Student Guide to Starting a New Garden Design



One of our on-line students recently asked me the following question

Q. Before we start designing are there any obvious 'don't-do's' relating to the size of garden, that you can think of off the top of your head?

A. Size is irrelevant. There is no silver bullet answer as to how you start designing any garden, but I do have some recommendations.

1. I can’t stress how important it is to put together a mood board before you start designing. If you don’t have a theme or style in mind before you start adding your shapes, then you are going to end up with a plan that has no philosophy behind it, will be unconvincing, and the chances are; very ordinary!.........We don’t do ordinary we do extraordinary!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

At this stage in your design career, your ‘shape library’ in your head, is still virtually empty, so it’s vital you immerse your selves in garden/architect/interior images.

PLEAESE PLEASE PLEASE SUBSCRIBE TO and buy all or any of the garden/landscape design magazines, some architecture ones, as well as some interior design/house magazines, and consider subscribing to The Garden Design Journal

2. Draw bubble/functional diagrams to plan the space. Decide on where the key elements of the design are going and plan how you intend to get there. (via bubbles and arrows) This will decide if your design is going to be a clockwise or anticlockwise design. Once you have finished, remove the bubble diagram and go back to ‘Pattern Analysis’, but make sure some of your interlocking patterns reflect the key areas decided during the bubble diagram stage.

3. Start your SketchUp model now!!!!!!!!!!!! The SketchUp model is a design tool not just for final presentation. Build your model at the same time as drawing your sketch plan by hand. Most of you would avoid half the mistakes you making, if you could visualise your plan in 3D.


Should RHS show judges be allowed to enter Chelsea Flower Show? …..not in any other industry they wouldn’t!

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At this years Chelsea Flower Show, Mark Gregory, an established landscaper was one of several RHS show judges exhibiting, who won a gold medal. Gregory’s gold was for a nice little courtyard garden for the Children’s Society

The garden was meticulously put together, but in design terms, was nothing that I wouldn’t have expect from one of my student’s first design projects.  Surprising then, that it got a gold despite the fact that it was nothing particularly special.

In the press this month questions have been raised about next years Chelsea Flower Show and the fact the chairman of the show judges, intends to build his second garden and is currently looking for sponsorship.

Forgive my scepticism, but if I was a sponsor with a couple of hundred grand to spend,  this would seem to me, the horticultural equivalent of looking a gift horse in the mouth!

How can the remaining RHS show judges possibly assess this garden in a fair and unbiased fashion?  The whole thing reeks of the old boy network and wouldn’t be tolerated in any other industry.

Without exception, every competition I can find, the rules clearly state that no employees or family of employees are permitted to enter and whilst the judges are volunteers, with hundreds of thousands of pounds in sponsorship and TV deals at stake, this clearly is a conflict of interest and the sooner the RHS wakes up to the fact the better.

What do you think?  Should judges be able to enter their own competitions?

Is This Good Design?……..or Meaningless Scribbles!

It’s great that so many universities are jumping onto the garden design band-wagon because it not only spreads the word, but helps create interest in the subject.
The problem arises when what is being taught, amounts to little more than ‘meaningless scribbles’. I appreciate what I am saying is controversial but this Video to me, represents everything bad about garden design teaching.

This is not supposed to be a personal attack on Dr. Ann Marie VanDerZanden, but why did she choose such a dreadful design example?  What she is passing off as a ‘typical residential design’, shows a fundamental lack of design appreciation.

The pattern is anything but simple, looking more like an angry jelly fish attacking a building.  Rhythm and line remain unexplained and she then goes on to say that proportion can’t be seen in a plan view….may be not in this design, but it should be there!
Balance was tackled next and asymmetry and symmetry introduced, but to suggest that this ‘amoeba’ is a symmetrical design makes me wonder if we are looking at the same drawing, as there is nothing formal about this plan.

The building looks like it has just landed from space and been 'plonked' onto the landscape.

The organic shapes used, show a total disregard for the geometry contained within the building and to my mind the house and garden quite simply clash.  

I think this design is Awful!!!!! ……….Yet this is the design style being taught to thousands of would-be garden designers around the world every year, by teachers who should stick to horticulture but  never venture near a drawing board!
I appreciate that design is subjective and I would love to talk to these people to understand where they are coming from, however, 70 years after Thomas Church and 40 years after John Brookes why is this mediocrity still being taught?

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Student Exhibition 2010: See Why our students are considered some of the best in the World!

