Category Archives: Garden Design

That plant is so……..

Cotinus Grace

A conversation in the office the other day between John and Jeff went something like this…. JohnI met up with Mr A.nonymous designer last nightJeff in replyCotinus Grace!’.  Jeff is a passionate horticulturalist but he has a broad vocabulary and frequently uses words that are not plant names to communicate a point.  So why the reply … well this was the plant that Jeff associated with the Mr A.nonymous when he used to plant his schemes back in the 1990’s.  Thereafter the conversation spread and the question.…what plant do you associate with schemes of a certain age became the topic of the day!

Do certain plants really identify a planting scheme, can a Cotinus Grace be used as dating evidence like a pottery shard on an archaeological dig?  Well no, Cotinus Grace still provides a lovely splash of purple today and we have planted it in several schemes without fear of being branded passé.  There is however definitely something to this, I have certainly visited a landscape in need of a refresh without a precast slab or shoulder padded client in site and still with a swoosh declared it so 1980’s!

So plants are probably associated with a time or fashion in the same way that a mini skirt is associated with the 60’s but still finds its way back into fashion and certain high streets on a Saturday night.  Some fashions and plants are probably best left in the era they are associated with such as Houttuynia cordata Chameleon and super glue spiked hair – the Bowles & Wyer publicity shot of 1977 should definitely not be repeated…..

Best left in the archive…..

A bit of a B&W office poll and the following plants were listed:-

  • 1950’s  Roses, esp hybrid teas Ena Harkness, Prunus Kanzan, privet, monkey puzzle, fruit trees as Britain started to try and feed its self again after the war
  • 1960’s  Heathers, dwarf conifers (esp Elwoodii), Mahonia aquifolia, variegated plants in general, ‘Japonica’ (Chaenomeles), pampas grass, bare root roses (in the post)
  • 1970’s  Rosa rugosa, Berberis candidula, Berberis wilsonae, Mahonia japonica, Vinca major, Lonicera Baggessens Gold, Hedera Goldheart, Hedera hibernica, Juniperus pfitzeriana, rubber plant, dwarf conifers
  • 1980’s  Photinia Red Robin, Hedera Gloire de Marengo, Hedera Montgomery, Ilex JC Van Thol, Cotinus ‘Grace’, Osmunda regalis, Amelanchier, Camellia, Rhododendron, Houttuynia cordata
  • 1990’s  Phormium tenax Purpureum/Bronze baby etc., Hedera Pittsburgh, County series groundcover roses (also late 80’s), Clematis armandii, Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’, purple sage, box – topiary, annual bedding plants, Leylandii, Acers, Bonsai
  • Noughties  Buxus balls, Astelia ‘Silver Sword’,  grasses esp Pennisetum, Stipa tenuissima, Echinaceas, Rudbeckias
Dwarf conifer and heathers

What plants do you associate with the different decades?  Are you using a plant that is so 1980’s?  Answers on a blog comment!

Stuart

When is a garden designer a landscape designer? Indeed, when is a garden a landscape – or vice-versa?

To define garden design, first we have to decide what a garden is. Personally, I love the idea that for something to be considered a garden there has to be a gardener: there is a poetic circularity in the definition. Some would argue that garden design is a branch of landscape design. It is not less of a skill for that, if anything the reverse. There is ‘nowhere to hide’ in garden design. Every element is important and there is no chance of fudging the design.

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The Hose Pipe Ban

Glorious weather, a weekend of gardening with blossom on the cherry trees and magnolias in bloom – perfect! Well apart from when I glance at the hose reel and realise my trusted tool and fellow reviver of greenery on the sandiest of soils is about to be confined to the shed, incarcerated, and forbidden by the hosepipe ban from the 5th April. A second glance at my splendid multi jet sprinkler with its variety of sprays has me on my knees howling why, oh why, oh why…..like the most agitated of points of view correspondents.

After a strong coffee, some apologies to the neighbours and a brief discussion with two chaps carrying a fetching white jacket with fancy buckles I gather my thoughts…

Well the why is simple after two dry winters the reservoirs and aquifers are low in the south east forcing seven water authorities Southern Water, South East Water, Thames Water, Anglian Water, Sutton and East Surrey, Veolia Central and Veolia South East to introduce a hose pipe ban. With my fanciful garden sprinkler using around 600 litres an hour I can see the need.

