Author Archives: James Scott

The secrets of successful garden design

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The Society of Garden Designers held its fourth annual Awards Ceremony last week.  The venue was the prestigious Landmark London Hotel, providing a superb setting in which to celebrate garden design at the highest standards in the UK.  This year there were 19 Awards in total, with categories including Pocket Garden, Hardscape and Large Residential Garden. Entrants ranged from students to Fellows of the Society.

SGD Awards Ceremony 2015

SGD Awards Ceremony 2015

I believe that everybody involved in the Awards process finds it an energizing experience.  One of the judges commented to me that they felt privileged to take part – to see the ‘best of the best’ emerging from the entries and to reach consensus with other judges on what constitutes excellence.

So, what do the judges really look for?  All of the entries are beautiful, professionally designed gardens – that is a given.  What else is required?  Browsing through the judges’ comments on the winning gardens, these are the phrases that struck me.  Many focus of course on the design concept ….

  • Very sensitively designed.
  • Good design for a difficult site.
  • A good honest design.
  • Conceptually interesting and well laid out.  
  • A very clean design that deals with the space with confidence.  
  • A sophisticated approach to the handling of the space.
  • Neat simple design when seen from house.  
  • Good all-season garden.
  • Beautiful honest design – less is more.
  • Good from all angles.
  • Clever exploration of width and space

Execution is important too … e.g.

  • Great detailing
  • Good constructional detail.
  • Clever use of natural resources
  • Good all year round design that has been very well executed.

Planting plays its part … the judges observed:

  • Sophisticated and harmonious planting.
  • Great seasonal planting that works very hard all year round.  
  • Diversity of colour and texture that works well in situ
  • Planting arrangements are very thoughtfully placed.

Not to forget how it feels to be in the garden …

  • A real sense of a journey
  • A lovely place to be in

And last but not least … what did the client think?!

  • Perfectly answered the client’s brief

I find it amazing that whilst there are as many solutions to a particular design problem as there are designers, nearly all the statements above apply to any well designed space. We are unhindered by limitless possibilities yet bound by many rules. What other profession is so challenging yet so satisfying?

James and Helen Scott at the SGD Awards 2015

James and Helen Scott at the SGD Awards 2015

Personally, I came away feeling hugely inspired by my industry friends and colleagues.  It is great to know what is being achieved for our clients.  In my current SGD role (I am the Council Member responsible for the Awards), I am rightly unable to enter any of my own design work. When I finally leave Council I certainly will enter, but with some trepidation as I know the competition will be strong!

For a full list of finalists and winners, plus more detailed judges’ comments, please visit

Horticulture is a great place to work

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I had a real reminder last week of how great it is to work in horticulture, when I went along to Perennial’s annual fundraising party (the UK charity providing support services to those in need in the industry e.g. disability, ill-health. ). It was a wonderful evening, raising record funds, and a very positive environment in which to catch up with friends and colleagues from across the sector.

A view from Skyloft, London

A view from Skyloft, London

Being amongst the 300+ people at the Skyloft in Millbank Tower and discussing exciting projects (past, present and future) made me feel very grateful for the opportunities that I have had throughout my career.  I have been able to do great work and collaborate with many talented colleagues since leaving Merrist Wood College way back in the 80’s. My first job was for a London practice as a Landscape Designer and Manager (a real learning curve in my early 20s!).  In 1991 I set up the Garden Company in Chipperfield near Hemel Hempstead and business has grown ever since (yes, we have a big anniversary this year!).

It is possible in this industry to make a significant positive difference to peoples’ daily lives, at home and in public spaces too, and the benefits of spending time in gardens and gardening are well known. I love to see people enjoying being in the gardens that we have built.  I also feel privileged to work so closely with nature – my favourite gardens are those where we draw on the natural environment, creating havens where people relax and unwind.  What a privilege to enable that to happen.

Interestingly, January is officially the nation’s favourite time to change job roles (according to a recent report from the recruitment site Glassdoor). Apparently it’s a case of New Year, new job for many people. For those of you (or your family/friends) that are looking for a career change and especially for young adults just starting out on their careers, I would like to shout out the praises of this wonderful industry!