Student Exhibition 2010 from Duncan Heather on Vimeo.

The student end of years’ exhibition was held on the 17th June with over 200 people visiting the show between 4-7pm

The students go on to use their exhibits as part of their sales portfolio so the work has a duel role both as a way of showing the external examiners the quality of the work and also as a sales aide for when they start their business.

The work displayed is a selection of all of the work completed through the year so from the first design exercises completed in the into module to the 3 real gardens completed during the course.

Not to mention the 20 or so speed design exercises design to stretch every facet of the design repertoire from commercial housing projects to car par design, through to the sighting of tennis courts and swimming pools and garage and driveway design. The course is called residential landscape design for a reason, as we cover both domestic and corporate projects to maximise the employability of our students as well as give them the broadest range of experience of any the design schools.
“The course lies somewhere between a university based education and an apprenticeship, as student and tutors work closely together on real live projects and clients from the start.”
Project 1 was a tiny courtyard garden in central Oxford the garden was part of a development of modern town houses built in the late 80’s over 3 floors with the lounge dining and kitchen bases on the first floor.
There is a first floor balcony, but no existing link to the garden, so is was decided very quickly to build a flight of stairs allowing direct access to the garden.

Project 2 was a small country garden in a village location in Rotherfield Oxfordshire. The site had significant privacy issues as well a requiring a new garage and workshop, a new conservatory and a kitchen garden. All to be squeezed into a relatively small 500 square meters

Project 3 was a 2.5 acre country garden on a sloping site in Bluebury Oxfordshire. The front entrance area require a major revamp and the client also requested a conservatory design as well as a new pond/lake at the bottom of the site.

This has been another excellent year.

You can see from the slide show that are student produce better designs in their first 8 weeks of training and most schools produce in a year.
“It’s not just their design ability! The level of technical competence and professional practice is second to none and continues to demonstrate why are student are considered to be some of the best in the world.”


Festival de Jardins, Chaumont sur Loire: The New Chelsea


It always faintly amuses me when the RHS promote Chelsea Flower Show as the pinnacle of the Garden design world.

I’ve been teaching now for more than 20 years and Chelsea is anything but the bastion of good design.  The clue is in the title; Chelsea Flower Show not Chelsea Design Show. In fact all the examples I use for teaching purposes of bad design, come from Chelsea.

Chelsea is over crowded, political, wasteful, and regurgitating the same old design formats seen year after year (see Roger Platts garden at this year show, straight out of the 1980’s)

Why do these designers bother? or do they constantly need their ego’s massaging by the old boy network!

Chaumont is everything Chelsea is not, Innovative, creative, tranquil, inspirational, politically unbiased, and environmentally sensitive.  My students are encouraged to go to both shows, but always feel inspired and reinvigorated having visited Chaumont.

Click here to see more photos


Student End of Year Exhibition

Invitation Invitation 2010 copy 

Click here to download and invitation-All are welcome

How Much Should I Charge per Hour? Calculate your hourly rate based on facts not fiction

It always amazes me that at this time of year students coming to the end of  their design courses have little or no idea how much to charge

Coins and plant, isolated on white backgroundSure, there are fee scales out there, but even these are not explained in sufficient detail.

The whole question of how much to charge per hour is actually quite simple to calculate, and even if you have been in business for years, it is still an interesting exercise to calculate an hourly rated based on an end figure for gross profit, for example:

Aspirational salary =£/$30,000.00

Estimated Overheads:
Secretarial £1,000.00
Training £750.00
Insurances £730.00
Repairs/maintenance £450.00
Printing, postage, stationary £2,290.00
Advertising £631.00
Telephone £1,080.00
Motor running expenses £2,400.00
Travelling expenses £57.00
Entertaining £354.00
Legal fees £400.00
Accountant fees £1,200.00
Bank charges £750.00
Subscriptions £335.00

Required Turnover     £/$42,427.00

Working 8 hours per day, 5 days a week, 45 weeks a year, there are 1800 hours a year. Chargeable % of hours is likely to be between 30 and 60%, say 40%.

£42,000 ÷ (1800 x 40%) = £58.33/hr

This assumes a constant workload. It is very difficult to achieve a constant work ethic and a chargeable % at 40%. Inevitably weekends, late nights supplement the equation.

The hourly rate charged depends entirely on personal choice. It may be necessary to “buy work” initially, however when you become internationally sought after you can charge accordingly.

