Current Issue #488

Off Topic: Brian Parkes

Off Topic: Brian Parkes

JamFactory CEO Brian Parkes has developed a native green thumb since moving with his family from Sydney to Adelaide four-and-a-half years ago.

JamFactory CEO Brian Parkes has developed a native green thumb since moving with his family from Sydney to Adelaide four-and-a-half years ago.

“We moved from inner city Sydney where we lived in small apartments,” Parkes begins.

“When we arrived in Adelaide, the opportunity to move to a house with a bit of land came about. We bought this fantastic John Chapel modernist 1960 number up on a hill, so we could look down over gum trees and Flinders University buildings, as well as the water. The previous owners had gutted the yard. They left all the big trees and put some large rocks and stuff in place. They’d done all the heavy lifting and we’re very grateful that they’d done these big expensive excavations and created a series of beds, really.

“We decided that because the garden over the road was all natives, that we should extend the path for birds and butterflies, and all sorts of life. We live opposite, more or less, the Sturt Gorge Reservation Park. We knew nothing about native gardening. I grew up in Tasmania with perennials and English plants. We, through a whole lot of trial and error, had just been buying tubestock, the smallest seedlings you can get. It’s been three-and-a-half years now and there are trees taller than me that were planted at twoand- half inches high, so that’s incredibly satisfying. Right now it’s just a sea of colour and it’s all native flowers. We’re in the bush more or less. Every Saturday morning after breakfast, I grab a cup of coffee and just wander around the garden and look at how things have developed. It’s quite a little ritual. Things die, it’s a harsh climate, and things that we thought would do well didn’t. It’s trial and error. You learn all these words you never knew; we planted lots of Correas and Grevilleas and a whole lot of trees as well. We’ll have a canopy that will probably take a lot longer to develop than we’ll be around for. There’s something quite nice about that. That you’re doing this for someone in the future.”

Rather than have a masterplan, the Parkes’ garden is one that they let evolve.

“We’ve been really organic with it. We’ve tried to imagine that it’s much more like the bush. So these things are growing, and we’re making sure we haven’t got anything too tall next to the house and that sort of stuff. The first few years we were just planting and mulching and now we’re starting to prune. There’s always a lot of work to do and that’s great. I work pretty crazy hours with this job and we’ve got two small kids, so you’re always on the go. That physical labour in the garden – I often come in on a Monday with scratches and dirt under the fingernails and a stiff back – recharges the batteries. I never would have imagined, as someone living in inner city Sydney five years ago, that I would be passionate about a garden. That’s due to a change of circumstances. Being in Adelaide has allowed us a quality of life that would not have been accessible working in the arts – even at a senior level – in Sydney, as real estate with water views and sweeping gum tress is just inaccessible.”

Despite not having a native garden in Sydney, Parkes and his wife always had affection for the bush.

“The thing my wife and I enjoyed doing together before we had children, and we still do to a certain extent, is bushwalking. We’ve done some incredible walks around Australia. We always had a fondness for the Australian natural landscape, as a passive observer rather than a creator. When we had this opportunity to buy a 1380 square-metre block in amongst a bush setting in a modernist house – I’m an unrepentant modernist in every sense – there’s something about mid-century modernism and native plants that just works together.

“The house is pure and simple geometry, as you’d expect a modernist house to be, so these sort of organic and almost gnarly sorts of plants act like a counterpoint. My wife’s a graphic designer and I work in design, so we obviously care about the aesthetics, but you’ve got to let it go a bit with native plants. They do what they want to do, and that’s been good for us as well.”

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