These blog posts are produced by James Scott, Garden Company MD and Principal Designer:
'Creating beautiful outdoor spaces for people to enjoy is very rewarding. The purpose of this blog is for me to share some reflections on our work and our industry with you. Your comments and views in return are very welcome indeed'.

How can we help people to understand landscape and horticultural services better?

Garden Company team members setting out plants on a client site

Garden Company team members setting out plants on a client site

I watched a recent episode of The Apprentice with increasing exasperation – and almost switched off altogether.  Very wise, those of you that generally avoid reality TV might be thinking – but my reaction was nothing to do with the ‘falseness’ of a reality TV format, it was all to do with the misleading image that was portrayed of our landscaping and horticultural industries.

As the programme format dictates, two teams of young business people were set a task by Lord Sugar.  The teams were briefed to set up their own urban gardening businesses, carrying out commercial and domestic jobs across London.  On day one, both teams visited corporate clients to pitch a plan and secure a price for a large rooftop renovation.  On day two, the work was carried out and client feedback was given.  The outcomes were not good. One client was presented with a badly-painted bench and various plants randomly scattered about the space (she did not pay up).  Overall, the picture was one of shoddy work and despite our heritage as a nation of garden lovers and years of popular TV gardening programmes, it seems that we still have difficulty portraying the services offered and the skills deployed by those working in landscape and horticulture industries accurately and positively.

Why does this matter?  In my opinion, this recent example highlighted two key issues:

Issue 1 – how can we expect to attract people into landscape and horticulture roles if the work is so misunderstood and undervalued?  With Brexit on the horizon combined with an ageing workforce, employers and managers across landscaping and horticulture are faced with an ever-more challenging ‘war for talent’ and urgent skills shortages.

Issue 2 – how can we expect our clients to appreciate the ‘value-add’ in our services, if it is seen as such low-skilled, low-budget, quick turnaround ‘stuff’?  The Apprentice contestants were actually on a hiding to nothing – it was completely unrealistic of the producers to expect them to do justice to the roof garden projects with the tiny budget allocated and a few hours to carry out the works. I am sure I would have been unsuccessful too in their shoes!

In the real world, there is some good news with regard to attracting new talent to the industry. I know in my role as MD of The Garden Company that there are a number of hugely talented young people already enjoying early success.  Last week, I enjoyed attending Pro Landscaper’s presentation of awards to the Next Generation 2018: 30 under 30.  This is a wonderful initiative that seeks to recognise and reward the achievements every year of 30 inspiring young people in our industry.  The youngest winner this year was only 21 and the range of roles encompassed by the group was inspiring in itself, including landscapers, garden designers, maintenance services, landscape architects, arborists and suppliers specialising in technical products.

It’s great that Pro Landscaper is driving this forward, and of course there are other initiatives that share the goal of inspiring more young people – I would like to give special mention to BALI’s Golandscape and the Landscape Institute’s #ChooseLandscape career campaigns, along with the Green Plan It challenge for schools led by the RHS.

However, with regard to the TV programme makers, the media and the wider public’s perception of what we do and how we do it: there seems to be very long way to go to get people ‘on side’.  Of course, every time we talk to prospective clients we need to demonstrate our value and results, and help people to appreciate the range of disciplines that we draw on – design, hardscaping, softscaping, horticulture, planning regulations …. I could go on!  I have always seen this as part of the ‘day job’ – but I would love to think that it could be made easier in future through a wider understanding of our services.

So …

What else can we each start doing (or do more of) in our ‘day jobs’ to address both the skills shortages and the general lack of insight into our services?

  • Education, education, education - We need to keep shouting out about how rewarding it is to have a career in landscape design, construction and horticulture … to schools, colleges and anyone with an influence on shaping young peoples’ career choices and aspirations.  By helping to reassure doubtful parents, teaching staff and careers advisers then we can show school-age children what the industry is really all about in the 21st century – and its advantages over other jobs and career paths that may be in decline. I always to try respond helpfully to any requests for information/careers guidance etc from education providers,  but it strikes me that I could also ‘push’ for the opportunity to do so.
  • Create opportunities for work placements/internships. A common complaint within British businesses is that colleges and universities do not prepare their graduates for the real world. Our industry is no exception – new job starters need to be ready to work in challenging situations, for discerning clients, applying the skills and knowledge that employers reasonably expect them to have.  A vital ingredient here is the availability of work placements and internship. We are delighted to offer 2-3 students a paid work placement every summer at The Garden Company and we are just starting to explore design placements as well as more operational site-based roles.
  • Promote apprenticeships. Real apprentices (unlike Lord Sugar’s candidates!) carry out real jobs while they study, learn and acquire relevant skills and knowledge.  Many employers use apprenticeships to upskill existing workers as well as providing training for new employees. At the Garden Company we have benefited greatly in the last few years from ‘growing our own’ team members and team leaders through our own apprenticeship programme.  We aim to do a lot more of this going forward.

In summary, the recent Apprentice episode illustrated a couple of very real business challenges for providers of landscape and horticultural services (although not the ones that the programme makers intended).  We are lucky to have various trade associations, societies and others working hard on our behalf to address both the ‘war for talent’ and our industry’s professional reputation.  Those of us that are ‘oldies’ with years of experience of fighting these two familiar battles must continue to play our role – I hope this blog post has prompted some ideas about where we can build on our efforts … your thoughts and comments of course are very welcome.


A very English landscape

This entry was posted in Blog, Uncategorized on by .