You may well find that you have to charge at least £/$60.00/hr to be profitable.

But what ever happens don’t undersell yourself.


Carol’s Garden of the Month: Rousham Oxfordshire

It was a glorious Spring Day and on a whim as we were passing , we stopped at Rousham for what was only our second visit and I fell in love!

My first visit should have been perfect, it was 3 years ago a magical summers evening and the owners had kindly allowed us a private visit with our students from the Oxford College of Garden Design so around 20 of us strolled and explored to our hearts content but I came away having had an enjoyable time of course, but I hadn't found its magic and felt a little cheated though many others had.

This time the two of us strolled gently down towards the river with the house (which in my opinion is just the right size grand but not a huge pile) behind us and followed the meandering path with the green sward in front of us, studded everywhere with tiny primroses and primulas of the palest yellows and mauve.
With the trees burgeoning green, we occasionally passed couples picnicking in cosy spots and chatting in muted tones with one large group group of students, perfectly placed I am not sure if by accident or by design, sprawled elegantly across the grass quietly enjoying each others company in the perfect setting.

We eventually reached the start of the rill and followed its meandering path down through the woods and to the lily pond beyond where we stopped ourselves for a while to lap up the bucolic atmosphere.

Back then towards the house and the perfectly striped lawns and on into the Walled Garden which at first sight had little to offer, but promise and potential of things to come has its own attraction as far as I am concerned and then a nice surprise in the form of an arched pathway through the middle of the space under planted with clouds of blue forget me knots and soft pink tulips - lovely!

Into the garden with the huge old dovecote and topiary and again this wonderful sense of peace and that you are not in a public space but an interloper in a very private garden-  delicious!  Everywhere there are seats inviting you to linger a while and in the warm spring sunshine with the espaliered fruit trees and Cornus Mas in bloom  it is lovely to stop and watch the white doves tooing-&- froing completing the picture.

As we leave stopping to admire the amazing old trees just in front of the house and the antics of the posh fluffy legged bantams that preside over the space we smile and thank the lady at the entrance saying we felt like we had the garden all to ourselves, she smiled and told us there were around 70 other visitors that day - you would never have guessed!

A lovely experience leaving you feeling calm but stimulated at the same time so very much nicer than visiting some of the bigger stately homes and gardens where you share the space with coaches, numerous instructional signs (where did keep off the grass ever belong in this situation?) dubious gift shops crowded noisy tea rooms and out of control bored children!

The only facilities at Rousham are the loos and you cannot take young children but it is so welcoming - choose your day ,take a picnic that does the venue justice ( a pork pie and a packet of crisps just won't cut it here) choose your spot and add to the artistry of the space for a while!  See you there!


Students Win Garden Design Competition at the Southport Flower Show

Oxford College of Garden Design


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It has just been announced that students from the Oxford College of Garden Design have won the prestigious 2010 Student Garden Design Competition of the Southport Flower Show, to be held from 19 to 22 August in Merseyside. Alexandra Lehne and Lea Maravic (shown above) are currently studying for the postgraduate level Diploma in Residential Garden Design at the Oxford College of Garden Design.

Alexandra and Lea have won a £6,000 commission to build their winning design at the show and received excellent feedback on their garden, which the organisers have described as “one of the best entries ever submitted into the competition!”


Download full plans and details here

The brief was to design a garden based on the Show’s theme of “Coast”, in a 6m x 6m square plot and Alex and Lea’s winning submission included a detailed scale plan, planting plan, scale drawings and illustration (as per example above).

The postgraduate level Diploma in Residential Garden Design offered by the Oxford College of Garden Design is widely regarded as one of the leading garden design courses in the world. Held at St Hugh’s College Oxford, which is set in 14 acres of beautiful landscaped gardens, applications are currently being taken for the next 1 year fast-track course which starts on 30th September 2010. The world’s first interactive online garden design course has also been launched by the College to run alongside the full time course. To find out more visit: or telephone 01491 628950 for further information.

Oxford College of Garden Design

The College was set up by Duncan Heather in 1992 and has attracted students from around the world, including America, New Zealand and Japan, as well as the UK. Duncan Heather is one of Europe’s foremost garden designers. Duncan was trained by Britain’s best-loved octogenarian designer and garden writer, John Brookes OBE, whom many regard as one of the world’s top garden designers of the 20th Century. In a career now spanning over 30 years, Duncan has won five gold medals, one silver, one bronze and three awards for innovative design.