But what to do! ….. In fact this need not be the complete disaster I feared; my garden is established and there are steps to take that will keep my plants alive:-

• The use of a watering can is allowed when filled directly from the tap, use it in the early morning or evening to minimise evaporation and the amount of water needed.

• Install a water butt, this is the UK it will rain so store this precious precipitation.

• If you are planning major works to or around your house consider installing a grey water system which also will help stop that water meter spinning round at an alarming rate – watch this space for a more detailed blog on this.

• Install a drip or leaky pipe irrigation system with a timer set for the night or early morning. The efficiency of these systems has been recognised by all water authorities and is now permitted during hosepipe bans – but only with a timer. I am afraid any irrigation system which puts water into the air with a sprinkler head or micro spray is not allowed even with a timer.

• Apply mulch to the borders to keep the water in the ground.

• Mow the lawn a bit higher and make sure your mower blades are sharp and if the lawn does go brown don’t panic!! As long as it is established it will survive and be green again soon! See www.turfgrass.co.uk for more information.

• Save water in the house too, the water shortage is not just a problem for gardeners!

Drought tolerant plants

It seems clear that this will not be the last hose pipe ban and by selecting plants that are adapted to survive in periods of drought the effects can be minimised. Look for plants that grow or can trace their origins to coastal regions or sunnier climes.

These plants will have leaves that are adapted to minimise the loss of water this can be with narrow leaves, leaves with fine hairs to trap moisture, grey leaves to reflect the sun or with waxy leaves to hold the water in. This of course is not just a case of buying a drought tolerant plant, popping it in and job done. A drought tolerant plant will be as likely to shrivel up and expire as any other until it is established and gets its roots down so as ever preparation is key plant well and use a good compost to retain moisture. Make sure you plant early while the soil conditions are moist and keep the watering can handy.

It is also important to remember the winter – there is little point in planting that lovely Aloe with its waxy leaves or that silver leafed olive in that cold spot in the garden. They may well resist the drought only to be frozen to death in January!

For a comprehensive list of drought tolerant plants see http://apps.rhs.org.uk/advicesearch/Profile.aspx?pid=397 or Beth Chatto’s ‘The Dry Garden’ is still an essential read.

Some of my favourite drought tolerant plants are Lavendula, Cercis siliquastrum, Arbutus unendo, Rosmarinus, Quercus ilex, Pinus mugo, Vitex agnus-castus, Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii ……. I’d better stop… there are lots to choose from and I will go on and on!

Vitex, Lavenders planted by B&W in hotter climes and Euphorbia wulfenii<

New landscapes

One element of the hose pipe ban that carries uncertainty and has me back in the why oh why mode is that of exclusions. All water authorities state that the ban should not affect commercial activities and yet at this stage the professional landscaper is not universally exempt from the hose pipe ban. This is still the consultation period and the Landscape related professional bodies the SGD, BALI, APL, HTA and TGA are currently lobbying to have an exemption for the use of a hose pipe by the professional on newly planted schemes and newly laid lawns.

The landscape industry is a substantial contributor to the UK economy with for example BALI (British Association of Landscape Industries) members employing around 25’000 staff with an annual turnover of £1.5 billion and the HTA (Horticultural Trades Association) estimating growers and plant wholesale/retailers employ 300,000 staff and an annual turnover in the region of £9 billion. These are significant numbers and sums and I hardly need say that in the current economic situation they should not be put at risk.

The exemption should not be an open invitation to splash water around with abandon, indeed all professional bodies offer guidance on how to minimise water use, but a chance to keep trading!

Visit the Society of Garden Designers website http://www.sgd.org.uk/Article/Detail.aspx?ArticleUid=CCA6588A-16BC-44E0-B592-5AADCB70B417 and British Association of Landscape Industries website www.bali.co.uk for news on the lobbying and how to get involved and watch this space for news.

Stuart

How do you solve a problem like a garden designer? Writing a brief – a guide for clients.

As the weather improves this week, the temperature climbs and we all begin to look outside again. At this time of year, I frequently go into the garden and think ‘what a tip!’ All those odds and ends, badly coiled hoses, un-pruned plants, and scrappy undergrowth – how could I have not noticed it before? It is true that without the kind veil of foliage, gardens can look particularly grim at this time of year. If all this is familiar to you, then cheer yourself up by leafing through magazines and books with their summery pictures of tranquillity that we all associate with gardens. Perhaps it is finally all too much? Maybe it is time to start again? After all if you’re not going to move house you might as well sort the garden out.