For guidance about getting started on such a career change or new career – see the Society of Garden Design website ( and also the British Association of Landscape Industries (  On a personal note, we are actively recruiting at the moment for people to join our busy practice – in landscape, maintenance or summer work experience roles. For details, please take a look at

To close, a ‘just-in-time’ Happy New Year to all of our clients, old and new, and to everybody that we work with – from all at the Garden Company.

Small but perfectly formed – design solutions for small gardens from around the world

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I was fortunate to attend the Society of Garden Designers’ Autumn Conference this weekend. It focused on what can be achieved with small gardens (defined as those with plots of 150 square metres or less).    As part of the event and in my role as SGD Council member, I was able to meet the panel of speakers at dinner the evening before.  The dinner and conference combined offered a great opportunity to discuss garden design solutions with eminent designers from different parts of the world, including headline speakers Takeshi Nagasaki (Japan), Willett Moss (USA) and a panel of leading British designers.

One of our small shady garden projects

One of our small shady garden projects

The difficulties presented by small gardens are well-understood: they are often an awkward shape or shady/overlooked, creating a sense of mystery is harder, not to mention tricky access and specific client requirements.  What may be less understood is how inspiring and transformational the design solutions to these issues can be.  For me, despite the clear differences in design philosophy between the speakers this weekend, there was a common thread running through the discussions.  As professional designers we already know that we need to be able to justify every design decision and in a small garden there is absolutely no hiding place for the design choices made. Every detail is on show and therefore has to be extremely well considered.  As one speaker pointed out: ‘every inch of a small garden must earn its place’.

One of our small sunny garden projects

One of our small sunny garden projects

We are lucky at the Garden Company to work on a wide range of schemes, from large country estates to London communal courtyards.  However, I always enjoy designing small spaces because of the potential to really ‘wow’ the client in a short space of time.  Our construction teams find this very rewarding too. A small, well-designed and carefully considered garden can positively transform the way a client lives with and enjoys their garden – it may become a quiet, intimate haven or a place to entertain friends and family in the warmer months. Of course, creating a beautiful space – however small – will enhance the home’s overall appearance (and property value).

If you have a small garden/outdoor space that is underutilised, why not try to look at it through ‘new eyes’ and consider its potential to be transformed into something beautiful? If you are based in London or the
South-East, we would be happy to talk this over with you – do call us on 01442 832666 or email me at

Autumn colour and structure in the garden

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Autumn is one of my favourite times of year, marking the transition from summer into winter.  Temperatures drop and days draw to a close earlier.  Some people date the start of autumn as the Autumn Equinox in late September.   Alternatively, autumn can simply be said to have arrived at the first signs of various changes around us – the tinting of oak or beech trees, ripening of sloes or elderberries and the arrival of winter migrant birds. A paradox for me is that whilst Autumn is a time for most plants to slow down and start to become dormant in preparation for Winter, it’s the ‘Spring’ of the fungus season. Take a walk in the woods at this time of year, especially a few days after heavy rain and you will see a myriad of fascinating different fungi fruiting bodies emerging.

Piet Oudolf planting at RHS Wisley in mid October

Piet Oudolf planting at RHS Wisley in mid October

I like the design opportunities that autumn brings.  When planning a new garden/outdoor space, I give a lot of thought to the flow from one area to another – how best to link spaces together, while creating vistas and focal points.  Whilst the main design structure may come from clipped hedges and shapes, it is worth remembering that structures can also be formed from grasses and herbaceous plant than can last long into the winter.  Many late flowering perennials such as Asters, Rudbeckia and Verbena’s, provide not only structure and colour for us to enjoy but are vital for extending the nectar season for bees. Grasses I particularly like to use include Calamagrostis x acutiflora Karl Foerster & Seslaria Autumnalis. They provide the foil and texture to show off the more colourful perennials to best advantage.

Later perennials and grasses on one our projects in the Chilterns. This image was taken mid September

Later perennials and grasses on one our projects in the Chilterns. This image was taken mid September

For me, the beauty of this more transient type of structure is how it changes and evolves as autumn wanes and winter arrives.  Even the pleasure of the space created when grasses and plants are finally cut down to make way for fresh growth in the spring is one of the joys of gardening.

For inspiration, why not seek out some autumn colours near you … our family favourites include the Ashridge Estate in Buckinghamshire, with paths taking you through woodland alleys and meadows – stunning vistas and focal points to be found.  It’s the time of year for mushroom spotting too (!