GM-PR 020 8546 0013


Top 50 UK Spring Gardens


1 Achamore Gardens, Argyll
2 Annesley Gardens, Co Down
3 Antony Woodland Garden, Cornwall
4 Batsford Arboretum, Gloucestershire
5 Benmore Botanic Gardens, Argyll
6 Broadleas, Wiltshire
7 Broadleigh Gardens, Somerset
8 Brodie Castle, Nairn
9 Burncoose Gardens & Nurseries, Cornwall
10 Caerhays Castle, Cornwall
11 Chesters Walled Garden, Northumberland
12 Coleton Fishacre, Devon .
13 Docton Mill, Devon
14 Dorfold Hall, Cheshire
15 Dudmaston Gardens, Shropshire
16 East Bergholt Place, Suffolk
17 Easton Walled Gardens, Lincolnshire .
18 Exbury Gardens, Hampshire
19 Fairhaven Woodland and Water Garden, Norfolk
20 Felley Priory, Nottinghamshire
21 Galloway House Gardens, Dumfries & Galloway
22 Gresgarth Hall, Lancashire
23 Guy Wilson Daffodil Garden, Co Derry
24 Hergest Croft Gardens, Herefordshire
25 Hever Castle, Kent
26 Hodnet Hall, Shropshire
27 Howick Hall, Northumberland
28 Inverewe, Ross-shire
29 Kingston Lacy, Dorset
30 Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens, West Sussex
31 Littleham House Cottage, Devon
32 Marwood Hill, Devon
33 Mount Edgcumbe Gardens, Cornwall
34 Muncaster Castle, Cumbria
35 Nymans, West Sussex
36 Penjerrick, Cornwall
37 Plas Newyyd, Gwynedd
38 RHS Garden Wisley, Surrey
39 Rowallane Garden, Co Down 
40 Rydal Mount, Cumbria 
41 Savill Garden, Berkshire
42 Sheffield Park Garden, East Sussex
43 Sherwood, Devon 
44 Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, Hampshire
45 Spinners, Hampshire
46 The Garden House, Devon
47 Ulting Wick, Essex
48 Valley Gardens, Berkshire
49 Wentworth Castle, South Yorkshire
50 Westonbirt Arboretum, Gloucestershire

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Rough Grass & Cut Grass:- What’s the difference and how are they used in landscape design?

As a working designer, it is easy to take for granted garden elements that designers use on a daily basis, but for the general public and my students  at the Oxford College of Garden Design the difference between rough grass and cut crass is a question that crops up year after year.

Grass is probably the cheapest surfacing materials we use in gardens, and just by varying its height it can be considered one of the most useful elements as well.

Cut grass is the same as lawn. It is grass that is kept regularly mown, usually on a weekly basis during the growing season. It is kept free of weeds and bulbs and can vary in use from bowling green to children's play area.

Rough grass is lawn that has been allowed to grow longer and is usually cut just twice a year. It can contain wild flowers for summer interest and bulbs for spring colour, because you do not mow it until July, after the bulbs have died down and the wild flowers have self seeded.

In design terms, it can just be ordinary lawn which is allowed to grow longer, so providing a ground pattern that helps the designer steer the visitor in a desired direction. (people will walk on cut grass but not on rough grass)

You can also use rough grass as a sculptural form, to provide patterns on the ground which are particularly effective, when viewed from above or  planted on sloping ground so the design pattern can be appreciated.
Greystone Spring 2005 VX4C0458 My garden taken this spring
I regularly use rough grass round trees as a way of protecting the tree from damage by lawn mowers and strimmers and to prevent that nasty piece of tufty grass round the trucks, that would otherwise be left after mowing.

If the designer is starting from scratch, I would recommend using a fine grass seed mixtures that spreads via underground rhizome i.e. Creeping Red Fescue and Brown Top rather than clump forming varieties like dwarf rye grass otherwise any existing lawn can be turned into rough grass areas.

Rough grass can dramatically reduce maintenance and irrigation costs, as it saves on mowing time and is never irrigated.

In warmer climates during the summer the rough grass should be allowed to turn golden brown and if smaller, softer varieties are used, can give the impression of prairie grasslands and look beautiful when blowing in the wind.
At the end of summer a final cut can be given in September/October so the lawn is short enough not to obscure spring bulbs the following season.


