Why do developers think that garden designers are sexier than landscape architects?

There have been a number of high profile projects in London recently where developers have employed garden designers. This is nothing unusual, you might think. But in actual fact it is a departure from traditional practice, and quite an interesting one.

Firstly, the projects are not ‘gardens’ as such (see my post on ‘When is a Garden Designer a Landscape Designer’ for more details on this and for definitions of what a garden actually is). Most of them are in the semi-public or public realm – parks, squares, pedestrian spaces between buildings, etc.

Secondly, this is traditional territory for landscape architects. In the past, the likes of Gillespies, Capita Lovejoy, Townsend and the like would generally have undertaken these sorts of projects. However, if the client wanted someone high profile, they would have perhaps engaged a ‘rock-star’ landscape architect such as Martha Schwartz, Kathryn Gustafson or perhaps even Eelco Hooftman of Gross Max – all from outside the UK, you will note (although many practice here).

The large (non ‘rock-star’) practices are still very much engaged in the public realm – more so than ever. One doesn’t hear much about them however. And perhaps therein lies the key to what is going on here. To use developer-speak, they are not ‘sexy’. Dan Pearson, on the other hand, is sexy (forgive me please Dan!); as are Andy Sturgeon, Christopher Bradley-Hole and Tom Stuart-Smith. All are gold medal winners at the Chelsea Flower Show, which receives more TV coverage than any annual event except Wimbledon and all are therefore household names, to a greater or lesser extent.

Handyside Gardens, Kings Cross. Photo courtesy of www.kingscross.co.uk

Handyside Gardens, Kings Cross; designed by Dan Pearson. Photo courtesy of www.kingscross.co.uk

So is it that developers simply want some of this ‘brand’, some of the glamour of Chelsea to be associated with their developments? That probably accounts for a lot of it. Branded ‘products’ are appearing more and more with developments. Interiors by so-and-so, architecture by practice X (although often only the concept) and so on. But if that is so, then perhaps a more interesting question is why are there no ‘sexy brands’ in landscape architecture. Why is it “Gardens by Dan Pearson” and not “Landscape by Townsend”. I would argue that it is a systemic problem with landscape architecture in the UK. Ever since landscape architecture emerged as a self-made idea, it has hitched itself to architecture. In the UK this meant mimicking the RIBA – copying its structure, professional values, procurement strategies – although inevitably always a step or two behind. However, as a result the public has failed to distinguish landscape architecture as a separate profession. It is almost as if the landscape profession puts on its dustiest jacket to go to the professional party. Even the name is confusing. the two individual words are perfectly understandable to people, but together they don’t really make a sensible meaning – is it really the architecture of landscape? Or perhaps it is just the landscapey bits of architecture (there we go again…). Now garden design, on the other hand, what could be clearer? To make it worse (or perhaps illustrating my point) many landscape architects really look down their noses at garden designers.

So what is it that distinguishes the landscape professions from all the others? The answer is that we work with plants. Paving, levels, external space, all of these things can be and often are done by other professions; though often less successfully in my view. Those Latin names though – that always gets them! Planting design is a specialism in itself, and one that most landscape architects don’t do often enough to excel at. Garden designers on the other hand often come into the profession through the planting door. Sometimes I think that this is exactly why landscape architects look down on them. To be fair, many garden designers are not very good at all the other stuff.

Of course the ultimate irony is that most of the garden designers who are taking on public realm work employ landscape architects in their practices to help them implement the projects – because they have a better technical knowledge. Sad then, that landscape architects are basically seen as good technicians, but not as creatives.

One question that remains hanging is that of aftercare. Perhaps you have already read my other articles about maintenance of public landscapes (‘The whole life cost of a Citroën‘ and ‘The great divide … north/south? or capital/maintenance?’), but if not, then my point here is that there is no point in designing something without making sure that the resources and skills are there to care for it. Dan Pearson is famously careful about this, as are Argent Estates, his ultimate client at Handyside. But it is a point to consider: garden designs need gardeners to look after them. So is it the case that if developers employ landscape architects, they get something boring, but if they employ garden designers, they get something exciting? Maybe, but it’s a moot point. However, the truth is that in most cases, what garden designers deliver is still garden design, which may be unsuitable for the public realm resources. It will be interesting to see how it pans out in years to come.

 

Roof garden Design: #4 – Planting for green roofs

Continuing in our series on roof gardens, this post is guest-written for us by Maggie Fennell of GreenSky, a nursery specialising in supply of plants and substrates for green roofs and which has joint research projects with University of Sheffield. Her contact details are at the end of the post.

All green roofs share certain challenges for the plants. From lightweight, extensive roofs to full scale roof gardens, they will be living in an artificial, sterile growing medium without the diverse soil ecology that supports plants in a more natural environment. Unlike ‘terrestrial’ planting, they have no access to the water table so they are completely reliant on rainfall and artificial irrigation. Add to this the extremes of temperature and wind exposure at roof height and it is clear we have a very challenging environment in which to plant.

Extensive, lightweight green roofs take on this challenge by using only the very toughest, most resilient plants which are naturally found in poor, shallow soils facing harsh conditions. This means wildflowers and hardy succulents such as sedums are most commonly used. At the other end of the spectrum intensive roof gardens provide increased structural loading and maintenance access to support a wide plant range from trees to turf lawns.

Biodiverse green roof at Sharrow School

Sharrow School in Sheffield is a world class example of a green roof that is both biodiversity-driven and visually stimulating

In between these two extremes there is growing interest in ‘semi-intensive’ green roofs which support a much wider range of plants than the extensive roofs by providing 150-250mm depth of substrate and a modest maintenance burden. Hardy perennials and some small shrubs can be used to create a variety of ecologically diverse and visually attractive ‘roofscapes’ without the heavy loading requirements of an intensive roof.

To maximise the effectiveness of this kind of planting it is important to consider two main differences from ground level landscaping. The first is the survival of plants in these harsh conditions – how can losses be reduced? The idea of forming a healthy community of plants that mimic a natural ecosystem is not one that often arises in the realm of aesthetically driven amenity planting, but on the roof it is more important. The second is the changing viewpoint. Often there is not a ‘front’ or ‘back’ view, as green roofs might be overlooked from various angles rather than from the same level.

Randomised plant placement is the normal planting method on extensive roofs requiring minimal maintenance

Randomised plant placement is the normal planting method on extensive roofs requiring minimal maintenance

The natural planting technique that results from both of these considerations is one that mixes up individual plants alongside different species in a mosaic-like form, rather than swathes of a single species. This randomised or ‘naturalistic’ arrangement of plants can seem quite foreign to landscapers used to working to precise planting schemes which carefully position plant structures and colours for a certain visual display.

