In a town where every cook is a 'celebrity chef' and those who manage to knock together some IKEA shelves are elevated to 'celebrity designer' status, it's hard to filter out the genuinely talented artisans who actually care more about their craft than their pop culture kudos.
That is, until you meet Paul Bangay. Immensely talented, incredibly charming, yet intensely private in the scale of celebrity, Paul has been one of Melbourne's finest landscape design exports for nearly 30 years – without the need for any PR spin.
During his tri-decade career, Paul has planted buds and planned sweeping vistas for some of most influential business and entertainment families in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, North America and the West Indies. All the time with earth worn, weather beaten – albeit slightly designer – boots firmly planted in the earth.
"Celebrity can be a double-edge sword," says Paul from his rural Victorian home, Stonefields, the stunning inspiration for his latest book. "It brings the spotlight to the industry, but also has a habit of simultaneously cheapening it."
Paul's message isn't loud, but it is clear. And he chooses his books, which are the bible of many a green thumb, to invite others into his world, and learn from his bespoke creations and deep knowledge.
"l create gardens that are timeless, while most new designers only create for the fashion of the time," he muses in his modest manner, most telling when asked what his career highlight has been. Being a board member of the Stephanie Alexander Garden Foundation? Creating Botanica exhibitions at the Melbourne International Festival for several years? Working alongside the iconic florist, Kevin O'Neill, as a 20-something? Or maybe it has been receiving a Centenary Medal for his contribution to public design projects at the turn of the millennium?
Nope, for Paul it was having his name and work mentioned in an episode of Kath & Kim – "Not once, but twice!" he laughs.
Although hard to top, today sees the launch of possibly another career pinnacle, his latest book, 'The Garden at Stonefields' which charts the labour of love for a patch of land that has materialised into an awe-inspiring home since he fell in love with at first sight several years ago.
"My first impression was one of vast scale and a panoramic views," he recalls. "I parked my car on a paddock where the home now stands and just knew this was for me."
Named in homage to the surrounding volcanic rock littered paddocks, Stonefields now boasts nine stunning gardens which have flourished into a truly surreal, storybook retreat that has to be seen to be believed.
Today, Paul's favourite moments remain far from the maddening crowds. In between international and national client meetings, he relishes nothing more than kicking around Stonefields in those aforementioned boots with his partner, Barry, and their beloved dog, Timber.
So keen is Paul to immerse this, and the next, generation in the beauty of his craft, that he is opening a bed & breakfast next door. "The B&B came about by wanting people to be immersed in the Paul Bangay way of living on weekends," he says. "Guests can cook using produce from the garden, wander around the garden at Stonefields as we do, and just live in the wonderful environment that the central highlands offers."
Buy the book or book a stay. Either way, you are forgiven if you let it go to your head. Even if Paul doesn't.
Paul Bangay's 'The Garden at Stonefields' is published by Lantern with photography by Simon Griffiths. Available in bookstores from 25th September. RRP $100.
Visit www.paulbangay.com for more information.