10 Garden Books That Changed My Life

As a teacher and Principal of the Oxford College of Garden Design I am always wary of encouraging students to  buy books rather than borrow them from a library, as fewer than 50% ever get read once purchased. But there are a few must-have books that no self respecting designer should be without, either as a source of inspiration or a vital source of knowledge. 

The following list, are the books that have most influenced my life as a garden designer. I hope they may prove of interest and may tempt some of you to read those that are unknown to you.

Gardens are for People
Thomas Church was the father of Contemporary design. This text contains the essence of Church's design philosophy, a519DT0W5X7L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU02_s well as practical advice. It is illustrated by site plans and photographs of some of the 2000 gardens that Church designed during his career. Called "the last great traditional designer and the first great modern designer", Church was one of the central figures in the development of the modern Californian garden. For the first time, West Coast designers based their work not on imitation of East Coast traditions, but on climatic, landscape and lifestyle characteristics unique to California and the West. Church viewed the garden as a logical extension of the house, with one extending naturally into the other.


Garden Design
If Church was the father of garden design, Sylvia Crowe was the mother and if you have ever read any of John Brookes’s books, read this; and you will understand where he got his design philosophy from.  Now unfortunately out of print, I hope one day someone will have the intelligence to realise the significance of this book and reprint it in its entirety. Beg borrow or steel a copy, but this is  a MUST READ BOOK

 Room Outside
The Book that kick started the garden design revolution back in 1970.This is a thoroughly revised and beautifully illus61pi093w2oL._SL500_AA300_trated edition of the book that first made garden design accessible to everyone. In "Room Outside" John Brookes invented the highly practical concept of the garden, however large or small, as a usable extension of the home. That was nearly forty years ago and, while the range of products and materials has increased dramatically, the role the garden can play has not changed at all. Indeed, as a retreat from the hectic world of work and as an overflow to family life, our outdoor space has become incredibly important and "Room Outside" is even more relevant to 21st century living. 

A Place in the country
John Brookes’s A Place in the Country another book sadly out of print, takes us away from 0500013276small urban spaces and describes in detail how to organise, sort and design large rural spaces.  However it goes much further than any of his subsequent books, almost into the realm of landscape architecture for the residential site.  This book is packed with information otherwise difficult to find else- ware.  How to encourage game, woodlands and shelter belts, grazing your land, outbuilding, glass houses and conservatories and so the list goes on.  If you can find a second hand copy of this book buy it! Its a gold mine of information and one I never tire of dipping in and out of.

Bold Romantic Gardens
Another life enhancing book, which I was first introduced to, while still working for John Bookes as his design assistant back in the late 80’ early 90’s
Sadly out of print and very much a collectors item now, it was a ‘show piece’ of two American landscape Architects, Wolfgang Oehme and James Van Sweden who pioneered the use of native plants and the use of grasses for the the first time. 


Residential Landscape Architecture is an introductory text that covers the process and techniques for designing the single family residential site. It is intended for individuals who will be or are currently designing residential landscapes as a professional career. The book features a thorough, how-to explanation of each of the steps of the design process from initial contact with the client to a completed master plan.



Landscape Graphics The new revised edition of the classic industry reference! "Landscape Graphics" is the architect's ultimate guide to all the basic graphics techniques used in landscape design and landscape architecture. Progressing from the basics into more sophisticated techniques, this guide offers clear instruction on graphic language and the design process, the basics of drafting, lettering, freehand drawing and conceptual diagramming, perspective drawing, section elevations and more.

518gkist03L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU02_ From Concept to Form in Landscape Design, Second Edition presents the landscape transformation process in a highly visual manner, creating both a vivid learning experience for students and a useful toolbox for working designers. Replete with compelling, valuable, and accessible insights for designing outdoor spaces, Reid′s book is an ideal blend of inspiration and application.

Planting Design
Frankly any of Ouldof’s books could be here, but this is one of my favourites.  Home gardeners with a keen interest in design, as well as professional landscape designers, will find 51BEGW1K0AL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU02_invaluable advice in this new approach. The book focuses on the general principles behind creating successful and beautiful plant combinations in both time and space working with perennials in the context of trees, shrubs, and the surrounding landscape. The authors suggest looking across, into, and through the landscape. They ask the reader to consider the rhythms and connections in their designs, through such elements as echoes, linkages, and repetitions.

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An education of a Gardener
An now for something completely different!