One reason why the juxtaposition of varied species is helpful for green roof survival is related to how plants cope with the stresses of limited substrate depth. Different species have their own techniques for gaining the maximum moisture and nutrition from the limited supplies available on the roof. A sedum with shallow, fibrous roots will provide less competition to a neighbouring, relatively deep-rooting wild carrot. Plants can differ nearly as much below ground as above it, and the diverse root structures will exploit different levels of the substrate layer to the best effect.

This variation of plant performance also means that interspersed species show off their best colours in different seasons. The overall effect of a reasonably colourful carpet of vegetation is maintained throughout the year rather than having isolated patches that look great in spring but a bit bare in autumn.

Mixed planting on a semi intensive green roof

The wet summer of 2012 was excellent for alliums on green roofs

The wet summer of 2012 was excellent for alliums on green roofs

An extension of this idea is that species react differently to the fluctuations in annual weather patterns. A particularly cold spring, an unusually harsh winter or an unseasonably wet summer might each have an adverse effect on particular types of plants. By combining many plant genera, the chances are that whatever record-breaking weather statistic should be quoted in a given year, a proportion of the species on your roof will be performing well, or enjoying an unexpected advantage. If those plants are mixed fairly evenly across the scheme they will serve to compensate for struggling neighbours, who may get to return the favour in future years.

This demonstrates how a community of plants work together in a way that reduces maintenance while maintaining a pleasing visual effect. Another example of this is resistance to pests and diseases which might have a noticeable effect on a large mono-culture, but less impact amongst varied species.

This ecosystem approach does not necessarily conflict with a designer’s artistic aspirations, it merely recognises the increased horticultural and practical requirements of the planting scheme. Plants can still be arranged according to flower or foliage colour if desired, and deeper substrate areas can provide anchorage for taller, more structural species. It is always important to consider the client’s expectations concerning both aesthetic effect and maintenance provision when designing a successful green roof – as they can both differ greatly from a ground level garden.

For more details or advice, look on the GreenSky website at www.boningale-greensky.co.uk or contact Maggie Fennell directly at maggie.fennell@boningale.co.uk

We all need to make a living.

Some of this piece is specific to contractors, some to designers; but much of it applies to both.

Do we work in an industry which undervalues itself and if so, why is that? Our nearest ‘neighbour’ is the construction industry. These figures speak for themselves: look at these comparisons between the various corresponding jobs in the construction and landscape sector (source: www.payscale.com).

Construction worker Landscape Gardener

Landscape manager Construction project manager

 

Landscape ArchitectArchitectPay at site level seems to be linked more closely to agricultural pay than industrial pay. The higher up the management ladder you go, the bigger the pay gap becomes. Do we undersell our skills, or are they just undervalued by clients – is that the same thing? And what can we do about it?

Once we get locked into a price-driven market, various things start happening:

  1. Driving the price down is the main objective, so Margins are slim. This has various knock on effects:
  2. Pay is driven down. If pay is low then…
  3. Recruitment is difficult.
  4. And staff are Unhappy
  5. Slim margins mean Low Investment.
  6. Low investment and pay levels mean… Low Productivity… and
  7. More Accidents.
  8. Bad practices start to creep in: Sharp practices, hidden charges, commission, corruption, etc

Let’s look at the opposite process. If you are in a quality driven market, then:

  1. Quality is the main objective. The best way to drive up quality is…
  2. Invest more,
  3. Attract better staff, which means you have to…
  4. Pay better, and
  5. Train more, which means it makes sense to…
  6. Retain staff. To do this they have to be Happy.

The general view is that because of the tendering process, ‘cheapest is best’ is endemic. In fact, I am not sure that this is the case – it comes down to whether that market is price-driven or quality-driven. We regularly win both design and construction work in competitive tenders when we are not the cheapest. This is because experience, expertise, resources and general approach all play an important part in the selection process. The quality of the tender response is critical. Of course if the quality of the tender response is critical, then the quality of the request is equally important, or how else can a sensible appraisal be made? My impression is that over the last thirty years, tendering on the construction side has got sloppier. When I started in the industry, full Bills of Quantities were the norm in construction tenders, as were full construction package drawings. Tenders were delivered in unmarked identical sealed envelopes and opened simultaneously at a given time. These days they come in dribs and drabs, multiple extension of time are often the norm. What’s more, Bills of Quantities are a rarity (unless the contractor pays to have them done) and drawings have far less detail than they used to. One could view this state of affairs in two ways. Either it puts the contractor at a disadvantage because they are open to the sharp practices of their competitors – under-pricing tenders deliberately and then clawing back cost later – OR it puts the contractor in the driving seat because it allows them to deliver a higher quality service and work more closely with the client and design team. It all depends on the attitude (on both sides). John Melmoe of Willerby’s recently said to me ‘Price tendering is a thing of the past – it is dead’. Perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, but you can see where he is going. The bulk of his work is now achieved through partnering and negotiation. This achieves higher quality, shorter programmes, more profit and less conflict. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the end result isn’t cheaper as well. But how do you break into a market like that? If established firms clean up all the work before it ever gets to tender, what hope is there for the others?

How do you know how much to charge – or put another way, what are the signs that you are not charging enough?

1 You have no time to market because you’re too busy serving clients

If you are constantly busy, running around after clients, working evenings to catch up – then you are not charging enough. Charging more will increase your returns, your quality of life and improve the quality of your clients – ones who appreciate you!

2 Your prospective clients compare you to someone else

If your clients are price shopping then you’re a commodity, and they are not seeing the value of your service. You quickly get sucked into the price-driven market cycle – not good!

3 Too many ‘Yes’s from practically every prospective client

If your hit rate is pushing 100%, then you’re not charging enough. Everyone likes a bargain and that’s what you are.

But other than the generalised statement of ‘moving to a quality led market’, what are the practical reasons for why you should charge more?