We are always seeking ways to help clients to enjoy every season in their garden/outdoor space.  If you are in London or the South-East, do call us on 01442 832666 or email me at  to explore ways of introducing more colour and structure all year round.

2 prestigious National Landscape awards for the Garden Company

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We have just heard that we have been awarded not just one but two highly-respected garden construction awards by BALI (The British Association of Landscape Industries).

The BALI National Landscape  Awards are open to BALI’s registered membership and are held annually to recognise those members who have demonstrated ‘exceptionally high standards of professionalism and skill in the execution of a wide variety of landscaped schemes’ ( The Awards are held in high esteem in the UK and internationally and winning one (or two!) is a huge professional achievement.

The 2 winning Garden Company projects are both in the category of Domestic Garden Construction:

Hewines BALI Award


Rear garden design and construction, Tring




Smalley BALI Award


Front and rear landscape development, Harpenden




This brings our total of BALI Awards achieved over the years to 20!

I am very proud of the fantastic track record that we have built since the company was founded in the 1990s – not only for the highest quality landscape construction work, but also for our garden design and garden/grounds maintenance services to our clients.  On this occasion, I would like to thank our clients in Tring and Harpenden for trusting us with their valued garden projects, and also say a well-deserved ‘thank you and well done’ to our landscape teams who put in the technical skills, passion for beautiful gardens and solid hard work that led to this result.

For more information about our award successes over the years, please visit


Creating beautiful rooftop gardens – top design tips

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August 08 106Over the years I have created many rooftop gardens for clients living in urban settings in London, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire.  I am always keen to make sure that the end-result fulfils its potential by adding another dimension of beautiful green space to the client’s property – which may serve as a quiet retreat (from the busy family home) and/or a place to entertain friends and family too.  The specific benefits of a lovely rooftop garden are many and varied, including:

  • Improving the home’s appearance and enhancing  property value
  • Reducing air pollution, storm water run-off, flooding and water pollution
  • Improving and increasing the green living space at home without additional land costs
  • Opportunity to use the space for food production, vegetable gardening etc
  • Attracting wildlife to an otherwise barren space

Of course, every location is different but it is possible to generalise a little and – based on experience – here are my top design tips for creating a beautiful rooftop garden:

  • Makes sure you have good screening from the prevailing wind. Glass screens can be a good way to do this without obstructing the view. Remember though that solid barriers can create wind turbulence, consider using strong grasses as well.beare newberry 058
  • Choose plants that are known to grow well at the seaside as they will probably endure the exposure well (but remember they may be less frost tolerant)
  • Don’t be afraid to have wide borders so you can still feel surrounded by planting. If space allows small trees such as Amalanchier can be great for adding atmosphere and attracting wildlife.
  • Consult a structural engineer to ascertain the load bearing capacity of your roof space.

If your home property is suitable for a rooftop garden, why not give it some thought?  If you are in North London or the South-East we would be pleased to help you to think this through – give us a call on 01442 832666 or email me directly at

Let’s hear it for parks and green spaces

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Love Parks Week ( is the UK’s largest celebration of parks and green spaces, taking place this year from 24 July.  It has one simple aim: to encourage people to visit, enjoy and take pride in their local parks and green spaces, driving the message that our parks and green spaces are essential to healthy, happy and strong communities.

What’s your favourite public park? We’ve been asking ourselves the same question in the office this week and had to restrict ourselves to London parks to arrive at this shortlist of our most-loved spaces …Park

1       Hampstead Heath in North London for its amazing views, landscapes and wildlife habitats. It is one of London’s best places for wildlife and features a number of priority species identified in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

2       Richmond Park offers wonderful woodland gardens and grasslands and is a major UK site for ancient trees, particularly oaks, which have huge significance historically and also for our wildlife.

3       Green Park – the smallest of London’s 8 Royal Parks – I often have meetings in central London in my role as a Council Member for The Society of Garden Designers. Whenever possible I get off a tube stop early so I can wander through this lovely park. It provides a peaceful haven for people living, working or visiting central London.  It’s perfect for picnics at this time of year or just a relaxing space for walks between appointments!