First published in 1962, when Page was already a well established European designer. Reading this book is one of those rare occasions when a marvellous professional such as Page, generously lets you in to share his life. Page's accounts merge the personal with the professional, and encompass a wide spectrum indeed. It is, therefore, a book to read by the small bedroom lamp, as well as in the study room, while working. It has by now become a legendary novel, a rare breed that set a precedent, although rarely followed. It is analogous to a good old-fashioned radio show - romantic, endearing and memorable.

 For our student reading list please visit out web site here


Former student Mel Jolly, wins BBC Gardeners World Design competition

By Mel Jolly Garden Design
See NS&I Competition Details

My design provides a practical space for every stage of growing food in the garden – seed tray for propagation, cold frames for the more tender plants, the main growing beds and upright support for climbing plants right through to a compact composter in the small storage area to recycle unwanted parts of the plants. In a time where convenience seems to be paramount to people’s lives I feel this design brings together this convenience with a more old fashioned but increasingly popular pastime of growing our own food. It also brings in a social aspect with a bar table that can not only be used for potting and working but also for eating some of the produce grown.

The main features of this garden are the central multipurpose table and the large curved boundary wall. The table is divided into sections – half of which is a storage compartment for all the tools needed and a small composting bin. This can be screened off and locked by a concertina type door. Quarter of the table can be used as a bar area for working and eating. The remaining surface of the table has a seed tray incorporated into it. Below the seed tray the table is screened off with glass to provide a cold frame. The curved wall will be painted with blackboard paint to keep a regular maintenance schedule for work in the garden and joins onto a lower wall with more glass cold frames.

Most of the material used to construct this garden is timber. Timber is extremely durable and if properly managed potentially indefinitely renewable. All timber used will be sustainable timber with the internationally recognised Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification. I have used very little hard landscaping –most of the ground surface will be pea shingle to give a sustainable drainage system. SuDS. If money allows the large wall will be constructed in such a way as to harvest rainwater for re-use in the garden. The garden contains a small compact compost tumbler.

I believe my design provides an organised, practical and aesthetic place to grow food. Allotments and growing at home have taken off in the past few years but there are still many people who have the will to grow their own but not quite the way. This is often because they don’t quite know how to go about it or don’t have much time. My design is compact and everything is on hand. Also because it has a good space for sitting it means some jobs can be done in a very relaxed and social way in an ‘around the kitchen table’ kind of way. It is also a place for relaxing in a beautiful space not just for working. The ground pattern is not traditional and I think it is good to show that growing food doesn’t have to be ‘allotment’ in style but plants can really be grown in such different ways. The design will be chic, but not at the expense of sustainability or practicality which will still be paramount.


The plants I have chosen are all plants that would usually be either sown, planted or harvested during May and June. They are also varieties that I feel are popular and commonly eaten, especially salad foods and fruit. From a design point of view many of the plants have red colourings which I believe will look stunning as well as taste delicious.


John Brookes; a Landscape Design Legend

On Thursday 11th March 2010, I had arranged a very special ‘MasterClass’ at the Oxford College of Garden Design with Landscape design legend, John Brookes


I’m not exaggerating when I say that he is the most influential garden designer of the 20th Century alive today and we were very honoured to have him talk at St Hugh’s College Oxford, as he rarely agrees to speak at these types of events anymore.

John, now into his 70’s, has a career spanning nearly 50 years and without his contribution to the world of garden design, I suspect that many of us, would not be in practice today. 

His 24 best selling books kick started the garden design revolution back in the 60’s and continue to play a major role today.

Books like the Room Outside and the The Garden became hugely popular all over the world and have influenced two generations of home owners and landscape designers alike.

At a time when the garden was little more than a place for drying clothes and growing vegetables, he coined the phase ‘the room outside’ and so introduced the world to the concept of the garden, as an extension of the living environment of the home.

John will undoubtedly go down in history with the likes of Russell Page and Thomas Church, but when I asked him at the end of his talk during the Q&A session “what he wanted his legacy to be” he quietly replied that he “just wanted someone to look after his gardens”

Such modesty from someone so influential, touched many in the 60 strong audience including myself. A lesson several others in our industry (who shall remain nameless) would do well to remember.

Extracts from the John Brookes MasterClass


Buying Wholesale Plants: Tips & Tricks

    One of the hardest things to source as a newly qualified garden/landscape designer is a good supplier of trade plants.  I never buy from Garden Centres as I consider them too expensive (Plants  can have a 200% mark-up on them) 

    So here are my top ten tips, I tell my students for sourcing and buying plants from trade nurseries.