Here are a few:

  1. Not all your time is chargeable. If you are a garden designer or landscape architect, then this is particularly true. Probably only half your time, at most two-thirds can be charged for. Here’s the problem – in a 40-hour week, especially starting out, you’re going to spend half that week pounding the pavement (or more). You need to network, build your site/portfolio, blog, make phone calls, write proposals, and on and on. Once clients come in, you’ve got administrative work to do – somebody has to send the invoices, pay the taxes, and buy the toilet paper.
  2. Feast or famine. While you’re doing all that work you’ve got, who’s going to be doing the marketing, networking and getting the next job? Probably should be you – which means you’ll then have to take more time out doing that.
  3. Bills, Bills, Bills. As well as the rent, rates etc., there’s all those hidden costs – software, insurance, accountancy, coming here! Etc. etc. etc.
  4. Setting your own value. I bet you have something that you buy regularly, but only when it is on offer. If you make a habit of allowing others to negotiate your price down, or always expecting a discount, then it sends a message about how both they and you value your service. They will always try it on. You set the price – you set the value. If you want to offer a better deal, then don’t offer a discount. Drive a hard bargain for a decent price, but then over-deliver. That way the client will respect you but also think that you offer a really good service and recommend you. Getting a good price in the first place also allows you to be more flexible over small things that crop up along the way.
  5. You can only sell each day once. Consultancy and service industries are like hotel rooms – you can only sell your time once, and if you don’t sell it then it is lost for good. Your charges need to take account of this in two ways. Firstly, you need to cover for the down time, but also, when you are really busy you should sell the last bits more expensively. When customers book a hotel room or a flight, they always get a better deal when they book in advance online. Leave it till the day they travel and they’ll pay through the nose. It follows that you can charge more for last minute approaches by clients – and this is not unscrupulous – last minute rushes and running around are always disruptive.

untitledLook at this graph – it sheds some light on the relationship between value, price, and how a client sees the service they are buying. At the top is ‘Nuclear event’ – which basically means when a client has no choice but to hire you. This refers to the sort of service that you don’t have any real choice about and are not in a position to quibble about price – the business equivalent of calling the fire brigade. Bottom right is ‘Commodity services’ where you will be hired purely on the basis of price. The further to the bottom right you go, the less there is to distinguish between suppliers of service. The sweet spot is about 2/3 of the way up towards the left – ‘Hired for experience’, although you will notice that trusted brands also make an appearance.

Along the way, let’s look at a few other practices that go on.

Commission

In the insurance industry, we are outraged when we learn that an insurer has passed our details on to someone else because they get a commission payment. What’s more, in foreign defence contracts and the like, such payments are classed as corruption. Why should it be alright therefore for a client to pay for a sculpture, piece of furniture or the like and the designer or contractor get a ‘secret’ payment? It’s not alright; it’s dishonest and lacks transparency. Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing wrong with an honest commercial mark-up – as a contractor you buy the furniture and you sell it to the client. Their contract is with you. If you are a garden designer and you take such payments, then you are either greedy or you’re not charging enough. Charge a decent rate and then you are free to recommend what works best rather than being tempted by whichever supplier pays you the most. And don’t be fooled; if it didn’t sway specifiers’ minds, then suppliers wouldn’t make such payments. (If you want to read more about this, I covered it in an earlier post in more detail: ‘Should Designers Take Commission Payments?’)

Who supplies what?

Should designers supply plants and other products? This is a difficult one – although many of you will probably already know my views on this – I have hardly made a secret of them. To my mind the process works best when it is crystal clear. It should be clear which part of the process the client is buying from which person, and who is responsible. In many ways, design and build is the clearest in this respect – there is only one person to go to when something goes wrong. That is how the world mostly works – if you buy a car or a telephone and something goes wrong, the manufacturer cannot blame ‘the designer’. However, let’s accept that that is not always possible or desirable to procure everything on this basis.

To me it seems obvious that the next best thing is if the client pays a reasonable price for the design part of the process and gets clear unbiased advice. The contractor then does the rest. The clue is in the name – the contractor does contracting and the designer does designing. In some cases, perhaps because the contractor doesn’t have the skills, or perhaps because the job is too small, it can make sense for the designer to supply the plants. But to my mind, this only works when the designer procures, supplies and actually carries out the planting. They are in fact then acting as a contractor, but it also makes the liability envelope clear should something go wrong. Otherwise the responsibility chain gets very tangled. What if a designer supplies the plant, but a contractor plants them and someone else is looking after them? See what I mean?

Clawback

I’ve touched on this earlier. However, I’d like to explore it in a little more detail. At the point of awarding a contract, the client is in the maximum position of power. The (prospective) contractor wants the job and there is always the real possibility that if he doesn’t jump through hoops, then the client will go to the next cheapest on the list. It is of course not in the client’s longer term interest  to force the price down at this point, and this is one of the drawbacks of the tendering process when price driven. Because once the contract is awarded and the work is well underway, the boot is on the other foot. It is too difficult and expensive for the client to kick the contractor off site. Generally, he wants to get the job finished as soon as possible, which requires the co-operation of the contractor. At this point the contractor has the scope to make hay – charge more or less what he wants for extras and variations and claw back all that money he artificially cut from the tender in the first place. Both practices are short-sighted and unethical. How do we protect ourselves against this? Work with good consultants and reputable clients and don’t get drawn into these games. And don’t expect to win every job. It is always possible for someone to undercut you, but it frequently means they can’t deliver a good quality product or service, so the practice is not really sustainable in the longer term.

So… in summary it is best to be:

Clear

Quotations and proposals should be clear and unequivocal and make a good basis for any future variation. Drawings and specifications should be well defined, comprehensible and unambiguous.

Honest and fair

… even when there are easy opportunities to be otherwise. This is the only way to earn respect and build a business.

Compete on quality, not price

That way you get the sort of clients you want and a decent return for what you do.

(This piece was originally delivered as a talk at FutureScape in November 2015.)

Shark-infested waters? (or how to survive in the top end of the residential development market – and enjoy it)

The development market has a reputation for being cut throat and being populated by swaggering macho developers who only care about the bottom line. Is it really as bad as that? In the thirty years or so that I have been involved in this market, that hasn’t entirely been my experience. Sure, it has it’s share of predators like any other market. But despite that, I have found most developers to be personable and intelligent.

The stakes are high though – these are often for properties valued in the high millions. Because of this, sites are densely developed, which in turn leads to all sorts of technical and logistical problems. So this is not a market for the timid, but there is plenty of opportunity.

Croc

Typical developer? Not in my experience…

The first step is to understand the client. What are developers about? Are they all greedy, short-sighted individuals who only care about the profit? Do they all have enormous egos? Will they always go for the cheapest option? Of course not. Instead they are (mostly) ordinary people trying to build something of value, although admittedly they are perhaps more comfortable with risk than most of us! My first rule of thumb is:

  • Give them what they need rather than what they want. Most developers may not understand what is available –they may know more about property than you, but you know far more about landscape than them. They will probably base their expectations/ideas on what someone else did on their last project. This can be very frustrating, particularly if they act as though they know everything. However: this is your chance to shine and show how much better than the opposition you are. Go beyond their expectations – surprise them!
Pavilion, St Johns Wood. A scheme that met the client's brief, but exceeded his expectations.