Over the past few months, you may have heard or read about the Repton Exhibition at Woburn Abbey. Maybe you have visited it yourself or you are planning to do so – if it’s within travelling distance that is!  I’m in the fortunate position of living only 10 minutes away from Woburn, and I spent a day there recently in the company of my good friend and fellow landscape designer Andrew Wenham, and Andrew’s two brothers.  The three siblings had decided to make a trip there as they grew up in Woburn (where their father was the vicar), immersed in a very English landscape. It was really a ‘day of two halves’, sandwiched nicely (ha!) with a pub lunch in the middle.  We began by revisiting some of the Wenham brothers’ childhood haunts and spent the rest of the morning at the Repton Exhibition before visiting more childhood places in the afternoon. For me, the entire day reinforced a long-held view that the landscape in which you grow up (be it natural or built) has a huge influence on you.

Exploring the grounds at Woburn

Exploring the grounds at Woburn

 I’m not sure I should be too specific about the morning’s escapades – bearing in mind that we were retracing the steps of three young boys let loose in the countryside.  Let’s just say that it involved some wall-climbing, stinging nettles, scraped knees and at one point hiding from a Woburn gardener who may have felt the need to set us back on an official pathway (average age of our group was around 52!). The highlight though was to find our way to a ‘secret’ lakeside, with a view over to an island which the ‘boys’ had believed many years ago to be their own private retreat. The brothers were rather disappointed to find there is now a bridge to the island which curtailed the more exciting plan of making Andrew walk across fallen branches to get there! As children they were completely unaware that they were playing in a built ‘Repton’ landscape.  The whole experience conjured up a great feeling of adventure, fun and a slight sense of risk.

Light reflected in a pond

Light reflected in a pond

Pond and timeless sceene with deer

A timeless sceene with deer

I thoroughly enjoyed the Repton Exhibition itself, which is being held to celebrate his bicentenary. Generally recognised as the first person to use the title ‘landscape gardener’, Humphry Repton regarded himself as the rightful successor to Capability Brown. A prolific designer, he produced over 400 designs and schemes for gardens and – of these – he stated, “none were more fully realised than at Woburn Abbey”. I found it fascinating to view part of the Woburn Red Book, one of Repton’s largest works, containing detailed designs covering the approaches to Woburn Abbey, the lakes and plantings in the surrounding parkland and the formal Pleasure Grounds.

This gate creates intrigue and invites exploration.

This gate creates intrigue and invites exploration.

The present Duke and Duchess of Bedford have been restoring many of Repton’s designs over the last 14 years and following our exploration (after relatively recent discovery in their library) of Repton’s papers and design artefacts, we spent time outside enjoying the folly grottothe Cone House, the menagerie and the beautiful Chinese-style pavilion. What stood out to me above everything else was Repton’s vision of the garden as an outdoor living space or room to be enjoyed.  This is in contrast to the work of Capability Brown who tended to bring a very natural landscape right up to the house. Although it is over 200 years since Repton developed his designs, his work seems hugely relevant to our work today in landscape design, with his focus on blending a house into its landscape, on compartmentalisation of spaces around the house and then a gradual shift into more naturalistic styles further away from the buildings.  I think this is a design principle that holds strong today. For this reason, I do think he has more influence on contemporary design than Capability Brown.

Recently-installed portrait of Humphry Repton at The Inn, Woburn

Recently-installed portrait of Humphry Repton at The Inn, Woburn

On a more tactical note, I was also interested in Repton’s emphasis on presentation – his Red Books are famous throughout the design profession and I could relate to the need to ‘wow’ clients at the same time as providing sufficient technical information to enable the work to be done.  As well as an enthusiastic salesperson, Repton came across as having quite an ego, he certainly did not take well to having his schemes rejected – I can’t think how that applies to our profession today… (!). I was also struck by one of his quotes: ‘beware of planting trees, they merely serve to magnify the brevity of life’. Personally, I like to think I’m planting trees for posterity, but I did find Repton’s view refreshingly pragmatic! It was a memorable and very enjoyable day out – thank you Andrew, Patrick and John. I highly recommend a visit to the Repton Exhibition, which runs until October 28th this year.  I also thoroughly recommend trying to recapture a little of that childhood playfulness that affected us all on the day -  those three Wenham brothers were lucky to grow up in such proximity to a world-famous landscape and to be given the freedom to explore it. I know how grateful I am to have grown up in the Cotswolds, with grandparents living nearby in Laurie Lee’s Slad Valley.  That landscape has stayed with me throughout my design life.  In fact, I often find myself trying to recreate the atmosphere of my much-loved Grandparents’ orchard or the natural beauty of the wildflower planting in their meadow. As designers, the gardens we design become the settings for others to rest, play, grow, learn and live in. We are lucky to have the opportunity to enhance all those experiences.  And look what well-rounded adults we grew into after our own childhoods were spent in the great outdoors! To find out more about our team at the Garden Company and the factors that influence our work, please click here.

Being a garden and grounds maintenance professional – an interview with Joanna Mège

This entry was posted in Blog and tagged , on by .

Have you ever wondered what it takes to run a professional garden maintenance service?  Maybe you picture yourself thriving on the challenge of nurturing peoples’ gardens and grounds into their best possible condition – and enjoying being outdoors in all that fresh air.  After all, many people switch careers into gardening and related industries.  On the other hand, you may already feel daunted at the prospect of caring for your own garden this year (now that everything is growing again!), so the idea of being responsible to other people for maintaining their much-loved gardens and grounds fills you with horror …

Joanna Mège, Maintenance & Small Works Manager

Joanna Mège, Maintenance & Small Works Manager

Whether you dream of doing the job yourself or not, we thought that ‘stepping into the shoes’ of a garden and grounds maintenance professional would provide some interesting insights. Who better to talk to of course than the Garden Company’s own Garden Maintenance Manager, Joanna Mège – we persuaded Jo to leave her sites in the capable hands of her maintenance crews and talk to us over a coffee about the ups and downs of her role.  Jo joined the Garden Company four years ago and – with her team – provides a domestic garden and commercial grounds maintenance service to 50+ clients in Hertfordshire, North London and surrounding areas.  Client sites range from privately-owned gardens (large and small) to business parks and public spaces. 

