David Warburton – Garden Artist

March 24, 2016   ·   0 Comments

“I was absolutely thunder struck by snow – the magic of it – skating, tobogganing – it was simply amazing.”

So said David Warburton, Garden Artist, of his first winter, after coming to Canada from South Africa at the age of seven. Born in Swaziland, a sovereign country bordered by South Africa and Mozambique, a semi tropical land of warmth and a year round growing period. The richness and the floral profusion of his homeland has stayed with Mr. Warburton and, eventually, became a prime influence on his work in landscaping.

“Being raised in Africa, you just cannot ignore or be unaware of your surroundings. We had a driveway lined with jacaranda – I just had to shout with the beauty of it all,” he remembered. “Back in Africa,” he went on to reminisce, “we lived in a suburb of Johannesburg on 25 acres. Beside us, we had one of those amazing 1,000 acre farms. As a child, [during my free time] it was just me and the gardener of the vast garden.

It was life with a capital L. I would spent time in the garden all day just dreaming and eating fruit. There was a photograph of me as a child, having climbed up a trellis to the eat the grapes and my face is purple with them. Goodness knows how I got up there,” and he laughed with the memory.

After high school here in Canada, Mr. Warburton went to OCAD (Ontario College of Art and Design) but dropped out before he completed his courses there.

He remarked, “I got disillusioned part way through.”

Some of his horticultural history involved: “summers [working] for a ragtag, rascally Irishman – Mr. O’Reilly – red freckles – in the Adirondacks. He thought I was too gently born for the hard work. He never did break me…”

His first landscaping job came “on the strength of being an artist,” as he related. “The client could have hired any number of landscape architects but wanted to see what an artist would do with her property.

I just did some water colour sketches and thought that was all she wanted but no, she told me, ‘You’ve got to install it.’”

His comment about the faith this lady had in his innate abilities was, “She hired me and then persisted. That’s essentially how I got my start and got on fire to do landscaping.”

That was in the late 1980’s. In 1991, he and his wife, Anne Marie [well known for her high end custom jewellery and her beautiful establishment in the Alton Mill, Gallery Gemma] moved to the Hockley Valley where they lived for a few years in a stone house until they built their straw bale house in 2000. That is a story in itself, for another time.

Mr. Warburton’s first two clients in the area were highly successful businessmen. After a thoroughly satisfying completion of the second contract, he decided “I would form a company and hire people – and get a truck.” He added humorously, “The landscaping trade congress  – they couldn’t accept that I didn’t have a truck.”

However decided Mr. Warburton was about his newly formed business and the path he had chosen to create beautiful gardens for his clients, there were definite differences in his approach to the initial planning of each project, for, withal, Mr. Warburton is an artist, not an architect, as such.

We wanted to know how the one varied in planning from the other.

He explained, “I almost embraced that method, where I started with drawings – like an architect -at a certain point. The drawings were too unwieldy  – I was working on the garden, not in the garden..

Now, I only do drawings if other trades are involved.

“Architects – their point is the plan and they take a measured approach. I’m not sure which is more important to me – my artistic nature or my loved of nature. All I want to so is take aspects of what is and work with that.”

Reflectively, he said, “The other thing is – at first I drew – what I do now is draw on the ground itself so that the clients can walk the land and see where things will be. This is useful for costing the project – so much stone, so many beds and where they will go.”

For as long he can remember, David Warburton has always been someone who thrives on being outdoors – “truly, that’s where I am mostly myself, where I get my inspiration.

“Landscaping for me was marrying my imprinting when I was a kid and a truly artistic nature.”

Members of a garden club come to the Warburton property “to poke about” and ask him how he designs his garden. “I had to review what I love – my gardens are really lush and full and lots going on – incredibly prolific gardens -that was Africa.”

He added, “That’s what I’m known for – very full, busy gardens.”

There were still revelations to come in our conversation.

“What happens when I’m in a garden now, I just open up to the garden and respond to the what’s there – starting the house, the parts of the garden – I let the ideas drop into my mind. At first, it was really scary because I didn’t know if I could trust it but when I went back to check the technical aspects, it’s always right. So, now I trust it,” he said.

“The exercise I’ve gone through recently is to ask why people spend the money they do.  What I’ve given these folks is as beautiful a spot as I can so they come into it and just relax – n oasis.We realized that the way they’re talking about gardens – they’re fierce about having those places to go to but [also] to have places to think – so that they’re more effective when they’re someplace else.”

His clients make it clear: “They’re pitting their money into a place which actually is paying for something that gives them a competitive edge.”

Most importantly, he declared, “My joy in realizing these things and working in this fashion is that I’m a shameless promoter of nature. We think we can live without nature – we think we don’t need nature.

“I want to promote that we are totally dependent on nature.”

By Constance Scrafield

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