The Covid pandemic created an unexpected opportunity for my son George Sykes.
His journey to Australia kicked off in December 2019. Already an accomplished landscaper, George had planned to travel for a year and gain experience working with some of the top landscape designers in Australia.
Prior to leaving the UK he had the foresight to create a portfolio of his work and then set about researching and contacting a number of landscape designers he wanted to work with.
A PDF brochure of his work was sent out to the select list. It did the trick and among the responders he was fortunate enough to gain an audience with the acclaimed designer Anthony Wyer, at Wyer and Co Sydney – and he got the job!
Things couldn’t have got off to a better start! But, after a couple of months working for Wyer and Co, Covid struck and George was faced with a dilemma:
“I thought do I stay and stick it out, or go home? I was obviously thinking if this gets bad I would be the first to be made redundant and have to find a new job, so I was very unsure about what to do,” he explains.
“Then I got a phone call from Anthony who explained he was really sorry but he didn’t know if he would be able to retain me, as he only had about 14 more days of work planned. That got me thinking about alternative plans but then panic set in. I went straight to the computer and started looking for flights home. Some flights were going to cost a staggering $30,000, which I definitely didn’t have! So, I considered travelling to North Queensland and taking on some farm work.
“I managed to secure a job through a friend at a cattle station which I was quite keen on doing. Then Queensland decided to close their borders with New South Wales, so I was well and truly stuck! With the 14th day of work fast approaching, one evening I got another phone call from Anthony asking me if I wanted to take on a rather ambitious job at his house – as site foreman. This would keep me busy until August. Suffice to say I accepted the challenge straight away!” Here’s what happened next….
Anthony’s house is set in a smart residential area of Sydney. The gardens are typically town sized, and due to the topography, levels can vary significantly between plots and within gardens. So, this can be a real challenge for the landscaper both in terms of design and logistics.
George was tasked with transforming the rear garden into a Mediterranean themed space, which Anthony had designed, a popular garden style in Australia. It’s an approach to watch and adapt with appropriate plants in the UK.
The job entailed removing a large mass of rock to the rear of the garden and then building a cabana (or cave) in its place with a large garden border integrated above it. He also had to create an outdoor kitchen BBQ area (what Aussie garden wouldn’t have one!) and an outdoor fireplace. Needless to say, George and his team had their work cut out…
After a number of months cutting rock, jack hammering, pouring concrete and building walls they had created the structure of the garden. What an achievement, the cave was made, fireplace built – all they had left to do was apply the finishes.
Anthony had chosen white textured rendered walls, a beautiful red brick paver for surfaces, and New Guinea rosewood decking around the pool and house.
George and his team set upon applying all the finishes with gusto and then it was time for the planting!
“As with most planting I’ve completed with Wyer – it was go BIG, or go home!” laughs George.
“On the day of the planting I arrived at the site at about 5am and in rolls a 40 tonne crane, a road closure to manage, then truck after truck, after truck arrived carrying what one can only describe as fully grown trees and cacti!
“All the plants had to be craned from the road, over the house and into their predetermined slots in the rear garden. This was going to be a busy day! The site was buzzing with activity and we had most of the crew from Wyer helping out. The work finished around 7pm – so it was a bit of a marathon – but it was all but completed.
“We just had a couple of trees left to plant the next day: one Phoenix Palm and a Dracaena Draco, what a relief!
“These could be planted with a smaller crane as the team didn’t have to reach so high and far. Finally we needed to carry out the underplanting using a variety of succulents, rosemary and many more. A couple of weeks later planting was completed, irrigation in and everything mulched ready for Anthony to enjoy.”
George had completed his first main project for Wyer and Co and what an achievement that was!
Since then George went onto work on a myriad of projects with Anthony, learning new design and construction techniques and building a plant list of a whole range of new species. His stay in Australia was extended until July 2022.
With all the knowledge he has gained from his time in Australia George is hoping to bring some of these techniques, design ideas and planting methods back home.
“I want to create gardens in the UK that are appreciated and used more often, so we can enjoy these just as much as the Australians love their outdoor spaces.”