What has your career path been?

I was born and grew up in Poland. I always loved the outdoors and much preferred helping at home in the garden than in the house!  I have childhood memories of loving the fragrances inside a greenhouse or in a florist shop. With this in mind I decided to study Horticulture at University and completed a Master’s Degree.  During this 5-year course, I arranged to spend a placement year in England.  This was where I discovered ‘the English garden’ and I loved being here so much that I extended my placement into an 18-month one.  After completing my Master’s degree, I moved with my husband to England where we both embarked on careers in garden and grounds maintenance.

I spent 9 years at a garden design, build and maintenance company in North West London where I progressed to a leadership role.  In 2014 I was appointed by The Garden Company to manage and develop its Maintenance division.

What do you see as your main responsibilities and how do you spend your time?

As Garden Company Maintenance Manager, I manage a number of maintenance teams who are dedicated to clients’ sites. I am responsible for drawing up weekly and monthly maintenance schedules that are tailored to every site, dealing daily with clients and their requirements, and making sure generally that the right people, equipment, gardening products and new plants are in the right place at the right time every day. I also handle enquiries from new potential clients as they arise and helping existing clients to develop their gardens through additional projects (e.g. new fencing, new planting plans).  In addition to my own crew of Maintenance team leaders and team members, I work regularly with a close circle of specialists – for tree surgery, garden lighting and irrigation.

One of The Garden Company professional gardeners at work in a contemporary London garden

One of The Garden Company professional gardeners at work in a contemporary London garden

In terms of my time, I spend some time every day on scheduling (and re-scheduling!).  I like to visit every maintenance site regularly so that I am in touch with the clients and can coach and support our staff. I also deal with garden design professionals. Our landscape teams build gardens designed by our in-house designers and we also build for designers who don’t have their own build teams. We are then often appointed to maintain (although we like to think of it as nurturing) the garden. It’s really important that I understand the maintenance regime required and pass the knowledge on to my teams – that way the gardens develop as envisaged by the designer.

When I’m in the office, of course I have routine tasks such as invoicing and payroll; in addition, I need to keep an eye on relevant Health and Safety legislation and statutory requirements, keep our ‘standard operating procedures’ up to date, stay in touch with our suppliers and take part in a company management meeting every month. Over the year, as the seasons change, different operational tasks will keep me busy – organising for bedding plants in spring, bulbs in autumn etc.

What skills and experience do you think help you most in your job?

I believe that the job requires a combination of solid horticultural knowledge with years of practical experience – it is the experience that helps you to know what to expect (not that you can ever predict exactly what will happen!).

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Every day is different – in a good way!  Obviously, the seasons repeat themselves, but on a day to day basis there is a lot of variety in what I do and plenty of challenge – I don’t get bored.

I love being outdoors, with a lot of freedom in how I organise my day and where I spend my time. I love working with plants – I really enjoy their colours and beauty – and seeing our clients’ gardens develop and thrive over time is a total pleasure. There’s a lot of job satisfaction to be gained from seeing our team members develop over time too.

A large garden in Kings Langley maintained by The Garden Company's professional gardeners.

A large garden in Kings Langley maintained by The Garden Company’s professional gardeners.

What’s difficult or challenging about your job?

I enjoy getting everything and everyone organised, but then sometimes it’s frustrating if the plan falls through –  equipment can go wrong and of course the weather can be unpredictable. But failure to plan in the first place wouldn’t be very helpful to anyone!

Some of our clients are keen gardeners but many are not and sometimes this can be a bit of a challenge – people see wonderful plants in the garden centre or in a friend’s garden and may not realise that this sun-loving plant won’t work in their shady, woodland garden for example.  I try to take the opportunity to explain to clients what will work best and also why – that’s also why plant knowledge is such a huge part of my job.

What advice would you give to somebody who wanted to work in a similar role?

It’s important to love gardens and to love being outside.  It’s not a job for people who are too fond of being at their desks, you need to enjoy being ‘on the go’ and physically active.  But you do need to be prepared to plan ahead too, to get the best outcome for every client.

A plant identification session at The Garden Company.

A plant identification session at The Garden Company.

Building your plant knowledge is vital too, it’s surprising how many people don’t know the basics (even inside our industry).  This is apparent quite often when we interview job applicants. There’s always more to learn too – that’s why we have regular plant identification sessions with the whole team at work, not just to reinforce plant names but also to learn key facts such as the best growing conditions, plants of seasonal interest etc.

And as is true of any service industry, being able to communicate clearly and proactively with clients is essential.  We understand how important our clients’ gardens are to them, and we genuinely welcome the opportunity to discuss any queries or overall plans for their garden and grounds. We don’t see ourselves as simply ‘maintaining’ gardens and grounds -  we care for them and we nurture them.  In fact, the end of a landscape project is really only the beginning of creating a beautiful place.

‘Gardens are a process not a product’

Joanna’s reflections on her role as Garden Company Maintenance Manager really highlight that garden and grounds maintenance is about far more than mowing grass and weeding borders (important as these tasks are!).  Professional gardening services are based on a highly skilled process of nurturing and guiding a garden or outdoor space with foresight as it develops. Put another way, ‘Gardens are a process not a product’ –  wise words from a former Head of Gardens at the National Trust, John Sales.

