a plant, what would you be? Magnolia Grandiflora.
All images included in this story are of Sidonie’s design projects, photographed by Shantanu Starick and supplied by Sidonie.