Pavilion, St Johns Wood. A scheme that met the client’s brief, but exceeded his expectations.

But to do this, you must have a least a basic understanding of how the development process works. Let’s look at some of the background. First, funding for development.

  • Funding – how does it work? Most people have the idea that it is all a developer’s own money behind a project. In fact, it has always been the case that developers have sought the majority of funding from banks and other institutions. In the (good/bad?) old days, it used to be possible for developers to get funding for about 80% of a project. Often, this would be calculated on the basis of final value. Given that the market would be rising and that a developer might expect to make a margin approaching 20%, this would mean that he (for it is mostly men) could get all the costs funded by loans and pick up the profit at the end. And then came the credit crunch!
    It's all about the money?

    It’s all about the money?

    These days, it is a lot tougher. A developer may have to find a much bigger chunk of the land purchase costs himself. After that, he is still likely to be looking at having to find about 45% or so out of his own pocket. This means that on most projects there are co-investors, which can make the client a somewhat multi-headed beast. The bank will also have monitors in place (generally surveyors) who look after the funder’s interests and make sure the project progresses smoothly and with minimal risk.

A typical scheme for planning with clear simple graphics and plenty of green on the plan or as much as the space between the buildings will allow!)

A typical scheme for planning with clear simple graphics and plenty of green on the plan or as much as the space between the buildings will allow!)

Funding is only part of the story though; planning also plays a critical role (as with any development).

  • The role of planning. No project can progress without local authority planning consent. Although this may seem like a fraught process and just another headache, it is actually a significant business opportunity. Few schemes can expect to get a smooth path through planning without at least some landscape input, especially on sensitive sites. This means that a commitment to a comprehensive landscape scheme can be built in to the project plan from the beginning. It’s also your opportunity to dazzle the client with your design skills and understanding of the market! The first stage is generally before the application. Initial discussions with the planners (‘Pre-app’) will often include some landscape material. The main application will almost always include a landscape plan an other drawings. It is important to make proposals that are affordable here, but not driven solely by budget. You have leverage over the client here as he will want to get planning, but push him too far and you will not be popular. there will generally be other consultants involved in this process as well, often guided by a planning consultant. Once planning is achieved, the next hurdle is ‘discharge of conditions’. Normally when a scheme is granted planning consent, certain conditions are imposed, one of which is usually landscape. Before that section of the work can be started on site, the planning condition needs to be discharged with detailed drawings, samples etc. There is quite often a gap between consent and discharge, with the scheme having moved on in the meantime. The planners will be looking to make sure that there is no watering down of the proposals, but some deviation form the detail of the original is normally accepted.
The Lancasters - a good example of how we achieved quality in a difficult contractual situation.

The Lancasters – a good example of how we achieved quality in a difficult contractual situation. Stock was all pre-tagged, testing certificates required for all the fill materials and followed up by a rigorous site inspection programme.

Although the production and release of information is generally driven by the planning process, there will be other times when detailed information needs to be produced, mainly as a case of integrating the landscape design with other parts of the development. Perhaps the most important thing however, is how to ensure that your designs are translated correctly into a polished landscape. For a lot more detail on how we achieve this, best to read my blog post ‘How do you deliver quality in a project’ posted in March 2015. However – here is a potted guide:

  • Control of process and quality. Clearly the most important tool to ensure quality is good documentation. The quality of the drawings and specifications are critical. They should be clear and concise, as detailed as they need to be – that is they should have enough information for someone to build the scheme without improvising, but not so much that they become snow-blind! Once you cede control of the decision-making to site staff, you cede control of the quality of your scheme. That is not to say you can’t draw on their experience and expertise, but make sure you define the things that are important. Poor drawings and spec are the biggest complaint from contractors. Planting material is often difficult to specify accurately to achieve really good quality. for this reason, we often persuade clients to spend a little extra and pre-tag key items. Nurseries will generally hold stock for a period between detailed design and installation. The client does not own this stock, so there are no contractual complications, but all the tenderers have to go to the same source. Beyond this, we also use a rigorous process of insisting on samples of materials and workmanship, testing certificates (especially for soils), certified sources and so forth. We are terrier like in this, because it sends a message about the level of quality we expect elsewhere and means that contractors do not try and take short cuts. Finally, make sure you have sufficient fees for inspection. The client will expect you to visit the site on a regular basis during the construction process – indeed you will need to for your own sake to ensure quality.

Which brings me on to the final point – pricing. You need to be realistic on this. bear in mind that stages may be widely spaced – it is not unusual to have a gap of 2-3 years between enquiry and completion on these sorts of projects, sometimes longer. Your fees will need to take account of this as well as the myriad meetings you will need to attend. But in any case, in this market it is much better to compete on the basis of quality, not price; so don’t be shy!

This was first delivered as a lecture at the Landscape Show in late September 2015.

Roof Garden Design: #3 – drainage and irrigation.

Continuing with our (intermittent) series on roof garden design. I have tried to splice these between blogs on other subjects so that people don’t get too bored, but they are packed with detail so do have a read if you are new to this area of design!

B&W copyright

Part of an irrigated roof garden in St Johns Wood, London

The centrality of water to plant growth is something that it is often easy to forget in the mild temperate climate of the UK. Unlike some parts of the world water falls abundantly from the sky over much of the country, most of the time. Temperatures in the UK also rarely exceed 30oC, which means that evapotranspiration is not a major problem. However, on roof terraces the combination of increase exposure and lack of access to groundwater means that plants frequently risk drought. There are some ‘green roofs’ that can survive without irrigation and we will return to these in later posts, but for the most part irrigation is virtually essential. Irrigation systems on roof terraces fall into two basic types. There are the larger, more complex systems with a supply tank and control panel, and the simpler ‘temporary’ systems, which run from a tap, normally with a small battery-powered

A typical tap-timer irrigation set up

A typical tap-timer irrigation set up

timer.These are cheaper and easier to install (often by a landscaper), but have the disadvantage that there is a limited amount of planters that the network will supply, even if subdivided into zones. For smaller terraces however, they are usually sufficient. It is advisable to have a manifold so as to retain a tap for washing down the paving or hand watering of odd containers. In all cases (larger and smaller schemes), it is best to run the irrigation pipes beneath the paving or decking and come up through the base of the container rather than looping up over the side. We normally specify a hole to be core-drilled in the paving to allow drainage and access for irrigation pipes without crushing; the only disadvantage of this is that it limits the scope for moving the containers in the future. However, in some ways this is a good thing as it means that designed loads to the roof cannot be easily exceeded.