Where do I start?

But where to start? Most people really struggle when it comes to writing a coherent brief for a designer. As they are unfamiliar with the process of design, or what a designer might propose, they feel intimidated by the whole procedure. If you’re thinking of making changes in your own garden or have a new project, why not start by tagging images that you like, even if they are wildly diverse. This will help to get you thinking in order that you can write a simple brief. Start with a few simple bullet points:

  • When you are there: do you look at the garden all day or only evenings/weekends? Is it a second home, perhaps used seasonally?

    How keen a gardener are you? How much time do you think you can (or want to) devote to looking after the garden?
  • Think how you will use the garden: do you entertain? Do you have children, pets?
  • Are you a keen gardener? In all honesty, how much time are you likely to spend out there? If you haven’t shown much interest so far, then don’t lumber yourself with a high maintenance scheme with lots of herbaceous plants – leave that to the National Trust! If you are keen, perhaps you might consider an area for vegetables or fruit.
  • Instead of using clichéd phrases like ‘year-round colour’ or ‘lots of evergreens’, try instead to think in terms of how the garden will look and feel. Maybe you like things wild and romantic – scrambling roses, long grass with wild flowers, apple trees laden with fruit. Or perhaps you are more controlled – clean swept paving, topiary, clipped hedges, splashes of colour or white flowers kept to occasional containers. If there is a particular style or image that sums it up – cottage garden, Mediterranean, urban chic, or family friendly, then add to your brief.
  • Are there any particular features that you want in the garden hot tub, fire pit, water feature, swimming pool?
  • If there are any facts that the garden designer might not know at a quick visit – tell them – like: ‘It’s always sunny just here late in the morning’, or ‘I’ve never liked that house next door can we screen it’. Other than that, try not to lead your designer too much – no ‘I’ve always fancied a circular lawn’ or ‘I just thought a raised bed here would be nice’. Let them come up with the ideas – you will be pleasantly surprised!
  • Finally – BUDGET! Always a tricky one! In my experience most clients say that they don’t have a budget in mind or that they have no idea. In practice, everybody has some idea and most clients actually do have a budget in mind. It is supremely unhelpful if you don’t share your thoughts on what you want to spend with your designer. You would walk into an estate agent and say you had no idea of budget. In the end, the more detail you can give a designer on cost, the less of everybody’s time is wasted. This is especially important if you have an over-riding cost limit – you only want to spend the £40K granny left you and not a penny more. And do be clear whether you are talking VAT inclusive or excluding VAT.

 

Finally - that's a weight off my mind!

Presumably, if you have come as far as reading this blog, you are interested in employing a garden designer, either now or in the future. if you want to compare people, do try and start with suitably qualified and professional designers. Of course it goes without saying that B&W are the best, but if you want a comparison, go to the Society of Garden Designers website (www.SGD.org.uk) and look through a few designers in your area.

John Wyer

I’ve been using it increasingly, but I never touch it.

I am a great believer in starting the design process on a drawing board. For me, there is nothing like a large blunt pencil or a fat marker pen and a blank sheet of white paper. Perhaps it’s just my generation? I don’t think that’s all it is though; As Milton Glaser put it: ‘There’s not enough fuzziness in a computer solution, so you figure it out too early, and what you get is a very well executed ordinary idea.’ I like that.

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To Meet or Not To Meet?

It’s  6am and my old friend the snooze button (god bless him) can’t rescue me anymore!  I shower, change, wake the kids, dress the little zombies, stuff them with a good dose of strangely coloured cereal (fortified with vitamins so they say!), trip over school bags and run around like a Basil Fawlty for 20 minutes before finally ambling out of the door.  I can’t be late for my meeting in London I protest, I must catch that train or I am doomed! 

After dropping off the kids and racing like ‘The Stig’ to the station I find I have no parking money, and surprise, surprise the only parking spaces are miles from the station office!  After more expletives, rushing about and waiting behind the longest person in the world (I mean who buys their season ticket at 7.30am?) I finally get my ticket and place on the London Midland express!   This meeting better be worth it!