If you are interested in beautiful gardens and would like to peek further into the world of professional gardening, you might like to get hold of a copy of Head Gardeners  by Ambra Edwards. Featuring interviews with 14 Head Gardeners, it is a fascinating book and won last year’s Award from the Garden Media Guild for Inspirational Book of the Year.

And if you are thinking about a career change into horticulture and related industries (or have a family member or friend exploring their career options!), then take a look at GoLandscape.  This is a careers initiative from BALI (the British Association of Landscape Industries), designed to inspire and educate new recruits and address industry issues, including skills shortages.

As for the Garden Company, Joanna’s passion for plants and beautiful gardens together with her in-depth knowledge and skills means that she can add huge value for our clients and – importantly for us! – also coach and mentor her teams to do the same.  You can see examples of the Garden Company’s maintenance work on domestic and commercial spaces here.

Please leave a reply at the top of this blog post to share your thoughts.

Garden design ideas – outdoor dining and entertainment

This entry was posted in Blog on by .

If you follow garden design news, you’ve probably noticed various articles over the last month or so about the major trends in garden design for 2018.  It’s that time of year –  home-owners are planning ahead and deciding how to make the most of their gardens and outdoor spaces once the seasons change. According to the Society of Garden Designers, the major trends for 2018 will include:

  • Outdoor living
  • Ecological gardens
  • Asymmetric design
  • Copper, wood-effect tiles, textured paving and limestone as popular materials
  • Shrubs, low level woodland plants and architectural planting as planting favourites

Of these various and varied garden design ideas, I have found that one stands out.  My clients are increasingly asking me for ideas and practical solutions that will make it possible for them to entertain their friends and family outdoors.  Is this trend here to stay? Is it worth investing in? I believe so and this is why …

1. More space for entertaining more people

When food is prepared and served outside, it’s easy for people to gather around and socialise with the cook – and each other – before, during and afterwards.  Many indoor kitchens don’t lend themselves easily to this and it can be a lot easier in the space provided by a garden for people to mix and mingle. You can of course enhance the mood in your garden by adding stylish outdoor furnishings, lighting, and maybe a fire pit for added warmth all year round. Of course, if the budget is large enough (and you have the space!), you can add even more attractions – a swimming pool, a water feature, some garden art, …

Outdoor dining and entertainment is much more straightforward than building on extra rooms to the house.  By simply incorporating the space you already have, you can easily install some appliances and have an operational outdoor kitchen – perfect for celebrating special occasions or just enjoying being outdoors.

Contemporary garden in Hampstead Garden Suburb designed for our client to dine outdoors with friends and family

Contemporary garden in Hampstead Garden Suburb designed for our client to dine outdoors with friends and family

2. Better for the senses

Everybody knows that food cooked outdoors tastes better – especially if an open fire is involved! I’m not sure of the science behind this but I know it’s not just about taste or even smell.  Eating outside evokes memories and pleasant feelings since it —or at least the idea of it—seems to take us back to our childish selves: it feels ‘more playful, less formal and fussy, more exciting’ according to food writer and columnist Annalisa Barbieri - who also comments that ‘As a species, we love a fire; it taps into something deep within us, signalling protection, warmth, the ability to cook’.  So that’s why even our teenage daughter will sit there and chat to us!

And the cooking itself is different – simpler, often healthier and more reliant on fresh ingredients for flavour (possibly even herbs and vegetables grown right there in the garden).

A spacious terrace provides the perfect place to unwind on a sunny afternoon, enjoy an evening meal with the family or a late-night drink with friends.

A spacious terrace provides the perfect place to unwind on a sunny afternoon, enjoy an evening meal with the family or a late-night drink with friends.

 3. Some of us enjoy cooking for others!

Not all of us, naturally, but I’m one of those people that really enjoys planning a menu, choosing great food ingredients (and wine) and preparing the food myself.  Eating out at restaurants can be a lovely experience but on a regular basis it can also become very expensive and sometimes it’s not even that great. So ‘dining out at home’ offers you more control over the cost and quality of your dining experience (and for those with kids, it’s a huge saving on babysitters!).

And while we may love cooking for others, not many of us relish the mess created by an indoor gathering – cleaning up after food and drinks outdoors can be a lot easier.  Most of today’s barbecue grills and other outdoor cooking appliances are made from stainless steel, which makes them easy to clean.


Recent Garden Company project

We recently designed and built a garden in Kings Langley, Hertfordshire where the overriding requirement from the client was to be able to entertain family and friends more easily outdoors.  Our clients had a mature garden with some existing hedging and lovely specimen shrubs and trees. The clients enjoyed their existing garden but found it rather disjointed and lacking an entertainment area and further areas of visual interest. They wanted a stylish family garden with a large entertaining area including a swimming pool and pool building connected to the house.  An existing unsuccessful oriental garden which could be viewed from the house also needed to be re-designed, and a new play area was part of the brief.  Our ideas for the new garden design were based on creating a garden that appeared to be hewn out of the surrounding landscape. The scheme has specific divided areas to meet the client brief, with flow and connection between these areas to draw people around the whole space. For more detail and images, visit our website.

Large family garden in Kings Langley designed to enhance outdoor living

Large family garden in Kings Langley designed to enhance outdoor living

In conclusion – we know that one of the main trends in current garden design ideas is the increased popularity of outdoor living and entertainment, despite our unpredictable weather.  In my view, there are good reasons for this trend, including: being able to create more space for friends and family relatively easily (compared to adding on more room inside), enjoying the dining experience more (partly because of deep-rooted emotions linked to the outdoors) and the opportunity to prepare our favourite foods ourselves rather than rely on restaurant fare.

