Landscape Design Fashions for Spring/Summer 2012

Posted on June 09, 2012 02:23 AM

It looks very much like the trend for black and amber shades in planting will continue unabated. Many garden design experts have been using the dark drama of black plants for years now, but combined with amber leaves and foliage too – the effect on landscape architecture is truly startling. We will be seeing much more garden design with amber shades and amber tones.

Low-risk, high-value plants will of course continue to be very popular in landscape architecture. Just as gardeners are being more careful with their water useage in these times of drought, they are also shopping smarter, and looking for greater value for money. In particular, they’re looking for low-risk, high-value plants that not only look good in the garden centre or nursery, but also have a tried-and-tested reputation for solid growth and flowering or fruiting.

Landscape design companies such as Kim Wilkie, Sarah Eberle and Jinny Blom regularly use plants that are bred to withstand attacks from pests and diseases, and that are also tolerant of the local climate and soil extremes. Of course designing for your clients in this way will provide far better value. And its not just garden designers taking this approach. Gardeners themselves are more aware than ever that choosing the right plant for the right situation is crucial if you want to garden in an environmentally sound way (and watch the bank balance too). Long-term colour, for example, can be easily and  cheaply achieved by using continuously flowering shrubs such as hydrangeas, potentilla and spirea.

Water features are getting smaller in landscape design this season too. More and more people are moving away from large ponds and towards smaller water features such as a cut piece of stone, a boulder or a beautiful glazed urn with water bubbling from it’s top. The cost of time and maintenance is one of the issues here – the time is takes to look after a real pond (or to pay someone else to do so) is something we don’t have much of in 2012.

Garden design companies such as Randle Siddeley or Andy Sturgeon have also been using natural stone or metal a great deal in their water features this year. Ball-shaped fountains made of stone or copper are particularly popular as are beautifully weathered metal planters and pots or containers.

In colder countries, garden design professionals are keeping ornamental grasses each year, instead of cutting them back, so that they can provide winter interest to the landscape architecture. And for the same reason, garden design is featuring planting with winter berries, evergreens, barks of different colours and textures or deciduous trees and shrubs with dramatic forms.

It seems that landscape design clients and customers have grown tired of the stark, all-season gardens that were so fashionable a few years ago. This year, according to Randle Siddeley and other celebrated garden designers, its all about designing with a backbone of plants that look great year round, but in a scheme that is not at the expense of seasonal interest and colour.

And research backs up some of these trends too. The number of front garden design jobs (those landscapes you drive or walk through to reach a property) is also on a steady rise according to the Garden Trends Research Reports Early Spring 2011 survey (conducted for the Garden Writers Association Foundation in America). It seems more people are thinking about the public appearance of their properties (and very possibly house value) as well as their private gardens.

Vertical gardening is still a trend in garden design. The practice of growing plants up from the ground instead of out, or of planting them off the ground to start with on trellises, arbors, balconies and walls has become especially popular among those gardeners with small awkward spaces. One particular vertical gardening trend that looks likely in 2012 is green roofs. Green roofs help save on heating and cooling costs and actually protect the roof underneath from the degrading effects of the elements, so much so that some urban planning organisations in the US have even received tax incentives for green roof installations - A true sign of changing times in garden and landscape design.

Water Shortage in 2012 and What it Means for Garden Design

Posted on May 11, 2012 01:57 AM

Today’s news is rife with reports of imminent hosepipe bans across various UK regions – and it’s not even May yet! But garden designers and landscape gardeners are putting paid to the predictions, with confident reports that water useage (and, what’s more, garden design featuring water useage) will ride the storm.

There is no doubt that most on the minds of garden landscaping professionals right now are issues surrounding water, whether it’s the use of water or the cleaning of water. And this is very much the case worldwide too. In fact, much can be learnt from landscape garden professionals abroad who battle these problems in dryer and hotter climates.

