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'.

5-point climate change action plan for garden designers and landscapers

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Floodhit areas in the midlands 2020

What more can we do to tackle climate change and improve the sustainability of our industry? It’s a formidable challenge for all garden designers and landscapers and no doubt one that we are already tackling as individuals and businesses in some shape or form. I feel sure that the participants at the last Futurescape Summit headed home with the good intention to do more.  Since then, we’ve all experienced the wettest month on record according to the Met Office, as Storm Ciara, Storm Dennis and Storm Jorge have lashed the country within the last few weeks (the image above illustrates recent flooding in the Midlands).

In my view, a long-term, effective solution to the challenge will require more than good intentions and individual effort – I believe we need to work together across our industry to bring about major culture change. We need to significantly shift our culture (‘the way we do things around here’) towards more sustainable practices. This will take effective change management and strong leadership. People will need to commit with their hearts and minds to a different way of working, not just comply with it or pay it lip service.

With this in mind, here’s my action plan for garden designers and landscapers to work together on this challenge, i.e. things that we need to do now and over time (with credit given to change management guru John Kotter for his framework on leading change):

  1. Create a sense of urgency throughout the garden design and landscaping industry about the need to change to more sustainable ways of working. Find ways to promote honest and objective discussions about our industry’s role regarding the causes and effects of climate change. Explore openly the threats to the environment of ‘continuing as we are’ in garden design and landscaping – not just in our operational roles but also in all of our ‘support’ endeavours (for example, the way we train and educate the designers and landscapers of the future).
  2. Build positive alliances between garden designers, landscapers, professional associations, suppliers and contractors. Make sure that people from each of these different perspectives are working together on the challenge of climate change and are united for combined action. Create forums where different groups can work together with a shared agenda for change. For example, bring professional societies and associations together to form a unified view of what needs to be done.
  3. Create an inspiring vision of what we are all working towards. Describe the new, more sustainable ways of working as visually and impactfully as possible. Make sure that everyone understands where we are heading as an industry – and is prepared for difficult questions! E.g. What will be ‘in’ and what will be ‘out’ in future? What will it mean to apply the 3 R’s of sustainability throughout our activities (not to mention a few more R’s)? How will we align our industry’s PR and marketing initiatives – flower shows, conferences, publications – with the new, more sustainable ways of working? What do we need our clients to understand about sustainability?
  4. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Make sure that climate change and sustainability are always on the agenda. Talk about progress, successes and benefits realised as often as possible. Recognise and reward people for being role models (e.g. reflect this in awards schemes, prizes and medals). Talk about the proposed changes to working policies and practices regularly and listen genuinely to peoples’ concerns.
  5. Create short-term targets for the garden design and landscaping industry regarding climate change and keep building on these. We will need ‘baby steps’ towards more sustainable ways of working, not just one distant goal. We will also need to avoid declaring victory too soon – it will be essential to keep seeking out further opportunities for improved sustainability.

In summary, as an industry we are uniquely placed to identify opportunities to protect landscapes from the effects of climate change and mitigate against its causes. Addressing this challenge will require skilful change management and leadership. This will be a process, not a ‘one-off’ exercise. If we do it well, we will not only embed the new practices in our own industry, but we will set a great example to other industries too.

Your thoughts on this vitally important topic are very welcome, please use the link at the top of this blog post to comment.  If you have enjoyed reading this article, please take the opportunity to browse other blog posts on a range of industry-related topics on our website.

This blog post first appeared as an article in Pro Landscaper magazine (online version) in March 2020.

A garden design case study – Barn Garden, Hertfordshire

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04.917 Garden Barn A1Whenever I’m given a new design opportunity, it’s usually against a background of several ongoing projects. During the time period between the first and second client meetings, I find myself reflecting on everything that I’ve heard from the client and what I have seen of the space. I mull over factors such as how the client plans to use the garden, how it is related to the space, what design problems and opportunities might occur.  That’s really an enjoyable period; seeing and building the garden in my head, and not necessarily thinking very hard about it!  When I get to the drawing stage, I become very focused but the ‘mulling over’ first helps to make that a very natural flow.

Case Study – Barn Garden

Client brief – Our clients asked us to transform their one-acre garden set in a beautiful location on the top of the Chiltern Hills (an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) in Hertfordshire. The garden design needed to sit comfortably in a farmland setting yet have a contemporary, modern feel. Being keen cooks, our clients also required a small kitchen herb garden as well as a larger vegetable garden and orchard so that they could grow more of their own supplies.

View of rear and side of the house before work began

View of rear and side of the house before work began

Design challenges – The house and garden are in a lovely setting, but the garden felt very open and quite exposed to the elements; there was also a sense of being overlooked by a neighbouring property.  A sense of sanctuary and privacy was required around the house whilst maintaining a visual connection with the surrounding countryside.  Views within the garden needed to be created and framed to give a sense of scale.

Design solution -  I began with a strong rectilinear geometry, to connect the house to the garden and create attractive, separate spaces.  Trees and clipped hedges were used to strengthen the geometry before the areas were over-layered with softer, more naturalistic planting. Further hedging, trees and grasses also provide screening from the property next door. A large area was given over to a wildflower meadow, using local native calcareous species to increase the garden’s biodiversity and give a further strong connection to its countryside setting.an invitation to explore further. 

Master Plan

Master Plan

Mown paths through the meadow area provide a sense of control and an invitation to explore further. An extra contemporary touch was added by using bespoke modern sculpture to lead the eye and frame wonderful views across the Chilterns.​ Overall, the result is a garden which is well-loved and regularly used by its owners.

View of terrace from the meadow.

View of terrace from the meadow.

View from the house into the garden

View from the house into the garden

Seating area on the edge of meadow

Seating area on the edge of meadow

Garden sculpture with late summer planting

Garden sculpture with late summer planting

View of the terrace from the corner of the house

View of the terrace from the corner of the house

 

Summing up

Design solutions are very subjective and there are always many choices to make – from the concept design stage to the detail of a path width. Just where to start designing a new garden from is interesting. I often start out (as I did in this example) with very basic shapes, lines, usage flow.  I start sketching that out (always by hand initially) and start to see some geometry within the flow with which I can work and develop ideas further and in more detail.

Often with a new project there’ll be a trigger from my history – I never know where it’s going to come from, it might be from a garden that I visited 20 years ago.  In this example, I was influenced by some elements of the wonderful walled garden at Scampston Hall in North Yorkshire. Sometimes of course there are more ‘gnarly’ problems to solve too.  There’s always a conflict of some sort to solve, or an opportunity to balance the garden’s functionality with its aesthetics.  With the Barn Garden, I was keen to ensure the clients could enjoy a feeling of sanctuary whilst maintaining a strong connection to the surrounding countryside.

I hope that this design case study has been of interest – to fellow garden designers, to clients and to people interested in creative thinking generally!  Please do share your thoughts by commenting as shown at the top.  If you would like to know more about our garden design work, then please browse a range of our projects here.

This blog post first appeared on our website in September 2019 and was the most popular post in our 2019 series.