A Wonga Park landscape architect is quickly making his mark with some of Melbourne’s premier outdoor spaces, Pip Young writes.

Growing up in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, Nathan Burkett loved visiting the Yarra Valley and always wanted to live there. As soon as he could afford it, he bought his current home in Wonga Park, and now divides his time between the valley and his easily accessible offices in Mitcham, where Nathan Burkett Design, his flourishing landscape architecture business, is based. This year has been a fantastic one for Nathan; already acknowledged as one of Australia’s rising stars in garden design, he won two medals at the 20th Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show, in March this year.

The Mark Bence Construction Award, coupled with a Gold Medal in Landscape and Floral Design for his garden ‘Equilibrium’ was, as Nathan said, “by far our greatest achievement as a company”. Looking back, he cannot quite believe that the team managed to build the $200,000 garden in 10 days. He recalls a night that saw a long line of people – himself included – scrubbing out the bottom of a pond in the pitch dark to finish on time.
The accolades are an amazing achievement for this 33-year-old, but Nathan remains modest. Dedicated not only to his art, but to his company and his staff, he is realistic in his ambition and sees the importance of securing his business – making sure there is plenty of work for his team of 16 “amazingly talented people”. Recognition brings business, and there inevitably comes a point where there simply isn’t enough time to take on every project offered. One suspects though that if he could, he would. “I just love what I do. Working with a living medium is such a satisfying thing for me; sitting down at my drawing board and coming up with new designs – there’s nothing I like more.”
From an early age, he was interested in the family garden. Following two fortuitous weeks of work experience with a commercial landscape designer, he knew exactly what he wanted to do. After studying landscape architecture at RMIT, he worked firstly in commercial landscape design, then as a residential landscape designer, before setting up his own business almost 10 years ago.
“One of the things that helped us was winning an Abode Award, so in terms of having access to projects, this really paved the way.” Winning an Allan Corey Award for best garden design, as voted by the Australian Institute of Landscape Designers and Managers, was a highlight in a succession of accolades.
Influenced by the work of Luciano Giubbilei and Piet Oudolf, Nathan describes his style as classic contemporary, “taking elements of the formal garden and adding a contemporary twist”, but is willing to embrace all projects and adapts his style according to a client’s needs in both residential and commercial work. On the initial site visit the team notes the borrowed vista, the key views – even the canopies of neighbouring trees. Nathan studies the architecture, particularly the windows; for him the relationship between inside and outside is paramount. He joked: “This is particularly important in Melbourne, where 50 per cent of the year, the garden is enjoyed from inside. It’s about creating beautiful views from within the house and practical enjoyment outside.”
Detail is important, but for Nathan, the most important aspect of his work is making the garden fit well with whatever it is attached to. He loves the complexity of Old English gardens, but says that “here in Australia, the harshness of the environment means a lot more work is needed to keep this type of garden looking amazing”.
He enjoys many of the Yarra Valley’s gardens, particularly noting the beautiful simplicity of the gardens around Yering Station. “The thing I love about the valley is that landscapes don’t have to be complicated. It is such a beautiful place that the landscape speaks for itself.”
He feels very lucky to have won so much recognition, but one suspects luck has nothing to do with it. Talent, ambition and a genuine love of the design process from beginning to end are obviously an award-wining combination. And the broad smile that appears when he talks about his work speaks volumes.