IRRIGATION_HEADFor larger irrigation networks, it would be wise to seek the advice of an expert. Most of these bigger systems will run from a tank (generally situated in the building’s plant room) with a pump set and a series of solenoid controlled valves opening and closing different zones. This means that the whole irrigation system is split up into zones on a geographic basis, which run in sequence. This has several advantages: firstly it allows fine-tuning of the individual zones to water demand according to local microclimate – sunnier zones might need more water for example. Secondly, it allows individual zones to be drained for repair or maintenance. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it reduces the amount of water demand at any one time. The advantage of this is that both the tank and the pump size can be reduced, as can the inflow – the relationship between the in and outflow is obviously the main determinant for the tank size. There are also systems which can run from a central ‘landlord’ tank with a series of ‘planetary’ sub-systems which can be either under local or central control – useful for apartment or office buildings with multiple large roof terraces.

All that water then needs to go somewhere – drainage is an important issue on roof gardens where the entire substrate is usually a concrete slab. On smaller terraces it is not such a big issue, as the roof usually drains beneath the deck or paving to a gully and downpipe at one side – you just need to allow for inspection access. I know from experience on my own roof terrace in London a few years ago that it is surprising the amount of debris that can build up underneath the decking. With that in mind it is best to either use a pedestal system or if using decking, build in some easy-access panels over key drainage positions. 

Sketch showing the different layers of build-up on a typical intensive roof.

Sketch showing the different layers of build-up on a typical intensive roof.

On larger roof gardens, it is not uncommon to drain through the slab to suspended drainage systems below, although architects generally try and avoid this where they can. However, the limiting factor is the size of the roof – or more precisely, the distance from the centre to the edge. There has to be a reasonable fall for below deck drainage to work well and over large distances this can become prohibitive. Where you are intending green build-up – lawns or larger planting beds for example – it is vital to make sure that the media used are free draining to allow water to move freely to the outlets. For extensive or semi-extensive green roofs, a drainage board (‘egg-crate’) is often specified. This allows an element of storage, particularly where the growing medium is thin due to weight or other restrictions. The growing mediums used with these drainage boards are different from other media – see the (upcoming) post on green roofs for more detail. Small intensive roofs tend to use containers. Aside from the soft areas, water will also need to be drained form the paving. Using pedestals, this will happen at deck level. There are also gullies which allow drainage water to be collected at both paving level and slab level. These are particularly useful in wet-laid paved areas where most of the water needs to be taken from the surface, but inevitably some will find its way down to the slab.

Washed sand and rootzone mix being installed over a roof slab at the Lancasters. You can also see in the centre how the path is built up separately in blockwork and type 3.

Washed sand and rootzone mix being installed over a roof slab at the Lancasters. You can also see in the centre how the path is built up separately in blockwork and type 3.

For larger intensive roofs the issues and solutions are different. Fifteen years ago we constructed a roof terrace using standard topsoil in layers up to 800mm thick. Within three years the profile was showing signs of poor drainage and soon we saw water in evidence at the base of the inspection tubes we had built into the scheme. As a result of this, on deeper build-ups (intensive gardens) we now use layers of graded washed sharp sand followed by sand-dominated rootzone mixtures. This allows a robust, free-draining growing medium that remains well aerated and maintains its structure. It also encourages deeper rooting ensuring that plants are less reliant on irrigation and more on water stored in the deeper layers of the build-up.

Buzon paving pedestalsWhere paving is required on intensive (or extensive) roofs, there are a number of solutions. First is to lay the paving traditionally on crushed stone and mortar bedding. Additionally, we quite often specify hidden block work walls beneath the edges of the paving. The advantages of this are threefold  it separates the hard and soft landscape build-ups, it supports the edge of the paving firmly. It can also create a handy void in which to run services. However, the more normal method is to lay the paving on pedestals. These are plastic discs which are supported on a cylinder and base. they raise the paving up to a given level – anything up to 900mm. They have many advantages, not least that they allow the water to drain freely beneath them, with easy access in the event of any future problems. They also mean that paving can be laid absolutely level.

The next two blogs in this intermittent series will look at planting on intensive and extensive roofs. The extensive one will be written by a guest writer, Maggie Fennell of GreenSky, so look out for that one. The intensive one will be by Bowles & Wyer’s very own planting specialist, Stuart Wallace.

As usual, drop in any questions below and I will get back to you.

What’s the point of community gardens?

John has invited me to write this month’s blog post as it is 15 years this year, since we started the Triangle Community Garden (www.trianglegarden.org) with a group of friends around our kitchen table in Hitchin.

Over the years, the question I get asked most often is: what is the community garden for? So I thought I’d try and answer it properly this time …

As many of you will be aware, the community garden movement started in the 1970s in cities, where plots of land lay undeveloped awaiting a better financial climate. High rise populations looked longingly at the waste land and sought ways to cultivate it and use it in the meanwhile. Once these ‘meanwhile gardens’ became established they took on massive importance to urban communities, as oases of usable productive green space and a way of bringing people together for positive ends.

Making a garden, as a community

Making a garden, as a community

At the Triangle Garden our tagline is ‘Connect, Grow, Enjoy!’ and it’s the sharing of the process of growing, creating, planning, gardening, harvesting, baking, making and just soaking it all up, that is what it’s all about.

Many people assume that community gardening is all about food growing, and for many projects it is, but the Triangle Garden has always been about the making of a garden, for everyone to enjoy.

That’s not to say that we don’t grow food – we do – but there are other, equally important, yields to be had. Over the years we’ve shared in the creation of a place of unexpected peace and beauty; a magical place between a busy road and a noisy railway line, with a magnetism for children and a time of its own … a secret garden.

Volunteers have come and gone, and as the Triangle Garden has evolved, so those involved have grown with it. We’ve learnt skills, like willow weaving, composting, pruning, mosaic making, peace-making, delegating, problem solving. We’ve shared wildlife adventures: the discovery of bats, hibernating newts, basking lizards, new froglets, bumblebees, butterflies, the creation of a wildlife pond, a bug hotel and a pollinators’ garden.  We’ve made mistakes, missed opportunities, suffered setbacks, had successes, been inspired, worked hard and had fun.