Much to my dismay the meeting turns out to be a complete time waster and not the ‘important’ one the project manager had built it up to be.  Landscape was of course the last item on the agenda with only minor queries, which could have been dealt with all to easily via email or over the telephone.  Still, at least there was coffee this time!

The problem with meetings, especially in a large design team environment is other consultants often don’t appreciate how much of our time is wasted when we are asked to attend those that don’t really concern us.  Involvement is different for architects, structural engineers and M&E consultants as they usually cover broad areas both internally and externally on projects.   As Landscape/garden designers we are generally only concerned with the exterior spaces (with some exceptions).  Whilst knowing how much duct work can be run through the ceiling voids is interesting for some, it is not usually our favourite topic of conversation nor does it benefit our work!   

This is where the art of meeting selection plays an important part of our armoury as landscape designers.  Learning to pick the right meetings to attend and those to avoid is vital if you are to maximise productivity and most importantly profit on a project.  Judging the number of meetings you will attend in fee quotes can be an extremely difficult task but a very important one none the less, especially if you hope to recoup fees for additional meetings at later date. 

Increasingly on larger projects we try to bottom out with project managers, clients and architects if they really do need us at all the meetings scheduled.  By simply asking the question you can end up saving a huge amount of time for both yourself and your clients which can only be a good thing in the long run, not to mention allowing you to get reacquainted again with the faithful Mr Snooze!

James Smith

An afternoon with the Galanthophiles…

Saturday 25th February, a beautiful spring sunny day.  Parental duties on the touch line completed, a thrilling cup game but that is another story, it was snowdrop time!

This was not as you might think a trip to Bennington Lordships, Anglesey Abbey or one of the other large gardens renowned for stunning swathes of beautiful snowdrops but an open day in a small suburban garden in Leighton Buzzard.

Had I dragged the family along to see a clump of Galanthus nivalis in a neighbours garden nestled between the potting shed and compost bin?  Was this a repeat of the later deemed inappropriate father and son trip to the V&A Modernism Exhibition – why would a 5 year old have preferred to have gone to the Natural History Museum I protested.  Well this was no ordinary suburban abode but the home of the Owens and their NCPPG national collections of some 900 varieties of snowdrops – we were amidst the Galanthophiles!

I have always been cautious of such plant collectors and their train spotter like behavior, all that ticking names of lists and focusing on one group of plants at the expense of others seems alien to me.  However after a short time spent in the garden my fears of having to don an anorak passed ……these Galanthophiles were just passionate plants people!

The garden although not at the cutting edge of design was charming with every corner full of interesting plants and not only snowdrops!  Indeed there was a beautiful Prunus Beni-Chidori or flowering Japanese apricot in full bloom, a small tree that we recently planted to mark the birth of a Japanese client’s first child so it was great to see a mature specimen.  The Owens were at hand to share their knowledge and passion with cautionary tales of battles with stagonospora, botrysis, narcissus flies and swift moths – which anyone who is going to grow the more delicate hybrids will need to be prepared to stave off.  If a question was not being asked of Mr Owen he immediately had a trowel in hand and was on all fours in the borders – a true gardener never wastes a minute of a sunny day!

The snowdrops in the garden were planted in groups; nivalis, elwesii, plicatus and hybrids and the small scale of the garden meant the range in flower sizes, flower shapes, markings and colour could be easily seen and enjoyed – even by a muddied young footballer.  And the more you looked the closer to the ground you got and indeed I found myself laying down so I could look up into an interesting double or two.

 

An enjoyable afternoon ….would I be joining the ever increasing number of Galanthophiles …well with some 2000 named varieties of snowdrops there are plenty to collect although with rarer hybrids now traded on ebay for high sums with a single Galanthus Green Tear bulb recently selling for £360 it could be an expensive hobby. Well it is probably not for me but I may be tempted to try a hybrid or two ……..or is that how it starts!

Stuart Wallace

Are we just making Pretty shapes?

Strong forms can be a good thing and geometry need not be all right angles – but do we sometimes let shapes drive the design rather than vice versa? I always think of a design for a site being based on a triangular set of influences – site, client and designer. You can tell the designers who exert a strong influence on their designs and ignore the other two – their schemes all look pretty similar – ‘a very strong house style’ is how it is often described. The one advantage to clients is at least they know what they are going to get…

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Where have all the trees gone?

