With a holistic approach to designing spaces that balance beauty and functionality, 2021 marks a special milestone for Sydney-based firm Joanne Green Landscape and Interior, as they celebrate 40 years in business. We sit down with director Joanne Neylon to reflect on her masterstrokes, women in business, expanding into interiors and staying relevant across four decades.

To suggest Joanne Neylon was born with a ‘green thumb’ is an understatement. Her fondness for horticulture began at an early age with an innate passion for gardening. With her gardening tools and a vision, Joanne established a small business in 1981 that would later become a leading landscape and interior design firm. 

Spanning 40 years in business, Joanne has seen a myriad of shifts within the industry, notwithstanding the evolution away from a traditionally male-centric trade, changes in trends, and adapting to our ever-growing Australian lifestyles. However, the most significant transformation for Joanne occurred in 2013, partnering with her daughter Angela Neylon. The business evolved into a full service indoor and outdoor design and construction resource with Angela’s interior design expertise.

Joanne’s client-focused approach and dedication to detail gave rise to numerous accolades across various project categories. Among her awards is three-time ‘Landscape Contractor of the Year’ and the ‘Celebrating Women in Landscaping’ award from The Landscape Association, honouring her valued contribution to the industry.

We catch up with Joanne to discover the secret to her longevity of success.

In partnership with Joanne Green Landscape and Interior

Joanne Neylon and Angela Neylon

Photography by Nicholas Watt

Joanne, congratulations on celebrating 40 years in business. Could you kindly share with us what inspired you to start?

Joanne Neylon: As a young girl, I loved flowers and plants. I would spend hours in my parents garden harvesting from seed and was eventually allocated an area by my father to do with ‘whatever I like’.

Our garden was next to bushland in Killara, and the area I ‘inherited’ had a combination of level and sloping ground, with huge boulder outcrops. So I improved the soil and planted vegetable seeds to grow tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, radish and basic summer salad ingredients. Then went on to planting flowers such as sweet peas; snapdragons and the like. Even when we were away on holiday, I could not wait to get home to see what had grown. Later, my interest turned to design and the two merged.

How would you describe your defining aesthetic, and how has it evolved over the past 40 years? 

Joanne Neylon: That is a difficult one. When creating a garden for clients, you uncover a very personal look into their life. Their children, grandchildren, colour palette, ‘must haves’, even their disabilities. This information naturally filters through to the design aesthetic. In my opinion, the most fundamental thing is that the design works for the client. And of course, looks great with the house and site. So I guess it evolves with every client.

What inspired you to expand your business to include interiors. How did this change the business? 

Joanne Neylon: This was one of the best decisions. I have worked hard in this business. No fancy lunches, unfortunately (laughs), but have loved the people and industry and feel incredibly privileged to have remained relevant through the journey of it. 

Angela, our youngest child has always loved fashion and design. When I look back I see that she was destined to become an interior designer. After completing her degree, she worked in Melbourne for an architectural firm, mainly on restaurants and apartments. Then after moving back to Sydney, we decided to take the leap together. We get along really well, and honestly, she has been my saviour. She has injected a renewed energy into the business, and of course, to me as well. 

The building industry and landscaping industry is not something you go into lightly. My role morphed from working on-site to managing a staff of twelve, working across many different facets. We are now a full-service business including landscape design, interior design, landscape construction and garden maintenance, managing projects from conception to completion.

Is there anyone within the industry that inspires you? 

Joanne Neylon: I couldn’t narrow it down to one individual as there are so many. But if I had to choose, I would say the nursery and soil suppliers as they are the nuts and bolts of this industry. 

salon design with arch shelving pendants and arch doorway into basin area

Frankie salon | Photography by Jack Lovel

Being the first female business owner to be inducted into The Landscape Association, the first woman to receive an award from the association and the first woman to receive a ‘Celebrating Women in Landscaping’ award, you are regarded as an advocate for women in the industry. How important is this to you? 

Joanne Neylon: I love the fact that we can celebrate ourselves as who we are. When I started 40 years ago, women kept the fact that they had children private. We did not seek special attention regarding time off for school holidays or to care for an unwell child, let alone afternoon sports. We had a nanny to help with our children, without whom I could not have operated.  But now, working mothers are celebrated for being multitaskers. They are accommodated more in the workforce, and thank goodness for that!

What would you regard as your proudest professional successes in the past 40 years?

Joanne Neylon: Firstly, the landscape construction at the Hyatt Hotel in Canberra was so gratifying. As a hotel with a great deal of history, it was an exceptional experience working with the consultants and growers. We sourced plants from New South Wales and Victoria. I even travelled to a bulb farm in Victoria to select the best irises. It was a stretch as I had a newborn son, but it was well worth it. In addition, I’d also mention our work on the surrounds of the Sydney 2000 Olympics warm-up athletics track. That was a huge milestone for us. 

More recently, completing the landscape design and build of a North Sydney residential project was a rewarding moment. As it was a super tight site, the logistics of bringing in earthmoving and sandstone cutting machinery to carve out the pool was nail-biting. However, the result was truly outstanding, and we were proudly awarded for this project.

What do you see for the future of landscape design?

Joanne Neylon: Looking back, we’ve seen so many trends. The cottage and native style gardens, for example. The English gardens with deep flowering borders like the Sissinghurst castle, French Parterre and Italianate gardens.

However, our clients are more accepting of their abilities and time restraints, returning to what works best for their families. We see more herb and vegetable gardens and beehives, plus designated areas for outdoor dining and relaxation. Clients are appreciating the benefits of enjoying more time outside rather than indoors. 

What are your tips for consistently staying relevant across four decades? What do you believe is the secret to your ongoing success? 

Joanne Neylon: You need to change and grow in different directions, constantly refreshing your business. I also recommend becoming a member of an industry body. I joined The Landscape Association, which resulted in making lifelong friends and keeping up to date with current industry standards.  

I believe if you have a passion for something, you can just about do anything. Being a woman in a male-dominated industry hasn’t hindered this. Over my 40-year journey, I have been lucky to have the support of my family, a dedicated team, our clients and industry partners. I believe this community has been the fundamental foundation of our success.

Watch this space, and remember to get into nature!

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Mosman bathroom project | Photography by Nicholas Watt

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