Volunteers picking this year's apples, and showing off a bottle of last year's juice

Volunteers picking this year’s apples, and showing off a bottle of last year’s juice

This month we’ve been busy picking and receiving donations of apples, to be processed locally into bottled juice, and sold to raise funds. We don’t make much money out of it, but it’s positive and fun, and makes use of fruit that would otherwise go to waste. People can’t wait to give us their apples or offer us their orchards to pick.

They say horticulture is a de-stresser because plants can’t talk back at you, but I think it’s more than that. Working with nature grounds you in a way that nothing else can: nature works to its own agenda and at its own pace – try and tame it at your peril! But when you observe it, try to understand it and work with it and not against it – then it gives back in spades!

One of our gardeners with some of the things she's grown this year

One of our Growing Ability gardeners with some of the things she’s grown this year

Our Growing Ability project for adults with learning disabilities, demonstrates that in abundance. In between the weekly sessions, nature is at work, rewarding our ‘gardeners’ for nurturing their plants and helping to achieve a small step towards a result they can be proud of, whether it be a crop of beans, a bed of strawberries, some bee-friendly flowers or a long-awaited and much-revered aubergine.

For those who attend, the project is a place where they can come together for a purpose and interact with the natural world.

Through planning their crops and tending their plots, our gardeners are learning and consolidating their literacy and numeracy skills, recognising cause and effect, and taking responsibility for seeing something through. From choosing and buying seed, to enjoying and sharing what they’ve grown, there is much to discover, learn and remember.

Growing Ability gardeners and staff at our allotment

Growing Ability gardeners and staff at our allotment

Observing and interacting with nature, even just being outdoors, can be therapeutic – individuals enjoy sharing their knowledge and feelings about the life around them: whether it’s birdsong, butterflies, earthworms, bees or the robin that frequents our allotment.

The social aspect of the project cannot be underestimated either. For some of our gardeners it is the only activity they do outside the house during the week. With no work, no spare cash and a limited circle of people who accept you, life can be very isolated. Sharing one morning a week in a supportive, positive, natural environment is a highlight to look forward to.

Our Growing Ability project has a sister initiative, born a couple of years ago from the desire of many of our gardeners to lose weight and get fitter. Growing Health provides a supportive environment where individuals can learn about weight management, portion control, and how to plan and cook healthy food on a limited budget, using the facilities available at home – usually a microwave and a kettle. The group share cooking and eating experiences, support each other in setbacks and successes, take regular walks together and play outdoor games in the summer.

Cricket with Growing Health

Cricket in the park with Growing Health

In the first year of the project, the group lost a total of 3 stone 12lbs, and this year another 14lbs was lost overall. As well as playing basketball and cricket, and walking together around the park during sessions, individuals are now choosing to walk into town instead of catching the bus and several have joined Hitchin library, making regular visits on foot. At break times in both projects, biscuits have been replaced by fruit as the snack of choice. Impressive stuff .. . and thanks overwhelmingly to our amazing staff team led by Project Manager Liz McElroy.

I must end now, having probably gone on far too long, but that’s what happens when you’re passionate about something…  (just don’t get me started on latin drumming).

Any questions on this blog, please drop us a comment below.

Vicky Wyer (landscape architect at Bowles & Wyer, Chair of Trustees at the Triangle Community Garden, wife and mother to his children,  mad drumming woman).

If this has inspired you to find out more, please visit our website at www.trianglegarden.org.

Our community gardening sessions are on Friday mornings and the last Sunday of every month and are open to all. Our learning disability projects: Growing Ability, Growing Health and Growing Gang (a community-based work-experience project), run during the week from our allotment and the Triangle Garden.

If you’re in the area, come and find us at our next local event: Apple Day in Hitchin town square on 17th October 2015, 10am-2pm. Follow us on twitter @triangle_garden and Facebook: TriangleGarden

Badly balanced vegetables – diary of a well-meaning gardener

Badly balanced vegEvery year, I start off with the same good intentions. I’m not talking about taking more exercise, drinking a little less, losing a couple of pounds or keeping the bedroom tidier, although God knows I need to do all those things. No, I’m talking about the veg garden. This year (no exception) it ran something like this:

Boxing Day – sit thinking about how this year I will really get things sorted.

January 1st: decide to sow an early batch of tomatoes in the propagator before the end of the month.

February: sow mangetout and broad beans in the garden (the ones that I intended to sow in October). Look half-heartedly for propagator but cannot find all the bits.

March: discover mice have eaten the broad beans and peas I sowed last month. Sow some more.

Early April: actually sow first batch of tomatoes, along with courgettes, French beans, lettuces, gherkins and various vegetables that I don’t even like. There doesn’t seem to me to be a real argument for planting potatoes – I am infuriated by all the leftover potatoes that come up all over the veg garden from previous years.

Late April: despite misgivings I sow loads of seed potatoes, mainly because they looked a bit lonely sprouting on the shelf at the garden centre (plus I have a soft spot for Red Duke of York). Peas come up, but mice have eaten the broad beans (again). The pigeons have broken all the branches on the cherry trees eating the new shoots in the Spring.

May: after inspecting the seed trays every day or so for about five weeks, I discover that the lettuce seeds from two years ago that I sowed last month are no longer viable. This could have something to do with being stored in a non-airtight container in the warm conservatory, but personally I think it is just spite. Buy more lettuce seed and so that I will not be caught out again with dud seed, sow the whole lot. In desperation, buy broad bean seedlings and plant them out. Pigeons eat the pea seedlings. I think about how nice pigeon pie with peas might have been.

Early June: plant out about 400 lettuces. Discover that I have enough tomato plants to feed Italy, but not that bothered as I know they will all get blight before I can harvest them anyway. Courgettes doing really well! Discover a tray of climbing French beans at the back of the conservatory with a another seed tray on top of them. Amazingly, quite a few have survived (perhaps plants fare better with my neglect than my care?) I plant them out in the vegetable garden.

Late June: enjoying lettuces. Looking wistfully at stumps of pea plants. Broad beans doing OK, but showing signs of chocolate spot (they always do this, not normally too much of a problem if you pick them soon). Courgettes romping.

Early July: Getting a bit fed up with lettuce, which is also starting to bolt in the hot weather. Pick all my broad beans, and with great ceremony pick the first courgette. I always feel summer has properly arrived when I pick the first courgette. Mention airily when I am cycling with friends on a Sunday – ‘Oh, aren’t yours ready yet? I’ve started picking mine!’ All the raspberries seem to have ripened on the same day. I pick loads early one sunny morning, which would be a pleasant task if it wasn’t for the tall nettles which seem to have sneaked up between the canes, resulting in some nasty shocks when searching through foliage for just-reachable berries.  Also – a huge success with artichokes. In the winter I found some artichoke plants lurking at the back of the veg garden that I had forgotten about and transferred them down to a sunny border next to the deck. Not only do they look very statuesque, they have also produced about ten good-sized artichokes!

