Plant / Life: Criss Canning & David Glenn

‘Every morning when I walk out the front door, beauty greets me,’ says artist Criss Canning when describing her home and garden, near the central Victorian town of Ascot. Criss and her husband David Glenn own Lambley Nursery, a highly regarded plant nursery renowned for growing and sourcing dry climate plants.

The pair have been living at their 40 acre property, Burnside, for around 25 years, and have transformed 5 acres around the house from windswept, flat farmland into a thriving nursery business and a large rambling garden full of plants that are perfectly suited to the harsh surrounding environment. According to Criss, the temperatures at Lambley range from -8° in winter to 47° in summer!

David Glenn and Criss Canning in their garden, near the central Victorian town of Ascot.
An avenue of pencil pines (Cupressus sempervirens ‘Glauca’) underplanted with Salvia ‘Bee’s Bliss’ frame views into an the adjoining garden room.

David originally started Lambley nursery in the Dandenong Ranges, just outside Melbourne, around 30 years ago. When they moved to Ascot he soon realised the gentle English style perennials he was used to growing there would not cut it in the extreme environment they found themselves in.

About 15 years ago, in the middle of the 10 year drought, David said ‘we’re never going to be able to grow these plants well in this climate!’ recalls Criss.

‘We looked really hard at what plants were doing well, and David researched plants he thought would work.’ They then began importing plants from places like Turkey and California, and testing them in the garden, propagating them, and then selling them in their nursery.

Developing the garden has been ‘a true adventure’ according to Criss. ‘It’s been very experimental for us,’ she says. ‘When we first started out, we thought we’d have lots of grey foliage plants and not much colour. We soon realised there are so many absolutely beautiful and colourful plants that are also very drought tolerant.’

Criss is quick to point out she’s not the gardener. That’s David’s domain – he’s been involved in horticulture in some way or another since he was six-years-old! Through his work at Lambley nursery he’s established himself as one of Australia’s most highly regarded plantsmen. In fact, his reach is international – many of the plants he’s bred have become mainstays of gardens the world over, including his own Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’.

And, while we’re on the subject of plant breeding, how’s this for romance: David bred a pretty blue geranium and named it Geranium ‘Criss Canning’.

It’s a beautiful thing, and a fantastic compliment to have a flower named after you,’ says Criss.

Low plantings of blue sage (Salvia azurea) frame an arbour dripping with Chinese trumpet vine (Campsis grandiflora).
Zinnia ‘Benary’s Giant White’ and ‘Benary’s Giant Wine’.
A formal axis framed by pencil pines divides the Mediterranean garden. A blue garden bench contrasts with the red flowers of the Zauschneria garrettii and the tall yellow flowering verbascum.
A pair of spikey Aloes contrast against the dark green of the privet hedge.
Pink statice (Limonium peregrinum)
Glove Thistle (Echinops ritro ‘Blue Pearl’).
The bee attracting yellow flowers of Verbascum densiflorum.
St Catherines Lace (Eriogonum giganteum).
Criss laid out the five olive trees in the dry climate garden by dragging a stick behind her she says!

Criss’s involvement in the garden is primarily in its design. She’s lent her artist’s eye to the layout and structure of the garden – often simply by dragging a stick behind her to mark out garden beds and the locations of trees in the dirt! The resulting garden is a series of rooms, surrounded by conifer windbreaks for protection. There’s the one-acre vegetable and flower garden (which feeds Criss and David’s five children, 11 grandchildren, and 13 nursery employees!), the Mediterranean garden, the dry climate garden, and more. David is the guiding hand in day-to-day maintenance of the garden, and is assisted by two employees.

At nearly 70, Criss has been painting for around 50 years, and she shows no signs of slowing down. ‘I’m at the easel five to six days a week, eight hours a day,’ she says.  Energised and endlessly inspired by her environment, it’s clear that being surrounded by nature nurtures Criss’s prolific creative practice.

My garden is such a huge inspiration for my painting,’ says Criss. ‘I feel like I live in paradise.

‘There’s not a day goes by that David and I don’t look at each other and say we feel so incredibly blessed to live the life we do.’

New Works from the Studio by Criss Canning
28 May – 26 June 2016
Mossgreen Gallery
Armadale, VIC

All images by Annette O’Brien for The Design Files x The Planthunter

Large banks of rosemary (Rosmarinus ‘Mozart’) frame an axis running from the front door of the house to this bench seat with privet hedge behind.
‘People love the vegetable and flower garden,’ Criss says. ‘I think they’re just really thrilled to see food growing.’
Criss’s artist’s eye and David’s horticultural genius is evident throughout the garden.