In light of recent droughts in US states such as Georgia, Texas and the Carolinas for example, US citizens are trying to use the water that they DO have more frugally. People are making sure that they are watering responsibly, choosing plants that are not water hogs and even putting rain sensors on their irrigation systems. American gardeners and garden designers are also focusing on making sure their irrigation systems are monitored so that they are not watering their driveways and pathways!

 If we can adopt these more responsible gardening attitudes, then we may well be able to weather the water shortage storm in the UK too!  But of course even the mere rumour of water shortage will effect the disciplines of garden design and landscape design enormously.

Landscape designers and garden designers such as Tom Stuart Smith, Andy Sturgeon, Randle Siddeley and Arabella Lennox-Boyd are all predicting that the Mediterranean style of garden will be a huge trend this year.

Randle Siddeley explains that Mediterranean landscape design often features open and airy courtyards, light-coloured, textured hardscaping such as mosaic walls, gravel beds or unglazed terracotta pots, as well as low-growing, drought-tolerant plants, hedges, topiary trees and vines (such as olive, bay and lemon trees, lavender and grasses). And of course, the vivid colours of these kinds of planting combinations make for a winning style of landscape garden. So expect to see them in garden design near you soon!

Then there is the subject of cleaning water for our gardens, especially storm water - which may carry pollutants such as fertilisers into local waterways. A fairly recent development in garden design is the evolution of ‘rain gardens’. These shallow depressions in the landscape are designed to be filled with deep-rooted native plants and grasses that not only thrive when flooded with water but that don’t mind being dry either. A win win garden design scenario.

And of course you don’t have to be a seasoned professional garden designer to know that catching your own rainwater in water butts, and cleaning or recycling grey water (wastewater from domestic activities like laundry, dishwashing and bathing), is a wise gardening move. In fact, as much as our household recycling habits have become mandatory, so too might our water recycling habits before too long! You may even find your local council checking up on your water useage if you’re not careful!

Landscaping Design Trends for 2012 and beyond

Posted on March 28, 2012 02:11 AM

Less Lawn & More Planting

As people all over the world become more environmentally aware, it is likely that contemporary landscaping design will favour less lawn and more planting. It is a simple fact that a well-manicured lawn consumes a great deal of energy, both in terms of the gardener working on it, and in the larger environmental sense! By decreasing the amount of lawn we feature in garden and landscape design, we can not only reduce fumes from gasoline-powered lawn mowers, but we can also reduce water useage from irrigating those lawns, and increase the native butterfly and bee populations too.

Less Symmetry & More Natural

In planting trends in landscaping, it is likely people will choose to move closer to nature and away from the more regimented, formal and symmetrical landscaping architecture. Once again there are environmental concerns – more natural planting and design simply uses less energy, in build and in upkeep, and native and natural plants are more likely to attract the right wildlife and insect life to the landscape around it.

Less Grasses & More Shrubs

The trend for prairie planting has lasted for a good decade, and many landscaping architects and landscape designers have experimented with grasses in their planting design, sometimes successfully, and sometimes – in smaller suburban spaces - with less successful results. It is likely that over the next year or so landscape designers will rediscover the joy of planting more scented, structural and flowering shrubs.

The Growth of Organic Gardening

Real organic gardening plays to the current trends for recycling and self-sufficiency (not just a refusal to use chemical weedkillers!). The belief that we no longer need to be dependent on huge multinational corporations is encouraging a more savvy awareness of our own efforts at organic living, ‘growing your own’ and home sourcing. And these trends are reaching into landscaping too – with a return to old fashioned values and an innate respect of the ‘natural’ organic flow of landscapes - cleaner, calmer, more free flowing.


Despite the likely trend towards returning to more natural planting, it is likely too that topiary will see resurgence in our landscape gardens and landscape design. After all, it is one design feature that is free to create! It may even be viewed as an ‘organic’ way of controlling and cultivating our landscape.