    1. To buy from trade nurseries you must be a trade customer. While some nurseries offer both retail and wholesale, most trade nurseries do not accept orders from the public, so be prepared to provide proof of your trade status when you first make contact.

    2. Always visit a nursery in person before ordering from them for the first time.  Many trade nurseries would want you to make an appointment to visit them rather than you just turning up on spec. Check to see how clean and tidy the nursery is, as this is often a good indication as to how good their plants are.  If the nursery is untidy or has weeds growing in the pots or in the display aisles, this is not a good sign and indicates a certain level of neglect.

    3. You often have to order a minimum number of each plant, usually that’s 10 or more of the same variety.

    4. In the industry we have 2 levels of plant quality, landscape and garden centre quality. For private gardens you must use garden centre quality plants and I would always stress at the time of order, that I will only accept the very best and will reject anything that is not us to scratch. With some nurseries I would prefer to hand pick my plants in order to guarantee the standard, and suggest until you know and trust your nursery you do the same.

    5. Don’t be afraid to reject substandard plants, but this does mean you have to be present when the order is delivered, so they are returned on the same lorry as they arrive. The nurseries will very quickly realise that you can’t be fobbed-off with poor quality stock.

    6. Herbaceous perennial plants grow and mature very quickly so order P9 size plants where possible (small square pots) rather than 1-2 litre pot size.  This means you will need to order them in good time and collect your plants in early spring before the nurseries start potting up.  If you don’t, you could end up with a plant costing twice as much and all you get for your money is a larger pot and more soil.

    7. Buy plants at the right time of year.  I personally don’t like planting herbaceous plants in autumn as they don’t have long enough to get established before they go dormant for the winter.  This may result in a much higher mortality rate.  Instead I prefer to plant in spring, when I can see the young plants actively growing and they have a whole season to get established.

    8. Some plants are only available at certain times of the year.  Grasses have traditionally been most abundant in nurseries from August through to October, and are much harder to get in the spring as most of the stock will have been sold the previous year and new stock takes time to grow.

    9. Plants that take longer to mature i.e.shrubs and trees should always be purchased as large as possible.  I prefer to buy semi mature shrubs to give my borders an instant sense of maturity.  The money I save on buying small herbaceous plants can be spent on larger shrubs.  Semi mature trees are cheap!  You can buy an 8m Beach or Oak for between £250-£400  Don’t buy garden centre size trees as it may be decades before your garden looks like the way you intend it to look.

    10. Use plants you know you can get hold of!  It’s no good specifying a rare plant that only one nursery in the world grows and then, only propagates 10 a year, because the chances are they won’t be available when you need them.  I use my nursery catalogues to choose the plants that I want and I try to order as early in the season as possible to ensure they have not run out of stock.  If they have, then I always choose the substitutes.  Most nurseries will offer substitutes, but a good designer will always go back to the drawing board and redo the plan with available stock.

        To see a list of trade nurseries I use in the UK click here

      Garden Design Competition: Win a Place on the world’s first professional Online Design Course worth over $9000










      You can now train as a garden designer from home, wherever you are in the world. Award-winning British garden designer, Duncan Heather, founder and principal of the Oxford College of Garden Design, has just launched the world's first-ever interactive online garden design course.

      There's a lot misconception regarding the word online. Our new course is not a correspondence course you download from the web; it truly is online.

      All lectures will be watched as on-line video tutorials. There will be interactive online exercises, and students will talk to their tutors using web chat and classes will be given via webinars.

      Each online student will be allocated their own qualified garden design tutor and will follow the same timetable as the classroom students.

      The one-year course provides a post-graduate level qualification in residential landscape architecture and offers:

      • Interactive video tutorials and podcasts
      • A personal tutor
      • Community-based learning in the "virtual classroom", i.e. talking with fellow students via online forums
      • Lectures to listen to on iPod/phone/MP3 player
      • Online galleries – featuring ground plans, planting plans, construction drawings and more
      • Monthly webinars - live video streams with question and answer sessions
      • Interactive video tutorials on CAD (computer aided design) and ground modelling

      Click here for details

      Closing date is the 30th March 2010 so get your entries in soon!

      Sophie Dixon

      Winning Design By Sophie Dixon


      Announcing the World’s First Professional Online Garden Design Course

      Online Garden Design Courses.

      There's a lot misconception regarding the word online. Our new course is not a correspondence course you download from the web; it truly is online.

