Garden Life with Jo Ferguson


Brought up by mother nature, garden designer Jo Ferguson has been bringing the most joyous Australian gardens to life.

We feel so fortunate to have shot our current collection at Jo’s stunning Flinders garden. What felt like a working holiday we were instantly welcomed and left full to the brim, and we dare we say a new best friend too.

Read on as Jo gardens to the soundtrack of the wind and birdsongs and generously shares her approach to beginning your garden and her favourite banksia’s.  Photos taken by Jessica Tremp for Nancybird

Where did your love of gardening grow (we love a plant pun) and how did you begin designing?

I think I was brought up by mother nature. Dust and insect filled light, indigenous plants, especially native grasses make me happy. To feel one with an ecosystem that has evolved over a long time undisturbed by humans gives me a great sense of joy and peace. It is like coming home.

I grew up in a rambling old Edwardian house with a huge established garden. I was 5 in 1968 when we moved in. Before we lived there it was a boarding house for old people and each bedroom had a number on the door. I remember there were six tiny kitchens all with their own table, bottle of tomato sauce and each had its own green kooka stove. The house was dark and stuffed full of old bits and pieces. The garden was bursting with interesting plants and many varieties of established fruit trees to climb. The grass was above my head and there were myriads of concrete paths which delineated vegetable gardens for the residents and 6 old sheds full of junk. The salvos used to march down the street playing in their band. We would dress up and dance around them.

Holidays were spent running barefoot in summer or in gumboots in winter at Merricks Beach which was wild and untouched. The light was diffuse, the roads were made of soft dust, it was bushy, lawns were mown native grasses and there were echidnas, snakes, blue tongue lizards and koalas. We went tadpoling, mushrooming and blackberry picking, got sunburnt, dumped in the shore break on our surf mats and hung out in gangs as teenagers smoking durries in the cave and star gazing at night and went to yacht club movies and dances.

I studied graphic design at Chisholm institute and then moved to my beloved Merricks to work at Coora Cottage Herb nursery to save to go to India. It was there I was encouraged to go to Burnley to do the Degree in Horticulture which I did specialising in grasslands of the Western Plains. I then worked in revegetation and community development for MCMC and then Hume City Council Greening Program. We planted thousands of trees, shrubs and grasses with community, preserving and managing remnant vegetation and improving public open space. We had a great team. 

Then I had 2 boys. After my boys were getting towards the end of school I decided to study the Garden Design Post grad at Burnley. My first garden was for the Bustle house in Northcote which was a distillation of many years of dreaming. Everyone loved it!


Can you share some simple steps for someone starting out in their garden?

If you are creating a garden for yourself I would encourage you to look back at your memories. Where did you feel most whole? Where did you go when you were sad? What plants or plant communities give you a sense of joy? What are your favourite colours? Try and bring elements of that into your garden, it is important.

Research the indigenous plants of your area, learn about the soil and what sort of community would have occurred there. Imagine what it was like and those that lived here before us. Walk the neighbourhood and see what plants do well. Walk in any natural areas near your place. Do a PH test and improve your soil all the time. Growing plants feels good.

We’d love your top three banksia tips for all the lovers out there! 

Top 3 Banksia tips

1. Research those that grow naturally in your area and plant those Banksias. Many of the WA conditions require high PH, some prefer sand and may not suit your area.
2. Plant them where you can see them often they are so beautiful and love them.
3. Love them some more.


Can you share your favourite Banksias, season and songs to garden to? 

My favourite Banksias are: 

1. Banksia integrifolia Coastal Banksia
2. Banksia praemorsa yellow form
3. Banksia serrata Old Man Banksia

I love summer when all the weeds are scorched and the native grasses sing. I used to love gardening to the soundtrack of Monsoon Wedding, but now it is just the wind and birdsong.


What are you most looking forward to this season?

This summer I’m looking forward to watching the 50 or so Banksia integrifolias and She oaks and native Eucalypts growing in our front paddock. Also the cone flowers, Russian sage, hyssops and all the grasses flowering  in our garden and moving in the wind.

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  • Robby

    Hi Jo, I’m a garden designer in rural NSW and have loved Banksias since childhood as I’m sure many others have also. I used to push my tongue through those long lashes of stamens and tantalise my taste buds with that sweet syrupy sensation that draws all the possums and sugar gliders. Although I now leave the syrup to the fauna, I do love your design and am just putting a permaculture version with grainy gravel pathways into my own garden, filled with bushfoods, including beautiful banksias. Who can help but adore them.
    Love to all the banksia lovers.

  • Mary Flynn

    Love this garden and how Jo thinks about it. My memories are of my Granny’s cottage garden in remote rural west of Ireland. Filled with roses, and every kind of gentle colour. The garden was her as I think your garden is you! I’m trying to do the same in mine in Margaret River, and I planted many banksias and they are so happy and beautiful and when it flowers the birds go bonkers! Thank you

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