Growing Your Own

There is no doubt, grow your own is just getting bigger and bigger. As more young gardeners and young families are enthused by growing their own food, queues for the UK’s allotments are still on the increase. And grow your own isn’t just about fruit and veg any more, keen gardeners are looking at growing grapes for wine and even keeping bees for honey (and growing plants for those bees to feed on too!). Community gardens are very much on the rise too – a factor that will become increasingly important to those landscape architects and landscaping designers working in the public sector.

Vertical Gardening

Expect to see more roof gardens in 2012 and 2013, and specifically more vegetable roof gardens. There will undoubtedly be an increase in urban agriculture projects in the UK – roof garden projects are already on the increase in some US cities including New York and Chicago (where green rooftops have become a common feature of landscaping). In fact, Chicago City Hall rooftop garden was designed to test the cooling effects of this kind of landscaping design, as well as being an experiment in how rooftop gardens can support plants, birds and insects in a city. London’s rooftops are set for transformation!

And finally, to conclude, there is no doubt that we need to look to other countries and other cultures in our landscaping design and landscape architecture. Not so much to move away from our native planting and natural looking gardens (we have already established they are here to stay), but more to share knowledge and best practice with other landscaping professionals. Knowledge sharing in horticulture, in design, in landscaping, in garden design and landscape architecture is incredibly valuable. Experiment and research, don’t sit on your gardening laurels!

The Ten Principles of Good Garden or Landscape Design

Posted on February 16, 2012 03:23 AM

Whether you are tasked with thinking about creating some new flowerbeds in your cottage garden, or if your job is considering creating a large public space for a city council – believe it or not, the principles involved in each scenario are much the same. Get them right and the garden design or landscape architecture you are undertaking should work perfectly.

Obviously, as with any kind of design, much of garden design or landscape architecture is down to personal style and taste. Some garden designers may favour geometric shapes and modern, minimal garden design. Others may specialise in natural ‘wild’ planting and cottage style spaces. It is worth remembering then, that while the principles of landscape design are very much worth following, they are not necessarily ‘rules’ of design. Creativity and individuality are very important too!

1. Unity

Unity is crucial in all garden design, landscape design and landscape architecture. Essentially, ‘unity’ in design is brought about by consistency. Consistency creates garden design unity by the very nature of its elements – the size, height, texture and colour schemes of planting for example.

Unity can be created in a million different ways – perhaps a consistent theme (oriental or coastal), perhaps the consistent appearance of rocks and boulders (in similar sizes and colours of course), or consistency in planting (say using grasses across the entire garden for example).

2. Simplicity

Simplicity is a crucial element in all design and art, not just garden design or landscape architecture. In gardens and landscapes though, simplicity creates a real sense of flow and cohesiveness. For example, simplicity in colour in garden design would be choosing three or four colours of plants and then repeating those colours throughout the garden design or landscape. Keeping other garden features to a minimum (such as water features or hardscapes) will also create simplicity and make the planting itself more noticeable.

3. Balance

Balance in any kind of design essentially means equality, and in garden design in particular it manifests itself in two types of balance - symmetrical and asymmetrical.

Symmetrical balance is when elements of the garden design are equally spaced, left and right, front and back, up and down. The garden may, for example, be split down the middle by a path or walkway, but on each side of that walkway, the garden design or landscape design is identical – beds in the same places, planting identical, and shapes and colours matching too.

Asymmetrical balance is a far more complex concept to understand, simply by virtue of the fact that it is much more abstract. With asymmetrical balance, the balance is much more subjective, and is often a case of personal taste. Perhaps one garden designer may see balance in using very different sizes of trees, but with all trees exhibiting similar foliage. Another designer may see balance in using rocks alongside water features.

4. Contrast

Contrast is crucial in garden design and landscape architecture and can be created in a number of ways. Curved beds for example, combined with straight lines of tree planting, can look incredible.Contrast can also be achieved with planting. Fine foliage versus coarse foliage, round leaves versus spiked leaves, and of course contrasting plant colours and heights.

