Not only does Janet have a remarkable marriage to Ralph of more than 30 years, they’ve turned a special place, that they built, into a booming business that celebrates love, has the most tranquil backdrop and is truly an idyllic oasis. To celebrate The Whitsundays Issue, what better way to begin than focus in on Janet and her incredible story.  

Please tell us the romantic story behind Villa Botanica’s creation?

Villa Botanica was created by my husband Ralph as a palace for his princess. I was his unsuspecting muse, the person he’d been dreaming about since he was a young boy. He has a most unusual way of demonstrating his love…using his talent for design and obsession with nature to create extraordinary temples of beauty, which we then turn into wedding venues!

Image by Playback Studios

Can you sum up Villa Botanica in a few sentences?

One man’s passion for finding his God through nature, translated into an extraordinary residence by the sea, whose purpose today is to engender delight and wonder in everyone who visits.

Image by Luke Middlemiss Photography

What are the influences and ideas behind the style of the buildings and the garden?

Villa Botanica was created with the idea that a home and its surroundings should merge so seamlessly, it’s hard to tell where the gardens end and the buildings begin. Its overarching philosophy is that more is more, e.g. you can never have too much detail, too many points of interest. Wherever you look, there is always something to rouse your curiosity.

You can see influences from many different cultures; the sweeping verandahs of the classic Queenslander to create cooling ventilation in a warm climate; touches of Ralph’s French heritage in the Fleur de Lys icons popping up in wood and stone around the property; the craftsmanship of Bali which accounts for 8 container loads of custom designed, hand-carved architectural features: from verandah columns, timber fretwork, roof finials, stone plaques, onyx light fittings to granite bathtubs and leadlight lanterns. And even a nod to Ralph’s Tuscan ancestors in the ochre-tinted cement renders that he applied by hand to all the external walls.

Image by Playback Studios

What are some of the outstanding features of the property?

A spectacular lap pool that replicates the black granite boulders on the foreshore; a 100-person Sea Deck with sweeping Coral Sea views that would compete with the best of the Caribbean or the Amalfi coast, the perfect place to drink in the sunset over a cocktail or three; the Sunken Garden, a haven for garden lovers that brings together ferns, palms and orchids into an intimate enclave; a master bedroom framed by hand carved balustrading that enjoys one of the most spectacular views in the Whitsundays. And of course, the Cactarium, Ralph’s temple to all things spikey that brides either love or hate, depending on their fondness for cacti and succulents.

Image by Playback Studios

What made you decide to give up the privacy of this very personal and magnificent gift to share it with couples and wedding guests?

There’s an expression “If you love something enough, you will not be able to help but share it with others.” Ralph’s love of creating natural environments meant there came a day when we realised Villa Botanica had a higher purpose than to simply stay locked up as a family home. We chose to focus on weddings because they suited the intimate, romantic soul of the place.

Image by Luke Middlemiss Photography

What do you love about being in the wedding industry, and working with your team to deliver dream weddings?

I’m a big fan of commitment; in the same way it took a deep level of commitment to create this property (we even had to build 6 kilometres of roads and waterlines to service it). To choose one partner for life is probably the biggest leap of faith any of us will ever make. I love that we are entrusted with delivering this most amazing day and that we can provide a setting, that I believe, lives up to the significance of the occasion.

Image by Luke Middlemiss Photography

What does a typical day-in-the-life of you look like – from the moment you wake up until the moment your head hits the pillow?

At the age of 57 I have finally learnt to put myself first, so I aim to spend as much of my day as possible doing what I love: writing as well as crafting and hosting my 5th Door workshops to help people find clarity and meaning in their life. We now host immersive workshops at Villa Botanica which is the perfect environment for deeply transformational work.

What’s the biggest challenge for you, running a business that includes wedding planning and several venues, as well as Villa Botanica?

The biggest challenge has been working with venues that we don’t own where we’ve had less control over the quality of food and staff…it’s made us appreciate how comparatively easy it is running weddings at Villa Botanica and maintain a 5 star level of service.

Image by Playback Studios

And what’s the best thing about running your business?

Knowing we have made a genuine difference to the lives of our couples…and their guests.

How important are your team – and what are the attributes that make your team special?

The care that went into the creating of Villa Botanica has translated into the care that our team extends to our clients and their guests. Whether it’s in the planning stages or the day itself, the feedback we most often get from couples is how special our team made them feel.

Image by Luke Middlemiss Photography

What do couples and guests remark on most at a Villa Botanica wedding (and what makes you really proud?)

Most often, couples will book because of the physical beauty of the venue but what they usually comment on afterwards is the amazing service. How we make them feel and the positive memories we create is what I’m most proud of.

What is the best time of the year for a Villa Botanica wedding?

If you have guests who are sensitive to the heat (this can happen if you have family travelling from the UK for example) June and July are the magic months when the skies are blue and the weather is very mild. We used to have a defined wet season, but weather patterns seem to be changing so apart from that I would say any time of year except for February/March.

Image by Luke Middlemiss Photography

How far in advance should couples book their wedding at Villa Botanica?

If you want to lock in a particular date, it’s best to book no less than 12 months out. If, however, you’re not too fussed about which day, 9 months out is usually fine. If you have a smaller group and are happy to get married during a week day, we can plan your wedding from a minimum of 3 months out.

Tell us about the wedding journey with your team, from initial enquiry to the wedding day?

From the moment you book, you are assigned a planner who helps you coordinate your various services. We have developed a guided process so you’re not left wondering what you’ll have to do and when. It’s all spelt out in advance. Our online planning tool, POPPY, shows you the range of choice on offer and takes away all the stress of planning a wedding away from home.

Image by Luke Middlemiss Photography

If the bridal couple live down south, how can you assist them to plan their wedding at Villa Botanica?

80% of our clients have had to fly to get here so we are well versed in looking after couples, who may not have even seen the venue until a day or two before their wedding. These days with emails, skype, whatsapp and facebook messenger, there is no shortage of ways to plan your wedding from a distance.

Do you have a favourite space in the Villa or the gardens that is special to you and you are drawn to?

The Sea Deck makes my spirits soar because of the heart stopping view, it reminds me that life is full of endless opportunity.

Image by Studio Impressions

How do you maintain your wellbeing in what is a very busy and demanding industry?

It’s taken me nearly 40 years, but I have finally mastered the art of delegation (not to mention the other two Ds: deferral and deletion)…so for me the business is much more hands-off now compared to when we started 10 years ago.

While our team takes care of doing all the day to day wedding work, I make time for myself by getting up extra early (around 5am) so I can write, spend time with Ralph and play tennis every day. My liver finally dictated that I replace my old pals, Bundy and coke, with lemon water on the rocks which has definitely boosted my energy level.

But most important of all, I now dedicate my time to doing what I love – teaching, learning and creating workshops so we not only help people have an exquisite wedding but an exquisite life. This simple act of living true to my passion is hands down the single, greatest contributor to my wellbeing and happiness.

Headshot by Dominik Weddings

About Villa Botanica: Villa Botanica was founded in 2008, when Ralph and Janet Hogan moved their busy Sydney life to the idyllic shores of the Coral Sea. Ralph built Villa Botanica as a palace for his ‘princess’ Janet, influenced by their mutual love of Balinese style and architecture. It is both a wedding venue and planning service. They are passionate about creating not only the best wedding experience in the Whitsundays, but Australia wide. Having planned hundreds of weddings, they have a wealth of knowledge and understanding about how to create an experience like no other.