The secrets of successful garden design

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

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