If you are thinking about making better use of your own garden or outdoor space this year, I hope that this has been a useful read. In what ways are you already using your space for outdoor living, dining and entertaining?  What creative garden design ideas could be applied to optimise your use of the space?  If you are in North London or South-East England, please feel free to contact us with your ideas and let’s see how we can help.

Garden design predictions for 2018

This entry was posted in Blog on by .

Happy New Year!

As a Registered Member of the Society of Garden Designers (SGD), I was delighted to be invited last month to comment on garden design trends for 2018. The article can be found here. I found it invigorating to read the thoughts of other professional designers and to reflect on the overall themes emerging. In this digital age when we are all spending more and more time at our screens, I believe that landscape and garden designers have a unique opportunity to re-connect people with nature, providing a rewarding route to emotional satisfaction and well-being. Yes, a successful garden scheme should look good, but most importantly, it should make the user feel good. As part of this re-connection with nature and the ‘great outdoors’, I anticipate that over the next 12 months and beyond we will all be ever more focused on enhancing the relationship between home and garden. Marrying indoor spaces to those outside to create flow, harmony and a sense of continuity throughout will underpin our work.

In more specific terms, one of the broad themes in garden design over the next year and beyond will be our growing awareness of environmental and ecological issues. In my opinion, garden designers and clients have already been expressing their ecological interests and concerns through a wide range of choices in recent years. These choices range from planting lists featuring native species to locally sourced materials that fit comfortably within a setting. I anticipate that this trend will gather strength in 2018, with concern for local wildlife also becoming an even bigger part of the garden design concept. Big or small, a private garden or commercial grounds can be a healthy haven for wildlife in a wider network of places linking urban green spaces with the countryside. Many wildlife species are sadly in decline in the UK and there is growing awareness of the part our gardens and grounds can play in reducing this risk – through a host of measures including (but not limited to!): replacing fences with green boundaries, creating ponds and water features, providing pollen/nectar-rich plants for bees and other insects, and planting wildflower borders and meadows.

Bespoke iron fire pit

Bespoke iron fire pit

Despite our variable weather in the UK, outdoor kitchen areas will continue to grow in popularity, with dedicated spaces for cooking, eating and entertaining friends and family. Stylish garden furniture and a pizza oven or sunken fire pit will join the traditional barbecue as part of the setting for outdoor leisure time. For those with the necessary space and budget, eco-friendly garden buildings (not only sheds but also summer houses, studios, guest accommodation, …), outdoor swimming pools and swimming ponds that are designed to be a feature within the entertaining area will be a growing trend. As interest in the journey from ‘garden to table’ flourishes too, along with the growth in plant-based diets and peoples’ desire to reduce their supermarket bills, I also predict that more clients will ask us to add edible planting to their garden schemes – ranging from containers on balconies and terraces for growing vegetables and herbs to installing greenhouses for those with the space available.

Raised beds constructed from green oak

Raised beds constructed from green oak

3 critical questions at the start of every garden design project

While it is interesting and thought-provoking to try to predict what the next year will bring in garden design terms, obviously garden design isn’t about just following the latest trends. Whenever I approach a new project, I certainly don’t have a design in mind with which the space has to comply! Put simply, there are 3 factors that I am always keen to understand at the outset which override any considerations of what’s ‘on trend’ or proving popular with other clients:

1. On a practical basis, what does the client want and need from their garden or outdoor space? In other words, how will they use it & what do they need from their garden to make them feel good when they use it?

2. More broadly, what is the ‘sense of place’ that they want to create? This can be hard to articulate but it is vitally important as a designer for me to understand the combination of characteristics that will give a site its special ‘feel’ and help it to sit well in its surroundings.

3. What specific opportunities or problems are presented by the space? Naturally, this is where my own practical experience and knowledge can be combined with the client’s thoughts and ideas to identify possible solutions.

If you’re planning a garden design project for 2018, then I hope that this blog has given you some food for thought. For more ideas, please see examples of our recent garden design projects here.

Wishing you a very happy and healthy 2018!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Garden Company!

This entry was posted in Blog on by .

Snowy garden scene

The Garden Company team is grateful for another busy year of successful trading and delighted to send a Christmas donation to Perennial, the charity dedicated to people who work/ed in horticulture and are facing tough times. We know that this amazing charity makes a real difference to peoples’ lives.

It has been an exciting year for us at the Garden Company.  Highlights include:

  • being shortlisted for two SGD (Society of Garden Designers) Awards. These are the only awards dedicated solely to landscape and garden design in the UK and are held in high esteem by design professionals throughout the UK and internationally.  Being shortlisted for one (or two!) is a huge achievement and we are looking forward to a special night out at the Awards Ceremony in London in February. Having been the SGD Council Member responsible for organising this event for the last few years, I am greatly looking forward to just relaxing and enjoying seeing everyone there!
Family garden in Kings Langley

Family garden in Kings Langley

Contemporary garden in Hampstead Garden Suburb

Contemporary garden in Hampstead Garden Suburb

  • designing and building a number of interesting and varied landscape projects, including domestic gardens from small courtyards to large family gardens, and also working on public spaces (including our Hare Court project at The Inner Temple in London). Client feedback this year has been really positive and you can read more about how clients have found working with us here

Looking back over 2017, the other big project keeping me occupied has been to design and build a new garden for myself/my family.  This has been an interesting and (almost entirely!) enjoyable experience.  We moved to a new-build property in a small Bedfordshire village 18 months ago.  The garden has a lovely old wall to the rear and a beautiful 80m long mature holly hedge along one boundary. Other than those existing features it was a blank canvas, which was perfect for me.  Creating a garden for myself – plus other family members! – has been a great joy and reinforced how incredibly lucky I am to be in an industry where we can provide such enjoyment, and I believe, benefit the wellbeing of our clients. It has also been different to live with the space every day through the changing seasons and see the subtle changes, something I don’t experience in the same way with a ‘normal’ project, where I would perhaps visit a few times in the first year after completion.  We started work on it just after Christmas 2016 and – one year on – the garden has been put into constant use over the summer and autumn. I look forward to sharing more images with you in the New Year (the snowy scene at the top of this blog doesn’t really give you much to go on!). I have really enjoyed maintaining and nurturing my garden – it does require attention and care. It’s reinforced my belief that designing and building a garden is just the beginning – the importance of skilled aftercare is paramount to the success of a scheme. As an industry, we need to raise the profile of aftercare and maintenance to make it a valued career choice. As professionals, we need to reinforce the value of paying properly for the skills needed and help clients to see it as more than simply ‘maintenance’.