Lots of courgettes – but no beans!

Lots of courgettes – but no beans!

Mid July: Courgettes producing well, although beginning to get a bit worried that I have planted too many of them. I planted half of them in the vegetable garden and the other half down in the what we laughingly call the ‘forest garden’ – actually a bit more polyculture than permaculture. I think because they were in two different places I didn’t realise quite how many there were. Disappointed to see that the apricot tree at the Triangle Community Garden is laden with apricots whereas our own tree has none.

Late July: I can now barely get into the conservatory for tomato foliage. There is no sign of any tomatoes on these, although the outside tomatoes in the vegetable garden are heavy with trusses. I always plant some outside for the one year in ten when we get a dry end to the summer, and also because I pretend to myself that I like green tomato chutney, of which I seem to have rather a lot in the larder. We are now drowning in courgettes. I am picking them at the rate of about four a day (work it out – twenty-eight a week). The family are showing signs of courgette wilt. Potatoes now ready to harvest. I always think they look so sad at the end when they all collapse. I remember one year going on holiday and my daughter (who had stayed behind and was kindly doing some watering) thought she had killed them all. Genuinely disappointed (no, really) to hear that someone has pinched all the apricots off the tree at the Triangle Community Garden.

The remains of  a chocolate courgette cake

The remains of a chocolate courgette cake

Early August: Have a very successful courgette cooking session. I make a rather unusual courgette chocolate cake, which Vicky proclaims to be ‘a bit odd’ but to my surprise my elder son says it is ‘lovely’. Also manage to burn a load of courgettes while softening them for soup, which is great because I can bin them and use four more. I have also discovered the inevitable marrow which some escaped notice under the leaves of one plant. This is good news as it means I can make my favourite Zucha parmigiana dish, which is ridiculously rich, but delicious. Dip slices of marrow in egg and seasoned flour before frying and layering with Taleggio cheese and tomato sauce, then bake in the oven – Yum!

I will update this as the year goes on. Next year I might even do it month by month, who knows. Then again, I might be too busy gardening (and cooking courgettes).

Roof Garden Design: #2 – Loading and waterproofing.

Buildings occupy a central position in much of our work – most of what we do as landscape designers is affected in one way or another. I started this short series because I felt that whilst there was a lot written about the generalities (urban design, cityscape etc.), there is surprisingly little written about the ‘specifics’. Roof gardens seemed the natural place to start. In the last post – Roof Garden Design: #1 Exposure and Screening  – I explored the unique microclimate of rooftop spaces and what mitigation strategies are available to us as designers. In the next article I will look at another aspect of the cultural properties of these spaces – water; but before we get on to that, there is another more basic issue (literally) to deal with – the roof itself.

When I first started out practising in landscape design about thirty years ago, I was frequently asked to look at roof terraces on older, existing buildings. The first question I always used to ask was what the roof structure was made of (translating to what load it might be able to take). Clients frequently didn’t know and were sometimes a little dismissive of the necessity for care here. As we were generally standing in the centre of their roof space, I would conduct a simple test: I would make a small jump into the air. I weigh getting on for fourteen stone (about 87kg or 190lbs).

Typical beam and block construction  (courtesy of carter-concrete.co.uk)

Typical beam and block construction (courtesy of carter-concrete.co.uk)

The small jump allowed me tell instantly whether I was on a timber roof (which would flex alarmingly), a lightweight concrete structure such as beam and block (which had a small but discernible flex) or a loadbearing concrete slab (which would not noticeably flex at all). On timber roofs, a look of alarm used to spread across the client’s face, which was as good a demonstration as any other of the need to take load bearing ability of the structure seriously!

 

Typical timber roof construction (image courtesy of greenspec.co.uk)

Typical timber roof construction (image courtesy of greenspec.co.uk)

Of course, this is no substitute for proper calculation and advice from a qualified engineer, but it is a starting point in knowing what sort of load the roof is likely to be able to withstand. On new buildings, it is generally possible to get information from the structural engineer as to what load the roof has been designed for. This will generally be expressed in kilonewtons (kN). One kilonewton roughly translates into 100kg of force-load, so 4.5kN/m2 designed load approximately equates to a 450kg load per square metre. Engineers often make an allowance for live load on top of self-weight or dead load, to take account of the weight that people, furniture etc. exert. So in calculating paving weights this has to be maintained, but for larger freestanding planters, these can (with the engineer’s approval) include the live load allowance. Note that the calculations need to allow for wet compost and the weight of the plant itself rather than dry compost. Most structures can take more weight around the perimeter than in the centre, but be particularly careful on structures of a beam construction to find out which direction the beams run in. It is possible to safely load quite heavily across the ends of a number beams, but is dangerous to load along the length of a single beam, even if it is along the edge of the terrace.

The state of the waterproofing is also very important: there is little point in starting out on an expensive roof terrace if the waterproof membrane is old and in need of renewal. This needs to be tackled first by the client. There are many different systems of water proofing. On larger roofs it is common to use hot-melt continuous systems. On smaller roofs these are not always economic, although there are traditional asphaltic systems. I would also recommend that a root barrier is installed. Roots can attack organic compounds such as asphaltic roofing or mineralised felt. Even if the membrane is a continuous sheet, roots exploit weaknesses and joints which can cause leaks in the future. Chemical root barriers are therefore better than physical ones. Most roof companies have a standard product for just this sort of situation, but if not, lay a proprietary product above the drainage layer, such as RootX, which is copper foil sandwiched between geotextile (www.water-lines.co.uk/rootx) before proceeding with the rest of the build-up in planted areas.

Most roofs these days are ‘warm roofs’, meaning that the insulation is above the roof structure rather than below. On larger roofs it may be covered by a thin concrete layer, but frequently the insulation needs to be held in place by the layers above. In the next post, I will explore some of the options in terms of build-up, as well as looking at drainage and irrigation. In the meantime, as always if you have any questions (or criticisms!) leave a note below.

 

 

Roof Garden Design: #1 – Exposure and screening

West End roof terace

Buildings and landscape are inextricably linked, especially buildings and gardens. Most of our work is on, in, surrounded by or surrounding buildings of one form or another. Because of the centrality of this relationship, I wanted to explore the relationships between buildings and landscape more, starting with roof gardens, but also covering living walls, courtyards and other built landscapes. So… here is the first of a series of pieces, the first few of which are on roof gardens and terraces. Do leave a comment if you have any queries.