We are so lucky to have so many beautiful parks in the UK … if you have a favourite one near where you are, why not make time to visit it sometime soon? At this time of year, you will see one of the greatest displays of colours you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy all year.

And if you are based in London or the South-East and want any ideas to improve your own green space at home then give us a call on 01442 832666.

3 reasons why school grounds are so important

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Every year, schools across the UK celebrate National School Grounds Week, led by Learning through Landscapes (LtL) a charity that aims to improve outdoor spaces in schools and

School entrance with naturalistic planting that will change with the seasons and attract butterflies and bees

School entrance with naturalistic planting that will change with the seasons and attract butterflies and bees

childcare settings.  This year (from June 8 – 12), the theme is Pollination, linked to a UK-wide biodiversity project aimed at protecting our dwindling bee population.

At the Garden Company, we have been lucky to have the opportunity to work with several Hertfordshire schools in recent years, designing and building schemes that have transformed their existing grounds into more attractive and stimulating places. It is incredibly rewarding to involve the pupils in these projects and subsequently see them learning and playing outdoors safely and happily.

We are sometimes asked to spell out the benefits of dedicating some of a school’s (inevitably) limited resources to creating better school grounds – here is my view:

  • Involving children in learning and having fun outdoors encourages them to spend more time outdoors, to be inspired by – and care about – the natural world. This is increasingly important with the distractions of TV and social media that face our children today at all ages, and survey after survey shows that many children lack even basic horticultural
    Children exploring and engaging with a wildlife pond

    Children exploring and engaging with a wildlife pond

    knowledge. If there is no natural inclination to engage with nature in their home environment it is likely that without stimulus provided by their school, they will go into adult life with no connection to the natural environment


  • Helping teachers to make the most of the learning and play opportunities available outdoors enables them to deliver the school curriculum in a way that is highly stimulating and enjoyable for their pupils.  Children learn and remember more when they are enjoying themselves (don’t we all!).


  • Many of our schools have unique outdoor settings. Rather than taking these outdoor spaces for granted, they can be more clearly connected to a school’s overall purpose and identity and children  given the opportunity to have wonderful learning and play experiences that in some cases will stimulate a lifelong interest in nature.

If you are a parent/carer, member of staff or a school governor, why not explore the options for your school to enhance its outdoor learning and play experiences for children and young people?  The benefits can be far-reaching (and often funding can be accessed).  Of course, if you are in London or the South-East and would like to involve us in your thinking, we would be delighted to have a chat and share our insights in this area.  Just call the office on 01442 832666 or email me at

Chelsea Flower Show – A change of direction?

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The RHS Chelsea Flower Show is a fantastic institution, undoubtedly the best of its kind in the world. I haven’t missed a show I realise for 25 years!  It has shaped the way people view gardens and gardening, continually setting the scene for future trends and movements in garden design. This year I have had the opportunity to spend several days at Chelsea, allowing me to absorb the beauty of the show and now back at my Hertfordshire desk, to reflect on its significance for garden-lovers everywhere.

This year’s show was particularly fascinating for me. I am noticing a change in

James Basson's Gold Medal winning garden

James Basson’s Gold Medal winning garden

direction to softer  geometry and more organic forms. As always the show gardens are of an exceptionally high standard but a few stood out for me. Dan Pearson’s garden (‘Best in Show’ winner) provided a beautifully crafted and executed celebration of nature with exquisite details, while the garden I would most like to spend more time in was that of James Basson (gold medal), based on a perfumer’s garden in Provence, with simple and highly effective features including mini rills, a bath house and – of course – many colourful aromatic flowers.  My favourite piece of theatre was Charlie Albone’s (Silver Gilt) water feature which filled up and refilled on an 8-minute cycle, the pool holds at brimming point for a minute then after a few ripples disappears in moments

Charlie Albone's water feature in his Silver Guilt Medal winning garden

Charlie Albone’s water feature in his Silver Gilt Medal winning garden

before repeating the cycle.  As for the small gardens – Howard Miller’s Dark Matters Garden stopped me in my tracks with its highly innovative structures constructed from rusted iron which contrasted beautifully with the planting.  I was also struck by Sarah Eberle’s Breast Cancer Haven Garden which conjured up the notion of a ‘nest’ (beautifully provided by a sculpture of wood and willow created by artisan craftsman Tom Hare).