All that remains is for me to say a huge personal thankyou to our valued Garden Company clients, team members and business partners for your continued support and loyalty throughout 2017.  And – of course – we wish everybody reading a magical, merry Christmas and happy, healthy New Year!

The Garden Company office will be closed from December 22nd and we re-open for business on January 2nd.  If you’re thinking about a landscape design or build project for next year, need a maintenance overhaul for your garden/grounds, or you are looking for an opportunity to work in garden construction/maintenance, we’d love to hear from you on 01442-832666.

For more information about the valuable work that Perennial does, please visit

Planting ideas for a Hertfordshire garden

This entry was posted in Blog on by .

I know that our clients choose us with great care and it is always a real privilege to work with them on their precious gardens and outdoor spaces.  Some are enthusiastic gardeners themselves; many are not.  A recent project in the Chilterns was interesting and enjoyable not only because of the wonderful opportunity offered by the location, but also because one of the clients was a keen plantsperson; he wanted planting ideas for a garden to be enjoyed and nurtured over time (he and his wife had recently retired).  Here’s the process we worked through together…

A garden set in a beautiful Hertfordshire landscape

A garden set in a beautiful Hertfordshire landscape

Planting includes: Stipa gigantea, Penstemon ‘Garnet’ and Geranium ‘Rozanne’

Planting includes: Stipa gigantea, Penstemon ‘Garnet’ and Geranium ‘Rozanne’

Planting includes Echinops ‘Taplow Blue’.

Planting includes Echinops ‘Taplow Blue’.

Planting includes: Acer ‘Senkaki’ and Cercis ‘Forest Pansy’.

Planting includes: Acer ‘Senkaki’ and Cercis ‘Forest Pansy’.

Planting includes: Aloe striatula and Cistus purpureus.

Planting includes: Aloe striatula and Cistus purpureus.

A garden set in a beautiful Hertfordshire landscapePlanting includes: Stipa gigantea, Penstemon ‘Garnet’ and Geranium ‘Rozanne’Planting includes Echinops ‘Taplow Blue’.Planting includes: Acer ‘Senkaki’ and Cercis ‘Forest Pansy’.Planting includes: Aloe striatula and Cistus purpureus.

The property was on a steeply-sloping site with excellent views of the surrounding Hertfordshire countryside and – in the distance – the National Trust Estate at Ashridge.  The clients asked for ideas for deep borders with expansive planting, along with some less common and less hardy plants that could be over-wintered in a new greenhouse. The garden could be viewed from inside the house and these views were an important aspect of the planning. Framing and enhancing the impressive views over the Chilterns valley was another key design principle. The overall purpose of the design was to create a thriving garden that made the most of the sloping site and flowed cohesively from one area to another.

Our planting ideas included specific plants that were chosen to echo the surrounding countryside and its ephemeral nature. Light and airy deciduous shrubs and textural plants were chosen for their skeletal effect, adding volume and creating separate areas that were still closely connected, and diffused by the taller plants rather than separated. These included Stipa gigantea, Foeniculum vulgare ‘Giant Bronze’ and Miscanthus sinensis gracillimus. Plants were also selected to soften the slope effect by forming soft curves and mounds rather than anything too rigid or formal, creating clumps of herbaceous plants, shrubs and grasses including Geranium ‘Brookside’, Cistus x purpureus and Sesleria heufleriana.

Deep curving borders enabled intimate spaces to be formed throughout the garden. Carefully selected accent plants provided visual impact and added interest. These included Aloe striatula, Kniphofia caulescens and Dierama pulcherrimum ‘Blackbird’. Another level of sensory enjoyment was created by using scented plants including Rosa ‘De Rescht’, Viola odorata ‘Red Charm’ and Oenothera odorata ‘Sulphurea’. Kept from the original garden was a mature willow tree, which was pruned and crown-lifted. This added some character to the outdoor space while the new plants ‘settled in’.

Every project brings its own challenges!  In this instance, there were no significant planting restrictions owing to the light or soil conditions; the site was relatively open, with some shade on the southern boundary from neighbouring trees, and there was reasonable drainage, with shallow clay soil over chalk as is commonly found in this part of Hertfordshire.  Actually, the main challenge we faced arose from sourcing some of the lesser-known varieties of plants on the plant list, such as Gentiana sino-ornata and Lampranthus spectabilis.  Our plant suppliers (Joseph Rochford Gardens Ltd and Orchard Dene Nurseries) could not have been more helpful.

Our clients were delighted with the completed project. The garden is full of interest in different seasons and is a lovely place for them to spend time in (mainly – as keen gardeners – with gardening fork in hand!). For more examples of planting ideas that we have implemented in Hertfordshire and throughout South-East England, please visit our design projects page.

This blog is based on an article which originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of Pro Landscaper.

A career in garden design

This entry was posted in Blog on by .