This is from a developer’s sale details – not a tree in sight!

Why is it that most house-builders are so against planting trees? In fact, why are they generally against putting landscape in place? This question lurked behind (and occasionally in the foreground) of many of the recent discussions in the Landscape Institute lecture series staged at the excellent Garden Museum in Lambeth, London (www.gardenmuseum.org.uk). Historically, those schemes that have incorporated a high quality integrated landscape have become highly valued, both in market terms but also in wider social terms. Many of these were in their day landmarks in the way in which housing was built on mass – The Garden City movement, Span Developments, Wates housing estates from the 1960s to name but a few.

Span Houses at Cedar Chase – designed by Eric Lyons

One of the common threads in all of these was their incorporation of dense planting and trees into the structure of the developments. Often they were planned at relatively high housing densities, allowing higher returns for the developer.

As land prices have moved up and car ownership increased, developers tended to move more towards apartment block schemes in urban areas. The more imaginative operators (such as Urban Splash) and those working at the top end of the market would always incorporate landscape. Sadly, this was a minority. Our experience working in this market has clearly shown that fantastic results can be squeezed form the most difficult sites when Landscape Architects or Garden Designers are involved early enough. Bowles & Wyer recently picked up the ‘Landscape Architect of the Year’ and ‘Garden Designer of the Year’ awards at the New Homes Garden Awards (www.newhomesgardenawards.co.uk). This has been run by Denis Rawlings and David Hoppit for several years to try and drive forward the quality of landscape design in housing.

Squeeze those trees in! A scheme of ours in London.

One of our schemes won ‘Best Urban Landscape’ on a very tight site in London. It just shows that there is never an excuse not to plant trees. On this site, they are squeezed between the houses and the backs of the neighbouring shops, on top of an underground car park! you can see more of this scheme on our website in the project pages: The Collection, St Johns Wood. The interesting thing about it is that the cost of the soft landscape was only about £70,000, which represents just £5000 per house. I would hazard a guess that it added a lot more than that to the sale price of each unit.

John Wyer

Should garden designers take commission payments?

Loadsamoney! - Commission? or corruption?

We were recently offered a commission payment by a firm that designed and built treehouses. We were recommending them on a large garden we are undertaking in Surrey. We did not take up the offer. Interestingly, shortly afterwards they put us forward for another job in the same neighbourhood and demanded a commission payment if we were appointed. We refused, saying that payment should be unnecessary. This resulted in quite a row between us.

We were against taking the payment on a number of different grounds. Firstly, it clouds your judgement. I want to be free to make decisions on a number of criteria, without the ‘size of the bung’ being one of the factors. Secondly, we should be free to recommend others (and be recommended ourselves) on the basis of competency, skills and experience. We work with a range of other experts and specialists – joiners, artists, lighting designers, etc. we choose them on merit. Finally (and most importantly) it is essentially dishonest. Not dishonest in the sense of illegal, but more in the sense of not being transparent. If you take such payments, do you tell your client? If not, why would that be? In other industries (such as the insurance industry), we all rail against similar opaque practices, calling them shady, dishonest or even corrupt. When it is us being offered the money it is a slightly different story. We either defend it saying it is an honestly earned commission, or keep quiet and take the money (which is what I suspect most people do). Even if one decides to take a stance on this, it is very difficult not to acquiesce when a supplier effectively gives you the money unbidden by inviting you to invoice them, as happened to us recently. Perhaps weakly, I didn’t invoice them, but I didn’t tell them I wouldn’t take the money either (although I won’t). I am not saying we haven’t accepted it once or twice in the past, but we have made a joint decision in the business to draw a line here.

In any case, most if not all professional associations frown upon the idea: it is strictly forbidden by the code of professional conduct of both the Landscape Institute and the Society of Garden Designers. I suspect that this does not stop the practice going on however. I also realise that I will probably unleash a flood of posts from other designers saying that this is the only way they can make a decent living; that it is alright for you lot in the SE etc. etc. My answer to that is that you should charge more. Again – ‘Alright for you lot in the loaded South-East’. But if you don’t try and charge a living wage for what you do, how will clients ever learn to value it? What clients pay for should be transparent and fair – to both sides.

John Wyer