‘Outdoor Room’ brings Australian landscape to the U.S.
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In Australia, Jamie Durie is a household name — television personality, head of a Sydney-based landscape architecture firm and one-man lifestyle brand with product and licensing deals for house paint, outdoor furniture and more.
With HGTV’s launch this year of “The Outdoor Room with Jamie Durie,” a show he developed for Australian television, the charismatic designer hopes to expand his reach in this country. Durie, 39, also has hosted PBS’ “The Victory Garden” since 2008, is a garden expert on “Oprah” and will host HGTV’s “Green Home 2010” special, premiering Sunday night at 8.
Durie recently bought a mid-century fixer-upper in Laurel Canyon, where he lives with Australian actress Sophie Scarf. We caught up with him at his favorite breakfast spot, Joan’s on Third. He arrived on his Kawasaki motorcycle, which he swears is the best way to get around his newly adopted city. We asked about his background and his current work.
Question: I understand that before you studied landscape design, you trained as a gymnast and had a stint in Las Vegas as a founding member of “Manpower Australia,” an all-male revue. How does that background influence your current career?
Answer: I was very heavily based in the creative side of the show, so I did all the set design and costume design, and I worked with a lot of the theming, music direction and lighting design. I started performing with the show when I was 17 and finished when I was 24, so I was young enough to get out and start a new career. I went back to Australia and studied horticulture, landscape architecture and design. And I’ve never looked back.
Q: You’ve done a lot of television, including makeover programs in Australia. What’s new and different with “The Outdoor Room”?
A: The reason I created this show was to cast a wider net and reach the non-gardener. I want to encourage people interested in travel, architecture, design, food or even fashion — and the show really encompasses all that. It’s really just laced with gardens, which is the icing on the cake.
Q: It’s hard to believe that you accomplish as much as you do on “The Outdoor Room,” because makeover shows, especially garden makeover shows, seem more like theater than reality.
A: My gardens are not simple, but you throw 25 guys at a backyard and you’d be amazed at what can be accomplished in three days.
Q: Your producers are based in Los Angeles and so far you’ve renovated only Southern California backyards. Is it your plan to continue creating episodes here?
A: As the show grows in popularity, we will start to come to other states in the U.S. It’s funny, HGTV said to me that they’ve never spent this much on a gardening show. And I have never spent this little. I realize that this show has to be accessible to a wide range of people.
Not everyone can afford to put in a $100,000 garden, but everyone wants a $100,000 idea that they can achieve at a $1,000 price.
Q: On “The Outdoor Room,” your landscapes are influenced by your travels to places such as Bali, Bangkok and Kyoto. Yet your plant palette is primarily low-water Mediterranean and Australian natives. How do you blend these global and sustainable influences in a Southern California backyard?
A: I can work with any plant, and of course I will use Australian natives where appropriate. But I think we all need to be more intelligent about the plants we’re putting into the ground. You have to look at what grows naturally in your own area or neighborhood as an influence.
Native plants, wherever you are, take less water and require fewer nutrients. And that allows us to build something that is sustainable.
Q: You’ve been commissioned to design a few L.A. projects, including Charlize Theron’s garden. How did you approach that project?
A: I believe Charlize first saw me on PBS. She’s got a great design sensibility and has been amazing to work with. I did a little bit of work on her beach home, and then I started working on her city home. Charlize is big on sustainability, so she has made lots of really great environmental choices. Obviously, with her South African background, I chose a lot of South African plants, beautiful succulents and drought-tolerant natives.
Q: When do you start shooting again for “The Outdoor Room”?
A: I’ll be locked in here in Los Angeles for six months straight. From May to October, they don’t give me one day off. They like to see us sweat. In fact, the network says, “We want to see Jamie’s shirt off in this series,” and I said good luck with that one — that was a whole other career.
-- Debra Prinzing
Become a fan: A Facebook page with news and advice specifically on California gardening? It’s right here. Upper photo: Jamie Durie at work. Credit: Jamie Rector / HGTV
Lower photos: Before and after at a South-Central home worked on by Durie, who found inspiration from a trip to Sonoma to create an outdoor dining room. Credit: HGTV