5. Colour

Colour adds real interest to a landscape design. It draws the eye to certain areas and away from others, it creates senses of space or enclosure and it can change the feel of a garden instantly. Bright colours such as reds, yellows and oranges really change our understanding of a garden’s space as they can in fact appear to be closer to us (drawing us in). More natural landscape-based colours such as greens and blues always seem further away and thus create the illusion of MORE space.

6. Transition

Transition in garden design or landscape design is essentially a sense of gradual or natural change and is most often demonstrated with plant height or colour. In other types of garden though, transition can be shown with gradually ascending tree heights, stepped or multileveled gardens, and sculptural features such as ornamental stone or glass.

Transition also helps to create optical illusions in landscape and garden design. For example a transition from taller to shorter plants can give a sense of depth and distance, making the garden seem larger than it really is.

7. Line

Line is one of the more structural principles of landscape design. It usually refers to flowers beds, walkways, paths and paving. It is crucially related to the way we travel through a garden’s space and can really dictate the feel and useage of the garden in question. Straight lines within a garden design are very direct and strong for example, whilst curvy lines have a more natural and flowing effect. One style might perhaps encourage you to walk quickly through the space to get to another area; another style might be designed to get you to amble at a slow pace and take in the view!

8. Proportion

Proportion simply refers to the size of different elements in relation to each other. Much of proportion in garden design is obvious – a small cottage garden doesn’t need enormous modern statues, and a huge municipal garden wouldn’t work with a tiny stepping stone pathway! That having been said, it doesn’t mean that large gardens can’t include smaller features - they can. Just remember though that proportion is relative and elements can be scaled to fit by creating different ‘rooms’ within a garden design. What a good landscape designer strives for is to create the right relationships between and within the three dimensions of length, breadth, and depth (or height).


Repetition in garden design means repeating similar landscape design elements such as box hedges, square or rectagonal raised beds, identical edging styles, or overall landscape colour and tone. Its good to have a variety of elements and forms in the garden but repeating these elements gives that variety expression. Too many unrelated objects can make the garden look cluttered and unplanned – but remember, it’s a fine line between good use of repetition and a boring garden design!

10. Character

And finally, our last principle. Good garden design must exhibit character – be it the owner’s character, the designer’s character, or the character of the property that it surrounds. Character is impossible to define, but it is in fact what makes the very best garden designers and landscape designers stand out. Designers such as Andrew Fisher Tomlin, Cleve West, Randle Siddeley and Lisa Cox all enjoy reputations for bringing great character to their garden designs and landscape architecture, and their clients often recommend them on this basis furthering their success in the industry.

A Brief History of the Landscape Garden

Posted on January 31, 2012 02:42 AM

The English garden designer was really born in the 18th century, when garden designers such as William Kent and Capability Brown started introducing landscape garden features such as hills, lakes and trees into previously, very much untouched, countryside.

By the 1790s, taste in landscape garden style had veered towards the more picturesque, and was based on beautiful landscape paintings by talented and well-loved artists. The leader of this landscape garden movement was William Gilpin (who himself was a very accomplished artist). Landscape gardeners of this picturesque style also began to incorporate architectural detail into their designed gardens and landscapes – features such as castles and cottages, follies and ruins.

Humphrey Repton was also a garden designer originating from this picturesque school and Repton was a major force in developing it a little more in the 1820s into a style of landscape garden called 'Gardenesque'.

In a Gardenesque landscape garden, all plants, trees and shrubs were positioned so that the character of each plant could be properly appreciated. Then, as botany and travel became more interlinked toward the middle of the 1800s, so too did the varieties of flora develop in garden design – landscape garden design suddenly saw the arrival of grasses from South America for example, or strangely surfaced monkey-puzzle trees.

In complete opposition to these very structured and ‘engineered’ gardens if you like, were the ‘wild’ gardens of the 1880s and 1890s. The garden designers most influential in this school were William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll. And Vita Sackville West’s garden at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent is probably the most famous landscape garden ever created in this, very romantic, style.

In the 20th century, Garden designers, inspired by the modern architecture movement, naturally followed in the same modern architecture philosophy – that of "form following function”. And form and function are still two of the most key words in even the most contemporary and cutting edge or avant-garde garden design.