Introduction.

view3Over the years we have done many roof gardens. I have also been asked to speak on the subject on several occasions, include twice in the autumn last year. The popularity of roof gardens has grown in recent years. There are several factors behind this, but one of them is the increase in property prices and density of development, which has put a premium on outdoor spaces in the city. When I bought my first property (a maisonette near Elephant & Castle, London), the only outdoor space it had was a small roof terrace. The first thing we did was plant it out. It was a magical space, only a couple of floors up, but fantastic to have a garden up at rooftop level. This was very much in my mind when I wrote the section on Roof Gardens on our website, which begins: “A roof garden can be one of the most exciting and unusual outdoor spaces – or, if you don’t get it right, one of the most unpleasant! A well-designed roof garden makes great use of extra space and offers a secluded refuge, high above the city below. It has its own microclimate and special consideration of sun, shade, wind and exposure is required.” These spaces present tricky technical challenges, but also offer unique opportunities. I intend to break this series of blogs into sections on the various aspects of roof garden design – design of small and larger spaces, exposure and screening, drainage, irrigation and water proofing, plant selection etc.

Exposure and screening.

This scheme (below) was one of the first large roof terraces that we designed, for a building in London’s financial quarter overlooking the Thames. It was never built, but for me it encompasses many of the key issues and values of roof garden design. Roof terraces are extreme environments – sunny, windy, dry – generally very exposed. Not unlike a seaside microclimate. The inspiration for this roof terrace drew on that further, with bleached timber decking, weathered oak raised beds, beach pebbles and a planting palette that was based on foreshore and seaside species – kale, allium, thrift, grasses, cardoon and others. There was even a coin-operated telescope! The point here is that the planting worked with the environment rather than against it. There is no point in designing lush woodland planting to go on the top of a ten storey building. I will go more into plant selection in a later post, but it is a useful starting point.

Slide1

The extreme exposure of some spaces means that the design is necessarily limited, and this requires some careful footwork in terms of design and detailing. Maybe clients do not want a beach theme? One can hardly blame them! However there are other alternatives. Firstly, look at mitigation. 56860007

Trellis fixed to balustrade (11th Floor)

Trellis fixed to balustrade (11th Floor)

On this roof terrace we incorporated pergolas and screens to lessen the effect of wind. These were designed in early on so that the shoes for the pergola could be incorporated into the water-proofing for the roof terrace. Even if this is not possible, it is always possible to fix screens in one way or another – sometimes by using temporary fixings to balustrades (U-shaped clamp brackets – see left), or by having freestanding trellis panels that are held by the weight of containers, using a steel frame. This is a trick we often use. Perforated metal or timber screens are much more effective at dissipating wind than glass or solid screens. This seems counter-intuitive, but it is true. A solid screen creates more turbulence. In terms of shelter, it offers something like 1 x height in front of the screen and 2 x height to the rear of the screen, measured at floor level. Beyond this is turbulent air, often with quite a sharp boundary between the two. With a perforated screen of something like slatted trellis, this increases to 2 x height in front and 5 x height to the rear, with the optimal permeability about 40% ‘hole’ to 60% solid.

View from terraceIf screens are not an option, try and keep everything possible below the balustrade. There are things that will survive fairly radical exposure – olives for example, or tamarisk. Beware of the ‘windsail’ effect of trees and make sure the containers are of sufficient size to stop them blowing over. This roof terrace in London’s West End has a strictly limited palette of materials and planting, but perhaps the most striking thing when you look in a little more detail is that there is virtually nothing above the parapet level in the scheme. Even so, this hasn’t stopped the planting below parapet level being used effectively to sculpt the space.

Shade options for roof terraces

Shade options on a Mayfair roof terrace

Shade options for roof terraces Shade is an important consideration. Roof terraces can be exceptionally hot in the summer if the sun is out. Consider designing some sunny spaces for lounging/sunbathing and more shaded areas for dining. This can be done with parasols, although be warned – these blow around in high winds. Alternatively, you could consider more permanent screens fixed to pergolas, or even boom mounted shade sails which retract when the wind is too strong.

In the next two posts, I will consider roof loading, water-proofing, build-ups, drainage and irrigation. In the meantime, if you have any questions just pop them in below and I’ll get back to you.

John

Chelsea 2015

I know, I know – whatever happened to ‘I don’t want to go to Chelsea’ I hear you all shouting!

This year as well as building a garden for Brewin Dolphin, designed by Darren Hawkes (see www.bowleswyer-contracts.co.uk/news for updates on this, or look at the live camera during build-up: http://bit.ly/1GHYVl5), we are also designing and building a garden for our old friends Gaze Burvill. As regular readers of this blog will know, I am a big fan of their furniture, even having written a blogpost about it last year. Produced from English and European Oak, craftsman-made in Hampshire, it is simply the best designed, most comfortable garden furniture on sale.

1996-P01revB-LOWQWhen Simon Burvill came to me last year, I was interested in getting under the skin of what they were trying to achieve at Chelsea. The design of the garden came as much from this as the core values of Gaze Burvill – sustainability, craftsmanship and quality (which are closely aligned to our own). The plot is split into two areas, one about a metre above the other. The upper space is designed as a roof terrace and paved with a dark, slate-grey porcelain paving. A dark grey timber pergola sits above the central area in the rear corner, wrapped around by green walls on either side. The focal point in the rear corner is a beautiful water feature, designed in conjunction with David Harber. This is hewn from flamed granite, with a fissure exposing a jewel-like handmade glass panel, running with water. At night this will be backlit. The left hand side of the roof terrace (facing Main Avenue) features a sky-scape backdrop – the photo was taken from an actual roof terrace we designed a couple of years ago – with some of Gaze Burvill’s fantastic outdoor kitchen units in front of it. So you can cook and look over the London skyline (or dream!) These kitchen units are beautifully made and equipped with the best Wolf and Sub-zero appliances.

The lower part of the garden is reminiscent of an English country garden, with Purbeck dry stone walling and paving. on the corner of the site is a large English Oak tree – nearly 8m tall – which is a reference to the source of all the timber from which Gaze Burvill’s furniture is made. There is a second kitchen set in this section, with gently undulating faces to the units in contrast to the crisp lines of the roof terrace units.

If you are coming to Chelsea this year, do drop in – I am around quite a lot of the week and Gaze Burvill would be delighted to see you. Or you can just try out the bench facing on to Main Avenue…