By Ellen Hill for Now & Zen Landscapes Photos: David Hill, Deep Hill Media
CRUISING the tree-lined avenues of Wentworth Falls, the vibrant rhododendron gardens of Blackheath and the heritage properties of Leura encased by drystone walls, Shannon Decker envisages his own garden designs a century from now.
“I can see the moss and lichens on the stones, how tall the trees will grow and where their canopies will span to a hundred years from now,’’ he says.
“When I drive around and I see a beautiful copper beech tree planted 80 years ago I am so thankful to the forefather who planted it for us.
“Likewise, what we’re planting today is for people to enjoy in the future.’’
Inspired by Danish garden designer Paul Sorensen, whose work can be seen throughout the upper Blue Mountains, and Edna Walling whose garden designs are renowned around the Dandenong area of Victoria, Shannon was grateful that “plenty of people have had that vision up here in the Mountains’’.
“A hundred years ago, fifty years ago even, properties were bigger, materials were cheaper, the stone was readily available and labour was much more affordable.
“Stunning gardens also evolved because people had time, valued quality and the architecture, design, engineering and craftsmanship of the pioneers was second to none, with a lot of those skills applied to the gardens.’’
Shannon acquired an appreciation for quality during his apprenticeship as a teenager working on upmarket estates in The Hills district, landscaping properties to complement the mega mansions constructed by premium builders.
The boy larrikin who left school at age 14 on the brink of expulsion now heads a multi-million dollar business incorporating landscaping and garden design, a civil division, a recycling and composting property and an organic bulk food store.
Now living at Wentworth Falls, he was introduced to Blue Mountains life during a break from landscaping while he managed the Lapstone Hotel between 1997 and `99.
Now & Zen Landscapes (derived from the common saying
now and then’’) was established the year heneeded to step up’’. In 1999 he bought a house at Lawson, his then fiancé became pregnant and their son was born.
With only a few other such businesses in the Mountains at the time, Shannon’s drive to succeed and the work ethic his parents instilled in him, the business was an immediate success:
“In 2000, my second year of business, my turnover was the same as it is today.’’
Now & Zen has maintained that strength and market share during the past 20 years
Just 22, he had four vehicles and a skid steer machine, an acreage property and a landscape supply yard at Blaxland.
Then in 2005, Shannon’s life underwent personal challenges and he lost everything, moved to
Wollongong and commuted to a part-time TAFE teaching job at Richmond.
Now & Zen lay dormant.
“But we had 15 years of trading history in the Mountains and the phone didn’t stop ringing, so after a while I’d say `No worries, I’ll do it’. I just made it happen.’’
After two years shuffling between Wollongong, Leura and Richmond, Shannon moved back to the Mountains in 2012.
Seven years later in a local industry that now sustains more than 20 landscaping businesses, Now & Zen Landscapes is the yardstick of the highest end market in the Greater Blue Mountains and Central West where projects are limited only by imagination.
“Although we consider ourselves to be at the peak of our game, we’re surrounded by other great landscape companies who keep us on our toes and keep raising the benchmark, which is wonderful for the area.’’
Shannon himself is the local industry authority, responsible for the education and training of the next generation in landscaping.
He was recently headhunted by one of Australia’s oldest recognised training organisations, The Management Edge (TME), to run its NSW and Victoria landscape training program working with employers.
Using as examples the master landscapers of the past, the bedrock of Decker’s Now & Zen Landscapes business is enduring quality, timeless beauty and sustainability, principals he hoped to pass on through TME and his own apprentices.
Garden design has given me a creative outlet, it’s an expression of me,’’ he says.It’s a timeless piece of art.’’
While skills were being lost generally through quick builds and cheap alternatives, master landscapers such as Now & Zen created and maintained bespoke gardens to a long-term vision featuring individual pieces created by artisans, stonemasons and expert gardeners.
Shannon also owns an 80-acre property at Mt Victoria, where concrete is recycled and green waste composted, which provided a solution to expensive transport and tipping costs.
Shannon has constructed an off-the-grid ironstone and iron bark house, and Shannon and his family will soon open an organic zero waste bulk food store in late February in Katoomba.
“But underlying it all is the soil we stand on and being grounded to the earth.’’