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9 Ideas to Steal from Britain’s Up-and-Coming Garden Designers

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9 Ideas to Steal from Britain’s Up-and-Coming Garden Designers

February 12, 2018

The Society of Garden Designers Awards are a great way of taking the temperature of British garden trends. SGD is the only professional association for garden designers in the UK, so winning an award is a big honor for both established and up-and-coming names in the industry. Here I pick out the common threads that run through this year’s winning designs to find you the best ideas to steal for your own garden in 2018.

Photography courtesy of Society of Garden Designers.

Modern Metal

 Modern manufacturing techniques mean there are endless ways of utilizing metal in modern gardens: It’s both durable and beautiful. Not surprising then that metal pops up in many of the winning gardens.
Above: Modern manufacturing techniques mean there are endless ways of utilizing metal in modern gardens: It’s both durable and beautiful. Not surprising then that metal pops up in many of the winning gardens.

I am currently coveting the rusty steel fence panels used as space dividers in Fiona Stephenson’s romantic Domaine de Cambou garden in southwest France, winner in the People’s Choice category. These were created by Neil Lossock of Dragonswood Forge in Herefordshire, UK, with a laser-cut fern design that casts shadows onto the beds below,  filled with rhythmic plantings of Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ and lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina).

Tiered Fountains

Photograph by Richard Bloom.
Above: Photograph by Richard Bloom.

Emily Erlam won the Roof Garden category for her Kings Cross penthouse garden: She divided the huge rooftop terrace using multisectional steel planters that wrap around the edges and provide privacy and protection from wind. Erlam also commissioned bespoke metal fabricators Outdoor Design of West Sussex in the UK to make a 1970s-inspired water feature in aged bronze. The tiered design echoes the wraparound shape of the planters, and the SGD judges praised Erlam for her “clever incorporation of water to create a wonderful feeling of calm.”

Cor-Ten Raised Beds

A more organic style of steel turned up in Ian Kitson’s North Wales estuary garden, which won in the Hardscape category and was joint winner in the Medium Residential category too. His sweeping Cor-Ten steel raised beds merging in and out of water and stone walls echo the tidal patterns of of the nearby River Conwy.
Above: A more organic style of steel turned up in Ian Kitson’s North Wales estuary garden, which won in the Hardscape category and was joint winner in the Medium Residential category too. His sweeping Cor-Ten steel raised beds merging in and out of water and stone walls echo the tidal patterns of of the nearby River Conwy.

Cor-Ten Curves

Above: Sue Townsend incorporated the look in more a modest space, deploying Cor-Ten steel edging to the curving beds of her city garden, which was a joint winner in the Garden Jewel category.

Pine Trees

Photograph by Marianne Majerus.
Above: Photograph by Marianne Majerus.

Pines were all over the show gardens at Chelsea last year, and this trend is being played out in real gardens too. Matt Keightley of Rosebank Landscaping won the Planting Design award for his Eastern-inspired garden and secured joint winner status in the Medium Residential category alongside Ian Kitson. Pines take center stage in the simple design, with sculptured bonsai Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris) dotting the space, and mounds of cloud-pruned pines below specimen pin oaks (Quercus palustris).

See more inspiration at Pine Trees 101: A Design Guide to Planting, Care, and Design.

Rooftop Conifers

Photograph by Richard Bloom.
Above: Photograph by Richard Bloom.

Emily Erlam also made excellent use of dwarf mountain pines (Pinus mugo) in her roof garden, taking advantage of their toughness and ability to withstand high winds—essential for a garden that’s 13 stories up.

Container Plants

Photograph by Marianne Majerus.
Above: Photograph by Marianne Majerus.

Many of the gardens employed drift or linear planting to great effect. For those of us with modest plots, Jane Brockbank, joint winner in the Garden Jewel category, shows how simple terracotta pots filled with treasured plants can be elevated—literally—by displaying them on an unfussy concrete bench: including, of course, the almost obligatory pines.

See more container garden designs at Container Gardening: Sarah Raven’s 7 Tips for Perfect Flowerpots.

Circular Arguments

A woven willow sphere by designer Robert Myers.
Above: A woven willow sphere by designer Robert Myers.

I also noticed circles everywhere in this year’s crop of winners: from Robert Myers’ spherical dragon’s nest sculpture made from woven willow at his Magic Garden at Hampton Court in London, which won in the Public or Commercial Space category, to the metal moon gates in Ann-Marie Powell’s garden for the Chestnut Tree House Children’s Hospice in West Sussex, which won the Healing or Learning Garden category.

Aerial Views

Designer Anne Windsor transformed a barren, sunless courtyard of a four-story apartment building in Manchester to win the Big Ideas, Small Budget award. I love the way that the design works on ground level but is maximized when viewed from the walkway above.
Above: Designer Anne Windsor transformed a barren, sunless courtyard of a four-story apartment building in Manchester to win the Big Ideas, Small Budget award. I love the way that the design works on ground level but is maximized when viewed from the walkway above.

It’s a deceptively simple design, featuring a pair of rectangular planters topped with semi circular timber benches that the eye combines to make a circle when you look down upon it. This is a great lesson for those of us who spend as much time looking down upon our gardens as sitting in them.

For the full lineup of the award-winning designers and gardens, visit the Society of Garden Designers.

If you’re designing a landscape or upgrading a garden, start with help from our Garden Design 101 guides, including Decks & Patios 101, Fences & Gates 101, and more posts:

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