A little slice of heaven at Lambley Gardens and Nursery
If ever there was a match made in heaven, it is very possible that it is the matching of David Glenn and Criss Canning.
David is a fourth-generation gardener and Criss is a world-renowned still-life artist and their coupling is, indeed, “heavenly”.
The two met over three decades ago when Criss visited David’s flower fields in the Dandenongs to find some appropriate subject matter for an upcoming painting.
“I let her pick whatever she wanted and didn’t really think more about it until I met her again at the local post office,” David recalls. “I remembered her name, which was pretty astonishing for me. Whilst I rarely forget a plant name, I rarely remember a person’s name! Criss was, and still, is incredibly beautiful.”
For Criss too, their first encounter left a lasting impression.
“I laid eyes on him and thought he was gorgeous, this very cool Englishman,” she says. “I invited him to come and look at my painting (of his flowers), but he didn’t for several weeks until I bumped into him coming out of the post office. I extended the invitation again and he came with flowers. Then he was coming every second day with flowers, until my house was looking like a florist shop!”
“That’s how the love story started. We met over flowers and it is still our meeting point in so many ways.”
David is the owner of Lambley Gardens and Nursery; a stunning, elusive paradise nestled on the outskirts of Ballarat in Ascot, where green pastures and canola fields abound. The nursery is named after David’s home village in England, where he worked in his youth at his uncle’s nursery during weekends and holidays.
David and Criss discovered the property after a two-year search. And while the homestead – named Burnside – was practically in ruins at the time of purchase, the couple saw it as a perfect canvas to work with.
“We wanted to buy a property where Criss could have a studio, I could have a nursery and we could both make a garden,” David says. “Burnside had good soil and a good water supply and the house itself had potential. Part was built in the early 1870s, extensions were added at the end of the 19th century and it had a big room with south-facing windows which was suitable for a studio.”
Almost three decades later and the space is not only a garden-lover’s delight, but also the perfect place for those seeking solace, meditation or simply somewhere to admire nature’s wonders.
Upon entering the gardens, guests are immediately greeted by an avenue of stunning Japanese cherry blossoms.
As visitors venture throughout the property, each vantage point presents a picture-perfect frame, which is complemented by the sweet serenity of the garden’s surrounds, providing a truly dream-like experience.
“A beautiful garden gives an enormous amount of happiness and relief from modern stressful lives and mobile phones. It is creative and does no harm,” David says.
His fervour for his art is compelling and infectious to say the least.
“There can’t be a more fun or more exciting career than horticulture," David says. "It is one of the most difficult of all trades to learn and, even after a lifetime as a gardener/nurseryman, I’m still learning.”
Similarly, and to no surprise, Criss talks of her own art in exactly the same light – regarding painting as a spiritual process, meditative and joy-inducing for both the creator and the observer.
Criss started painting 55 years ago. And while creativity was always part of her life, it wasn’t until she was 18 that she realised visual art was her calling.
For many years, landscape painting featured heavily in Criss’s work. That was until she took a 12-month trek to Greece.
“That year was pivotal for me becoming a still-life painter,” Criss says. “I had no studio (in Greece), so was doing seascapes and landscapes, but I kept getting images of still life that wouldn’t leave me alone. It was almost like it chose me in some strange way."
“I had an exhibition of my Greek paintings when I came back home but, from that point on, I have done nothing but still life. Basically, I feel like it’s become my voice. It’s my medium and genre and fulfils me more than anything else.”
A celebration of colour, beauty and life, Criss’s paintings have appeared in solo and group exhibitions across Australia and overseas and in the collections of some of the country’s largest galleries including the National Gallery of Australia and the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Her work also features in countless private collections in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and Hong Kong.
“(Still life) is a lot about how things relate to each other – the props within it and the fabrics. It’s almost like, in some strange way, people having a conversation,” Criss remarks of her art form.
“It can sometimes take me a couple of days to get the set-up right so there’s a total balance. I’m totally interested in balance and the relationship of objects with each other, as well as colour, which for me is one of the most wonderful aspects of painting.”
“It was an unexpected career choice but one I’m glad I made and I’m still totally in love with what I do. It has been a wonderful journey.”
True to form, Criss’s work evokes a certain stillness for all who enjoy it. But as the 72-year-old says, her art is just as therapeutic for her as it is for the viewer.
Sharing some of the struggles she’s faced in her life – as a single mother prior to meeting David, or when she was diagnosed with lupus almost 10 years ago – she talks of painting as her anchor, her method of healing.
“No matter what happens in my life, painting has always been the one thing helping me through somehow. I don’t know what’s going on in the work, but I acknowledge that there’s some spiritual aspect that is not of me, but is something else,” she says.
“I hope to achieve a sense of stillness through my paintings so they’re almost like a meditation (for the viewer) and they are for me as well. Nothing in my work is ever rushed or short-changed. I don’t cut corners and I don’t compromise. Each painting is given the length of time it needs to develop.”
It is clear that David and Criss desire nothing more than to conjure up a spiritual ambience through their work, relying on a force greater than themselves in the process. It is perhaps this appreciation of the spiritual that sets Lambley Gardens apart and contributes to the creation of an awe-inspiring and meditative space. One could indeed be forgiven for thinking they’d entered the gates of paradise.
It is also this common desire that makes the two artists a match made in heaven.
“It’s been a wonderful relationship in that we’ve both learnt a lot from each other and the things we do totally complement each other,” Criss says. “I paint and he gardens. It has been a real blessing for us both and we are happier, better people for having known each other and for being with each other.”
Lambley Gardens and Nursery is located at 395 Lesters Road, Ascot
Words by Della Vreeland, pictures by Angela Hayward. As printed in Uncover Summer 2019