To conclude, I found Chelsea as inspiring as ever this year and particularly noticed the following themes

  • With regard to plants, the planting palette of the show was deep rusts, oranges, blues and purples. The recent proliferation of umbilicus type plants such as cow parsley was replaced with stronger, more defined blocks of colour.  Interestingly, several gardens had few or no grasses, while still featuring significant drifts of herbaceous plants.
  • The rigid rectilinear designs of recent years were few and far between and – while beautiful in their own right – starting to look somewhat ‘dated’ in my opinion.
  • A much more fluid geometry is on the rise, with sinuous curves and looser, much more organic forms. I welcome this trend because I believe it is more pleasing and approachable for people who look to Chelsea to provide inspiration for their own garden.  And it happens to be a design style that I am more in tune with and also relates to the gardens we produce.

If you have been inspired by the coverage of Chelsea this year and would like to progress your own plans for your garden/outdoor space, then why not make 2015 the year that you do so?  For those of you in London or the South-East, we would of course be delighted to talk your ideas over with you – please email or call the office on 01442 832666.  Examples of our garden design work can be viewed at and we have also constructed 100s of beautiful gardens over the last 20 years –

A tasty way to celebrate nettles

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The stinging nettle is one of the most important native plants for both rural and urban wildlife in the UK, supporting many species of insect including some of our most colourful butterflies. I often find myself with the conflict of wanting to redesign a garden overgrown with nettles and knowing I run the risk of destroying a beneficial habitat. A good old fashioned compromise is often reached by creating an area of wildlife garden where we leave some nettles and add further native plants beneficial to local fauna. Nettles
I thought I would celebrate ‘Be Nice to Nettles’ week this year (starts May 16) by sharing my favourite recipe for nettle soup – easy to make, highly nutritious and a wonderful way to celebrate this undervalued plant. The only tricky part is collecting the nettle tops – long sleeves and gloves are recommended! We harvest the nettles on woodland walks in various parts of Hertfordshire. For best results only harvest from young plants and take the tips and couple of leaves below the tips.

You will need:

300g fresh nettle tops
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium potato (peeled and thinly sliced)
Freshly grated nutmeg
200ml light chicken (or vegetable stock)
Sea salt and black pepper
40g mascarpone, 100g fresh soft goat’s cheese, 1 tbsp chopped chives (optional!)
A table spoon (or two) of double cream (Crème fraiche or plain yogurt also works and gives a lighter finish).

What to do:

Pick over the nettle tops and discard any bruised leaves or tough stalks. Wash the nettles well in 2 changes of cold water. Shake off the excess water.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and sauté the potato for about 5 minutes (until soft but not brown). Add the nettles and stir over the heat.

Add the stock + 800ml litre of water plus seasoning and a little grated nutmeg (optional). Bring to the boil, stirring. Partly cover the pan and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring 2 or 3 times.

For special occasions, I add goat’s cheese quenelles – beat the goat’s cheese and mascarpone together and fold in the chives. Set aside.

Ladle the soup into a blender or food processor (I use a stick blender) and whiz until smooth. Pass through a sieve back into the pan, rubbing with the back of a ladle.

Stir in the cream and slowly bring to the boil, adjust the seasoning and simmer for 1-2 minutes.

Ladle the soup into warmed bowls. Shape the cheese mixture into quenelles and place carefully in the centre of the soup.

Top tips:

Harvest only as many nettle tops as you will use and use them as soon as possible – don’t waste them.

It’s ok to harvest a plant if there are 20 others available to maintain the population.

Leave the biggest and best plants behind so they can continue to propagate the healthiest population.

Leave damaged plants or plants with ‘residents’.

Harvest with a clean cut so the plant will continue to thrive.

Never put anything in your mouth unless you are 100% sure it is safe to ingest.

Clients often ask us how to attract more butterflies and other wildlife to their gardens – one simple technique is to create a patch of nettles in a sunny, sheltered location. If you are based in London or the South-East and would like expert advice on your own planting choices, why not contact our Maintenance and Small Works Manager or by phone on 01442 832666. For design enquires you can contact James or Alex
Our website pages and provide you with examples of planting schemes we have developed in private gardens, schools, public spaces and business parks.
Happy soup-making!