It’s a big year for birthdays in our household.  I’ll be celebrating my 50th at Christmas  – I know, hard for people to believe! – and our two daughters have both had significant birthdays (13 and 10).  I’ve always been one of those people that becomes reflective (rather than beery) around birthdays and in my 50th year I’ve found myself thinking a lot about where I am in life – and the part my career in garden design and landscaping has played in this.

I’ve been reflecting on some of the career choices I made early on (without a grand plan). I’ve also been thinking about what my daughters can expect when they start their working lives, in terms of earning a living and enjoying what they do every day.  As neither of the girls is likely to be hugely interested in my thoughts, I decided to share them with you in a rather-more-personal-than-usual blog instead.

How I got started in garden design

I’d like to say that I was focused on garden design from the age of 3, but in reality I drifted into this profession when I left school.  If asked prior to this, I’d have said I wanted to play sport for a living and my parents were keen for me to train as an accountant. However – aged 18 – I spent a summer working for a forestry company and met someone there who’d studied landscaping at Merrist Wood College in Surrey.  This sounded more enticing than the Forestry Management course I was half-heartedly heading towards.  Making the switch to Merrist Wood and landscaping was a key decision for me and in the short term meant that I gained from a year working in the US and also having one of my garden designs selected to be built on Main Avenue RHS Chelsea (Silver-Gilt in 1989 if you’re asking!). Although I certainly wasn’t the most diligent student I was awarded the accolade of having produced the best design projects when I graduated.

After college, I joined Capital Garden Landscapes in Highgate as a Designer/Manager (quite a learning curve at 21).  I was responsible for the whole process: taking enquiries, drawing up plans and managing the build. Not to mention line-managing people older than my parents and handling clients with exacting requirements.  It was also here that I started a long and fruitful working relationship with Andrew Wenham MSGD.

Two years later, in 1991, I set up The Garden Company in Chipperfield near Hemel Hempstead.  Today we employ around 20 people, 5 of us in the office and the majority on domestic and commercial sites building and maintaining gardens.

So – what advice would I give to people entering the garden design profession today?

Generally, I recommend total immersion therapy!  In more specific terms, here are some of things I did that helped and some that I wish I had done more of …

  • Join the best company you can and get stuck in – try to see beyond the workload to the learning opportunities around you. While I learnt a lot at my first company, I had to learn a lot more the hard way once I had set up my own business.  This probably added years of learning on, not just months. If doing it again I would have sought out at least one more company to broaden my experience before setting out on my own.
  • Get your name known (in a good way!) and get to know other people in your profession. Be proactive and build a network.  Social media has changed this aspect of the role beyond recognition.
  • Proud to receive our first BALI Award in 1996

    Proud to receive our first BALI Award in 1996

    Get face-to-face too – go to trade events, RHS shows and join relevant professional societies.  You might think you don’t have time to do this, but time will become even more precious as your career and personal life both expand.   Professional gatherings help you to share knowledge and experience and accelerate your learning. I am convinced my business would not be as successful if I hadn’t been so involved with BALI and latterly the SGD. Winning BALI Awards over the years has definitely helped to raise the profile of The Garden Company.
  • Hone your technical knowledge, business knowhow and self-confidence so that you are ready with ideas and solutions when good opportunities come along.  By putting the effort in early, people will start to see you as ‘the person to go to’ (and refer others to you too).
  • And a personal plea from me – please visit gardens!  When I’m interviewing job candidates, so many people talk about being inspired by garden design or horticulture but can’t name a garden they have visited in the last couple of years.  (I reckon I’m allowed a middle-aged grumble here).

What does a garden designer need to be good at?

Apart from garden design, that is. In addition, you need certain behavioural characteristics. I believe the most underrated of these is listening.  Listening with intent to my clients, suppliers and team members is absolutely vital to the Garden Company’s success.  If you don’t listen – and understand – then you are much less likely to make the right decisions.  (Which is quite ironic because I am well aware that my habit of ruminating over my last phone conversation/meeting with a client often makes me look distracted and less than focused in the office!).

I would also add tenacity: keep going, don’t throw the towel in, tune into problems when they arise because generally they get worse if left untended.

What I love most about being in garden design

It’s a bit like parenting actually.  There are lucid moments when you realise that it is all going well. It might be when you see that you have created something beautiful for a client … achieved something positive for the environment … noticed a new team member making a great contribution. I have also found being involved with BALI and the SGD very satisfying, particularly in the last few years while serving on the SGD Council and helping to establish their Awards scheme.  As the saying goes, it’s good to put something back.

I feel very lucky to be in this creative industry which brings pleasure and joy to people – a recent text from a client says it for me: ‘My garden makes me happy – every day’.  (I try to remember this note when the going gets tough)!

So what? (I hear you/my children ask)

I don’t know yet whether either of my children will follow me into garden design/a related profession.  I realise of course that the context for their careers will be significantly different to my own – as we head towards the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution apparently, with breakthroughs in emerging technologies, artificial intelligence and robotics.  However, if I could have one wish for each of them in this special birthday year, it would be that they find their work truly satisfying and rewarding – and also that they understand early on the relationship between talent, hard work and achievement.  (Yes, I know that’s two wishes).

For more insight into our achievements at the Garden Company please visit our Awards page.

The Garden Company is shortlisted for 2 national design awards

This entry was posted in Blog on by .

We are delighted to announce that the Garden Company has been shortlisted for not just one but two highly-respected national awards by the Society of Garden Designers (SGD).  Now in their sixth year, the SGD Awards are designed to recognise and reward outstanding achievement in the garden design profession. They are the only Awards dedicated solely to landscape and garden design in the UK.

