James was raised in the Highlands of New Guinea on a coffee plantation. He was introduced to gardening by his mother. His first interest in gardening was collecting and growing orchids which he collected from trees growing in the rainforests behind the plantation.
Intending to study Horticulture after finishing school, just as his family left New Guinea, changed his mind and studied Philosophy and Classics instead. He then embarked on three years of travel across Europe before returning to Australia to study Directing at the Australian Film TV & Radio School. After a decade or so of writing, producing and directing short films & documentaries, his passion for plants and gardens was reignited. He completed a Certificate 111 in Horticulture before setting out for a new life as a garden maker, specialising in edible or kitchen gardens.
Growing up in the tropics meant it took some time to embrace the unique beauty and diversity of Australian flora. There are some 2,000 native flowering plants in the Sydney region alone, making it one of the great wildflower regions of the world. Few of these are in commercial cultivation. There are about 18,000 native flowering plants in Australia. By comparison there are 47 flowering plants endemic to the British Isles. It is bewildering that most Australian garden designers would still prefer to plant exotics.
His interest in design came from image making: the composition of space, light, depth, movement, colour and sound. The added beauty of gardens is that the experience of the garden is ongoing as they constantly changing and able to be changed. Gardens are a connection to nature, but nature ordered in a particular way. The great challenge in designing a garden is to create the right order and to anticipate how it might grow.
Primarily, the garden must meet the needs of those living in the house. It must also connect to the architecture of the house.
He now collects Australian native orchids, but wouldn’t dream of taking them them from the bush.