Andrew’s parents brought the famed Crittenden’s Nursery to the people and gardens of Mount Eliza.
His father, Robert Stark worked tirelessly, seven days a week at the revered Mount Eliza Way gardeners’ destination for 43 years. Andrew’s late mother, worked six days a week in the business. Sadly, just before she passed away, she had finally cut back to a five day working week.
Andrew literally grew up in the back room of the iconic Mount Eliza nursery.
“We slept in our house in Mount Martha, but lived in Mount Eliza. I spent every day after school and every weekend at the nursery, he said.
I didn’t love feeling stuck in the back room when all my mates were doing other things.”
Yet, this was where Andrew was honing the technical aspects of horticulture such as propagating and grafting, before he’d even hit secondary school.
Little did he know that in this back room his career and lifelong passion was being shaped.
Sketching a life of horticulture
It was a Year 11 art project at The Peninsula School that offered the perfect conditions for Andrew’s love of gardening and landscape design to germinate.
A landscaper employed by Crittenden’s had a basic hand drawn garden plan on hand. Andrew knew he could improve on this greatly. The basic plan was the inspiration for a drawing that saw him awarded with an excellent mark. It was around this time that Robert observed his son’s growing interest in the nursery and offered him paid employment beyond the back room.
“From the art project onwards, my thirst and drive for all things horticultural was huge. I’d also found a way to make money ahead of anyone else I knew, doing something I was enjoying.”
Even today, all Andrew Stark design concepts are sketched by hand. Given how tactile gardening and landscaping is, using his hands to draw garden plans is a charming alignment.
In finishing Year 12, Andrew was awarded one of the highest grades in art in Victoria, followed closely by Environmental Sciences and Biology. At the same time, his outdoor life was growing and blooming. He had started working for clients with a local gardener.
This was all before the Millennium Drought of the 2000s. The germination of what is now Andrew Stark Garden Design was at a time when plant nurseries throughout Australia were doing such a roaring trade that they were adding cafes to keep the hoards of customers fed and watered. It seemed the stars were aligned.
Crittenden’s Nursery was due for an overhaul to help attract the weekend leisure crowd and Andrew was the driving force behind this. He fed his thirst for knowledge about horticulture by studying nurseries all around Melbourne and studied at Burley Horticultural College.
Crittenden’s was transformed to a sought after destination for lovers of gardening.
From germinating to blooming
Andrew was building a reputation for his extensive horticultural technical knowledge and garden design. Gardening enthusiasts were making Crittenden’s Nursery a destination to specifically seek out Andrew’s advice on horticultural challenges.
In 1997 an accomplished interior designer ‘with exquisite taste in style and design’ came in to the nursery and asked Andrew to come and design her garden.
Andrew reflects that this opportunity was his pivot point. It was an opportunity to sow the seeds of all the knowledge he had acquired, and bring it all together.
His love of horticulture and design had just stepped up a few terraces, escalated by a 1999 request to design and landscape a large property for a client.
The Millennium Drought: A time for reinvention
The drought of the 2000s meant that nurseries had to reinvent themselves and stock dry tolerant plants. Before this, the influence of the well groomed English garden and lush greenery was the genre that the Stark’s supplied plants and advice for. Andrew welcomed the opportunity to diversify that the drought opened up.
“I lost my narrow mindedness and learnt very quickly that every plant has its virtues and interests.”
It was in the early 2000s that Robert had announced his desire to retire. Robert asked Andrew what he was going to do, if the nursery was no longer.
“I told Dad that I wanted to continue to design gardens but only do what I loved. Dad wasn’t sure that only doing what I loved would be a viable economic decision.”
Andrew has never looked back.
Andrew Stark Garden Design today
Andrew has a flourishing landscape design business and is in demand across Melbourne. He is a shining example of how doing what you love can pave a lucrative and rewarding career and lifestyle path.
Andrew lives and breathes horticulture. He has an insatiable appetite for lifelong learning of his art.
This is demonstrated by extensive travel across the continent and around the globe at just the mention of an inspiring garden. Popping over to London on behalf of a client as part of the design development is all part of Andrew’s working week.
It is easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm that Andrew emanates for making his client’s visions a reality.
It is apparent that clients entrust him entirely with making a statement on their behalf through the visual splendour of stunning garden design.
While he has a trusted team of fellow landscape design enthusiasts and tradespeople on hand, he is hands on with every project.
While www.andrewstarkgardendesign.com.au shows an impressive portfolio of classically inspired garden design, his Andrew Stark Garden Design Instagram portfolio showcases a diverse range of garden designs, from the Baroque and Renaissance, to masculine gardens and through to pretty feminine garden scapes.
A project to watch is a Brighton garden that will be open to the public in November 2016.
“It has been a fascinating project. I worked with the client every month for over a year to bring a unique vision to life. This is something that has never been seen before and I can’t wait to share it.”
The relaxed coastal style of Mount Eliza
Many Mount Eliza properties boast stunning gardens designed by Andrew.
“The backdrop of the ocean lends Mount Eliza gardens to a relaxed, coastal style with a Mediterranean feel,” Andrew said.
When asked how to describe where he works and lives when he is travelling overseas, he likens home to being a bit like Provence or California’s Napa Valley with wineries, micro breweries, olives and similar sandy soil and climate.
“I headed to Provence in the drought for inspiration, and implemented in gardens here around the Mornington Peninsula.”
Andrew’s wife Belinda Stark owns and runs iconic Sissy Mt Eliza. His son, Max, is a Year 4 student and the next generation of Stark attending The Peninsula School.
When asked what he loves about Mount Eliza, he shared his love of being able to shop in the village and find beautiful produce. The village is a perfect base to work from with access to freeways in both directions making the commute to work easy.
Growing up in the well known establishment that was Crittenden’s Nursery meant that he grew up in constant contact with Mount Eliza locals. He loves the fact that popping in to Belinda’s business, Sissy Mt Eliza brings him closer to that flow of local customers, many of which have been, or are, gardening clients.
He also has good friends with businesses in Mount Eliza, including Shop Ate Cafe and Store’s Guy Mirabella.
“Guy has a fascinating background. As a book designer he was involved in publishing one of Paul Bangalay’s landscaping books, so we’ve talked about that a bit over the years.”
On balancing life and work
Andrew’s zeal for all things horticultural radiates from our conversation. His energy is infectious. This is a man living a hobby that ignites his adrenaline, while staying true to his core values.
Observing his mother’s commitment to working hard, and then tragically losing her at a time when she was finally making plans to travel to Tuscany and Provence has had a significant impact on how he lives his life.
“Do what you want to do, as soon as you can – don’t put it off. I travel to collect ideas and knowledge to inspire my work. I love to travel, and I love my work. At the same time, I work hard to maximise the time I have with Belinda and Max.”
A good example of this is a trip where Andrew enjoyed a holiday with his family in Singapore. At the same time, he drew inspiration from the world’s largest orchid garden.
“Enjoy your work as much as you can, make it your lifestyle. I love doing what I love and creating something beautiful. Creating beautiful spaces gives pleasure to everyone that appreciates good design.”
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Article funded by Vicki Sayers, Live Love Mount Eliza | Written by Julie Pearce, Content Services Melbourne