      All lectures will be watched as on-line video tutorials. There will be interactive online exercises and students will talk to their tutors using web chat and classes will be given via webinars.
      This is the closest you can get to being in the classroom attending the lectures in person!
      Unlike other colleges, we have refused to offer a correspondence course in garden design as we didn’t believe you could teach art through the post.

      Statistically only 3% of people who start a traditional correspondence course, finish them and most courses are little more than very expensive books with telephone support.

      Our whole design program has been specially rewritten to make the best use of this new technology and consequently you benefit from a 50% increase in course content.

      You will be allocated your own tutor and will follow the course timetable along side the other full time students, participating via the forum, online gallery, monthly webinars and with 1-2-1 tutor feedback.

      Our interactive online garden design course is also available to existing classroom taught students, allowing them to revisit lecturers online all the time, as well as overseas students, or those unable to travel, giving them the next best thing to live studio lectures via interactive video tutorials delivered via the internet.

      You will be able as listen to your lectures as many times as you wish so as to maximise your learning potential, and you will even be able to listen to the lectures on your iPod/phone/MP3 player while out and about or in the car.

      Lectures will be time released to co-inside with the classroom taught program, so both online and face to face students will learn together.

      You need to consider your online garden design course as a full time course, requiring a minimum of 25 hours of study a week.

      Hand-in dates are strictly enforced. Student who fail to submit work on time are subject to the same rules and regulations as the full time students. (see terms and conditions)

      All online material including tutored support is available to students for a period of 24 months from the course start date, after which students have the option a paying an annual subscription if you wish to maintain access to updated course content.

      Next Course Start date
      30th September 2010
      Click here for further information


      Carol’s Garden of the Month (January)

      Anglesea Abbey01CR2

      Well I am writing this with my PC perched on my lap staring out at a winter wonderland which some 3 weeks ago was my garden .  It is hard to imagine right now that it will ever re-emerge!

      Certainly this snow and the icy temperatures will have taken their toll and present new challenges when it loosens its grip!!!!

      So I confess that this month’s garden comes from good memories rather than a recent visit!!!

      Would you be a better Landscape Designer if you were Dyslexic?


      Like most people who find something difficult, I dislike writing intensely, but with my job, it’s an inevitability that has to be endured.

      I must confess to being very Dyslexic.  I can’t spell for toffee; never could; and probably never will!

      So why  am I so grateful to be dyslexic  and why would that make me a better designer?

      First you have to ask your self, are you a left or right-brain person?

      As an artist, you might think right, if you're an accountant, you might think left.

      In reality, it's not really an either/or situation. Because each half of the brain tends to control certain kinds of thinking, its easy to categorise people as either one or the other.

      Left Brain characteristics tend to be, Logical Sequential, Rational, Analytical, Objective.

      While Right Brainers’ are considered Random Intuitive, Synthesizing, Subjective and Holistic

      But while some people tend to use one side of the brain more than the other, the reality is that the two sides are dynamic and interactive.

      When most of you are thinking and learning at your peak, you use your whole brain, switching freely between the halves.  Dyslexics however tend to favour the right side over the left.

      Traditional education has been overly focused on left-brain modes of thinking. Logic, sequences, and rote learning have been pushed, and the more creative "big picture" has been marginalized.

      This is true for design teaching as well and may account for the sorry state of most student end of year exhibitions. 

      Look in most design/architecture books and you still see the old Survey, Analysis, Design or SAD method of teaching predominate.  SAD because it often produces  very SAD looking work .

      At the Oxford College of Garden Design I teach the way I would have wanted to be taught myself. We study two styles of Design. The traditional SAD process and John Brookes’ Pattern Analysis.

      Pattern Analysis is the polar opposite to SAD.  It looks at shape and pattern based on geometrical theory and allocates the paces and lines with different materials.

      As a dyslexic designer i don’t think about space allocation but art and pattern.  I visualise the site as a whole, while creating a series on interlocking geometric shapes, then allocating each with one of the following materials: paving, lawn, water, or planting.

      Pattern Analysis could easily be mistaken in the early stages of the design process, for a piece of modern art, such as that created by the 20th century French artist Mondrian. 

      The following video is an series of extracts from some of our lectures on design.

      You will see the importance of understanding pattern and how shapes link together. 

      Finally we will reverse engineer two courtyard gardens to discover their underlying patterns and how they were created.

      You may wish to watch the 800x600 version of this on Vimeo to fully appreciate the lesson

      Please leave feed back here or feel free to ask questions.