Family garden in Kings Langley

Family garden in Kings Langley

The shortlisted Garden Company projects – in two different categories – are:

  • a family garden in Kings Langley with a large entertaining area including a swimming pool, set in lovely Hertfordshire countryside
  • a modern garden in Hampstead Garden Suburb Trust, where the houses are said to represent the best of English domestic architecture of the early 20th century

A panel of independent experts, including designers, academics, journalists and horticultural professionals will select the winning designs, to be announced at an Awards Ceremony in London in February 2018.

Modern garden in Hampstead Garden Suburb

Modern garden in Hampstead Garden Suburb

The SGD Awards are held in high esteem by design professionals throughout the UK and internationally.  This is the first year that the Garden Company has submitted its projects and being shortlisted for one (or two!) is a huge achievement.  I would like to thank our clients for trusting us with their valued garden projects, our suppliers for their tremendous support and also say a well-deserved thank you and well done to our own team members!

For more images of the shortlisted gardens please visit and To find out more about the Society of Garden Designers, go to

Garden design ideas that turn public spaces into ‘people places’

This entry was posted in Blog on by .

I always enjoy working on public spaces.  It’s a great joy to apply ideas about garden design in a way that enables and encourages people to interact in a positive way with the space around them. This was described at the last SGD (Society of Garden Designers) Awards event as ‘turning a space into a place’ – as one of the Judges said: ‘We tend to visually capture spaces to reveal design ideas, layouts, patterns, textures and colours, but, in doing so, we miss seeing them as living spaces – places which act as a setting for our lives and places which have the power to bring people together.Gardens do and must bring people together’.

So – what makes a public space a ‘people place’?

The theory 

The Project for Public Spaces (PPS) – a US-based non-profit organisation – has evaluated thousands of public spaces around the world.  In their view: ‘great public spaces are where celebrations are held, social and economic exchanges take place, friends run into each other, and cultures mix. They are the “front porches” of our public institutions – libraries, field houses, schools – where we interact with each other … when the spaces work well, they serve as a stage for our public lives’.

Furthermore, the PPS has found that successful places have four key qualities:

  1. they are accessible and linked conveniently to other places
  2. people are engaged in activities there; the place is put to good use
  3. the place is comfortable (safe, clean, places to sit, ‘green’ and attractive)
  4. the place is sociable (people meet each other there to interact, and take people when they come to visit)

For more detail see the PPS article.

A practical example – Hare Court, Inner Temple Gardens, London

We have been fortunate to work with the Head Gardener of the Inner Temple Gardens near the Royal Courts of Justice in London over the last few years.  Our most recent joint project has been to renovate a historic courtyard which has undergone an exciting transformation to create a peaceful woodland landscape in the heart of legal London.  My team and I have found this a really satisfying project to work on.  We have been acutely aware of the historical architecture all around. It has been a real privilege (and responsibility) to be able to add to this special environment in a small way.

Hare Court is a planted courtyard which is home to a number of Barristers’ Chambers and residences. With a network of old Purbeck stone paths and draining channels that date back to the era of the Great Fire of London, the courtyard boasts four birch trees which are symbolic of the 4 Hare brothers who were members of the Inn in the late 16th and early 17th century.

The courtyard is surrounded on all sides by tall buildings, creating views from many different heights and angles as well as creating a ‘goldfish bowl’ effect for users of the space.  The existing design did not particularly engage with the Members of Chambers and residents or encourage exploration – people tended to travel quickly across the courtyard from point ‘a’ to point ‘b’ in the course of their day, without making the most of being outdoors, away from desks and formal meetings and in the open air.

The new design set out to encourage better use and enjoyment of the space by evoking the generally respectful and peaceful usage that is found in the main garden of The Inner Temple.  A sinuous path was constructed to connect all the areas (in addition to the existing paths).  This created a more pleasing geometry, encouraging the user to wander into new planting areas.  The new path is variable in width and widens to accommodate seating areas and a large terrace area from which ‘Justice’ – a sculpture by artist Tanya Russell – can be admired.

A place for contemplation in the heart of legal London

A place for contemplation in the heart of legal London

Other garden design ideas to increase the appeal of the space concerned the new planting. Softer and denser planting was used to absorb any noise as it was previously prone to heavy echoes.  A diverse range of planting was carefully selected to cope with the unique and demanding microclimate of Hare Court.  The challenge was to find plants tolerant to shade, strong sun and limited irrigation whilst also creating a cohesive effect that would soften the strong vertical lines and brickwork of the surrounding buildings.  The new planting is denser and lusher than previous schemes, on slightly mounded contours to create further interest.  An upper area has planting tolerant of drier sunnier conditions and as the planting progresses to the lower area it becomes more shade tolerant and reminiscent of woodland edge planting.

Colleagues gathering on the newly-created terrace at Hare Court

Colleagues gathering on the newly-created terrace at Hare Court

At a recent opening party for Hare Court, we were delighted to see people (some with their dogs!) wandering about the courtyard – admiring plants, trying out the new seating locations and generally enjoying the space/place. We had called in earlier that day to chat with our client, and it was wonderful to see people having impromptu conversations outside, and bringing their sandwiches to eat in the (intermittent) sunshine.

Other public spaces that we have worked on in recent years can be found here and include business parks, Head Offices and school grounds.  There is no ‘one size fits all’ of course in the world of design, and in each case we have applied our ideas about garden design to meet a specific set of requirements.


In his book ‘The social life of small urban spaces’, William Whyte writes about how public spaces contribute fundamentally to the quality of life of individuals and society. When we think about how to create physical places that facilitate positive interactions between people and develop healthy communities, he concludes that ‘It is far easier, simpler to create spaces that work for people than those that do not — and a tremendous difference it can make to the life of a city’.

How true.

What public spaces do you most enjoy spending time in – and why?  We would be interested to hear from you…