In his early days, like many designers, Michael Cooke’s style was heavily influenced by how others were designing around him. At that stage it was a lot of English-style country gardens – a far cry from his design approach today.

As Michael’s experience grew, so did his own ideas about how a garden should look and, more importantly, feel. Today Michael’s gardens are about creating an emotional outdoor space that works in with the natural surrounding landscape. He explains that with 30-plus years of plant knowledge on his side, plant selection comes naturally.

Ever modest, it’s clear that Michael is renowned for his skill in selecting plants that not only complement and engage the surrounding landscape but that create layers within a garden; bringing depth of colour and texture to soft planted areas set against the more structured forms of a built garden.

Details of Michael Cooke's garden
Details of Michael Cooke’s garden

For Michael, good design is never about money and it’s not about the latest product or trend. It’s about creating a space that responds to you and the way you want to live outside.

Equally, it’s about creating a space that evokes a response from you, an area that is sensory and can’t be ignored. Gardens should be experienced; we should notice the changes from season to season as we move throughout the year, the smells and the sounds that make up the space.

Michael bought his current property at the age of 25. Back then it was un-cleared bush land with an old fence and a septic tank. Not much to work with. The garden has been transformed over many years and continues to be a growing, evolving and ever changing life force. Initially Michael bought the land to plant one of every species from his 2.5 acre nursery but as life changed, so did the garden.

When he and his wife Cathy started building their home, they began to adapt the garden around a living space. It changed when they brought horses onto the property and again when they were raising their son. Each life stage brought with it a need to look at the way the garden was being used in a different light.

The end result is almost a planted history of his family’s life. For Michael, walking through the garden is like looking through a photo album; it’s full with memories at every turn. There are areas now that he thinks are a little old fashioned but recognises that those planted experiences represent moments in his own life from years gone by.

Details of Michael Cooke's garden
Details of Michael Cooke’s garden

To pull out that memory and replace it with something more fashionable just doesn’t feel right. It would be like updating your wedding ring ten years later and denying the significance of the one you both chose in your younger years.

When we ask Michael what it is that he likes most about his garden, there’s no one favourite plant or spot that he can pin point. We can see now that our question is like asking someone to choose their favourite memory or their favorite emotion.

It’s simply impossible to have just one without appreciating the whole spectrum of other memories which make up your whole. On some days it’s the smell in the air that Michael loves, on others it’s feeding the horses or walking out across the paddocks without shoes. It’s the little moments that happen all around the place. It’s the feeling of a living and changing space that has been there his whole adult life, like part of the family.

What Michael has created is truly special. A living, breathing planted history that captures and holds tight his family’s memories within an incredibly beautiful space that be experienced every day. It truly is the garden of a lifetime.

Michael Cooke Garden Design

Images by Brigid Arnott