Focal Points: Iconic Feature Specimens By Designer Trees

The use of focal points in design architecture reflects the clever placement of an eye-catching feature in the landscape that draws the eye and creates an impressive ‘wow!’ factor. Much more about quality and style than quantity, the use of iconic plant specimens can create dramatic focal points that can be balanced by more muted plantings to fill the landscape as a canvas. The aim is to create the right level of attention with key plantings that have particular dramatic features – shape, colour or form.

At AIH’s September Walk and Talk, we brought members and guests to the beautiful Designer Trees nursery at Lower Portland near Sydney. Sponsored by AIH Gold Sponsors Botanica Nurseries and Fitzpatrick Insurance, this visit was gratefully hosted by Tony Gigliotti and family on a windy Saturday morning.


Members and guests gathered at Designer Trees in the valley along the Hawkesbury and Colo River.

Tony Gigliotti shared his knowledge of successful Grass Tree cultivation and sustainable production.


The Incredible Blue Grass Trees

There really is no other plant quite like the Australian Grass Tree (Xanthorrhea spp). The result of millions of years of evolution in a fire-prone continent, its species are found across the mainland and Tasmania in a variety of climates. A unique monocotyledonous (grassy) plant, it has a highly unique biology that serves to protect it in fire-prone environments.

Designer Trees have arguably the finest Blue Grass Trees available anywhere, as a result of Tony’s unique landholdings, family history and focus on licenses that allow them to curate a collection of Grass Trees that are tens to hundreds of years old. Tony explained the intricacies of legal curation of these species:

“The licensing regulations protect the species from illegal and unsustainable collection, and the susceptibility of this species to fungal rots brought in by people makes it essential that every specimen is uniquely tagged and managed.”

For a feature planting, Tony advocates being part of the whole process.

“We guarantee our stock, and that means we want to see where and how it is being planted to ensure that the Grass Tree has the right conditions to thrive. We take care of delivery, installation and post-planting checks.”


Tony explained that the ‘pups’ that forms off the sides of the grass are usually firmly attached to the mother and don’t successfully transplant as they have no real roots of their own.

Designer Trees produce a wide range of sizes and each trunk takes decades to grow.

Some customers prefer the smaller grass trees.

The biggest ones really are huge and could easily be in the range of 300-500 years old or more.

Most Grass Trees thrive on fire and it stimulates their growth and flowering. Designer Trees burn theirs to promote regrowth and flowering.

Open cuts or breakages in branches can lead to fungal entry and slow progressive decay, so Designer Trees burn cuts clean and the resin seals the wound.

They are exceptionally beautiful and cleanly produced plants of the highest quality.



Bottle Trees

Designer Trees also have an impressive collection of Bottle Trees and related species (Brachychiton spp.) whose distinctive foliage and trunks create presence and focus in the landscape. Tony explained that these trees thrive on well-watered ground.

“There is wide variation in leaf shapes that really influences their form. We find that pruning helps to encourage their growth and within a month they are flushing the most amazing foliage. Once they’re in your landscape they’ll do well with space and as much water as they can get, and become stunning landscape specimens”.


Pruned Bottle Trees.

Not long after pruning the trees flush with growth.


A Rich History At Portland

Tony also produces a range of trees and produce for the top-end restaurant markets, adding to the property’s story dating back to its establishment by Mary Reibey and her family. Mary is best known for being the face of Australia’s twenty-dollar note.

She and her husband Thomas established the farm on the banks of the Colo River on one side and the Hawkesbury River on the other, plying their produce into Sydney by river and becoming famous and wealthy new Australians. Originally convicted for stealing a horse, Mary rose to become an Australian icon and role model for her efforts in the new colony.

Two hundred years on, the property is a superb location for the future landscape specimens of Australia’s most iconic species.



In Appreciation

The Institute wishes to thank the wonderful support by Tony and the Gigliotti family, who so kindly staged the breakfast barbeque, homemade cakes, drinks and cooking. Thank you so much for opening your property to our members and friends. Please visit Designer Trees’ website for more information on their stock and range.

We would also like to thank Chris Poulton FAIH RH for coordinating the event with tireless enthusiasm, and members Wayne Van Balen MAIH RH and David Ting MAIH RH for support.

Thank you also to our Gold sponsors Botanica Nurseries and Fitzpatrick Insurance for your continued support.

The AIH acknowledges the Darug People past and present, the traditional owners of the Portland region of the Hawkesbury River with its long tradition of First Peoples settlement.

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