MUSK Cottage on the Mornington Peninsula would, under normal circumstances, be a picture of serenity.
Visitors would usually hear the wind blowing through the native reeds, see waterfowl tip-toe across the wetland lily pads and gaze across the undulating farm land towards nearby Flinders.
But not today.
Today Musk Cottage resembles a construction zone, complete with tradesman’s blaring radio, an earthmover building a golf green and pathways with mounds of rocks.
The 4ha property was bought seven years ago by renowned landscape designer Rick Eckersley, as a way to showpiece his work, and is receiving its final touch-ups before culminating in a public opening on Australia Day, for Open Gardens Australia.
Rick, of course, is all apologies." We were meant to be finished two months ago and we’re behind. It’s going to be a rush for the open day," Rick says.
With a four-decade career in the gardening world – not just as a landscape designer, but with a wholesale nursery and outdoor furniture chain (Eco Outdoor) to his name – Rick is well accustomed to such anomalies. His signature style, after all, is designing for the Australian landscape.
Not that bland, bleak aesthetic that so many green-thumbs associate with the style, but "a mongrel garden" that integrates exotics with natives, "blending and knitting" to form a pattern.
What he can’t abide are green lawns, twee English gardens and a "cookie cutter" approach to design.
Above all, he says, gardens must be aesthetically pleasing and environmentally sustainable. "There’s nothing more beautiful than looking through pendulous curtains of foliage to the blue sky. I love being under vines," he says.
"People seem to like square and low with bright green lawns, like a patterned table cloth.
"If I say brown to clients they think that’s awful. But we are a brown country with so many beautiful brown landscapes, with thousands of browns and yellows and blues."
Rick grew up on a cattle and wool grazing property in Macarthur, in the Western District, and was destined to have a career in the wool industry until, at the age of 20, he applied for Australian Volunteers International.
He was first sent to Botswana and then Vanuatu and it was there, on a Christian mission, he saw the urgent need for a garden.
"There were these beautiful kids who weren’t being fed. They (the missionaries) were more interested in saving their souls. So I thought, ‘this is crazy, we could grow anything here’."
On his return to Australia he applied for Burnley Horticultural College, but having no science background wasn’t qualified.
"But the principal and vice-principal were Christians and had heard about my work in Vanuatu, so they created a new mature-age entry for me." He graduated, worked for Berwick City Council for three weeks, before leaving to start his own landscaping business.
After several incarnations it is now called Eckersley Garden Architecture, which designs mainly private gardens of the well-to-do.
While his schedule may already have been crammed enough, he says the decision to buy Musk Cottage seven years ago was driven by a desire to design a garden that no client would request.
Out went the Cotswold-style box hedges and wisteria and in came the natives.
"If I said to clients this is going to be your garden, they’d say, errr, no way. When you mention gum trees to some people, they run."