Of course one of the very best places to see form and function in garden design in close quarters and in absolute perfection is the Chelsea Flower Show.

The first Royal Horticultural Society Great Spring Show was held in 1862, at the RHS garden in Kensington. Now, the RHS Chelsea Flower Show as it is known takes place each year in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea and attracts thousands of visitors and every keen amateur garden designer from all over the world.

The avant-garde show gardens are the biggest attraction at Chelsea, principally as the landscape gardeners and garden designers behind them are faced with the challenges of creating perfect form and perfect function in tiny structured spaces or plots. And in a matter of days too - from temperature controlled lorry to a perfectly growing blooming garden that looks years old!.

Highlights from the 2011 RHS Chelsea Flower Show included The Irish Sky Garden by Diarmuid Gavin that was based on the idea of a restaurant in the sky. Other show stopping gardens included the HESCO Garden, by Leeds City Council who reconstructed an impressive working water wheel in the grounds of the Royal Hospital.

Over the years, many garden designers and landscape gardeners have really made their names at Chelsea – garden designers such as Tom Stuart Smith, Andy Sturgeon, Lennox Boyd, Sarah Eberle and Randle Siddeley.

From Capability Brown to Diarmuid Gavin, garden design and landscape gardeners have come a very long way. But as our very busy lives develop, and as space becomes a more rare commodity, what we do with it becomes more of an art and more of a science, so that those who practise those arts and sciences are even more in demand than original great works of landscape art that started it all.

The 3 disciplines of landscaping

Posted on January 18, 2012 07:18 AM

It is widely understood that the ‘landscape’ has six main compositional elements: the landform itself, vertical structures, horizontal structures, vegetation (or flora), water and climate. To take a scientific angle on it then, landscaping is - in essence - the art and science of arranging all these six elements to make a good outdoor space. One that works functionally AND aesthetically.

Where does landscape architecture become landscaping design? And how does garden design fit in to the equation too?

As a rule, landscape architecture is mainly focused on public spaces - urban planning, city and regional parks, civic and corporate landscapes, large scale interdisciplinary projects and so on. And by virtue of the fact landscape architecture concerns public spaces, it is of course generally much larger in scale, is a longer project in duration, and is implemented by many many contracts, rather than just one!

If landscape architects design the built environment of neighborhoods, towns and cities, they must also however, protect and manage the natural environment - from forests and fields to rivers and coasts. Landscape architects therefore have a responsibility to improve the quality of life of residents of that architecture, and that means all living things that reside there, not just people!

Landscape architects have to consider every facet of the landscape they are working on - their job covers the analysis, planning, design, management, and stewardship of both natural and built environments. With this in mind, they have to be extremely well qualified, with years of study behind them and advanced degrees and qualifications.

Landscape designers do not have to have quite as many of these professional credentials. Landscaping design combines nature and culture and - in contemporary practice – is the middle ground between landscape architecture and garden design.

Landscaping design focuses on both the overall landscape planning of a property and the specific garden design of landscape elements and plants within it. Practical, aesthetic, horticultural and environmental factors are all considered to be subjects dealt within in the remit of landscape design, and landscaping designers often collaborate with related disciplines such as architecture and geography, soils and civil engineering, surveying, landscape contracting and botany.

There are a number of superb landscaping designers and/or landscape architects practising in the UK today – designers such as Tom Stuart Smith, Andy Sturgeon, Arabella Lennox Boyd and Randle Siddeley all have multiple designers and architects on their staff and specialise in delivering projects of any size, be it a huge residential development or a small, privately-owned London roof terrace.

Garden Design, the third related discipline of landscaping if you like, is a specialised branch of landscaping design, concerned with, mainly, domestic private space and privately owned things within that space too – such as furniture, outbuildings and so on. Garden design is therefore the art and process of designing and creating plans for layout and planting of gardens and garden landscapes. Garden design professionals can have varying levels of experience and expertise. But most professional garden designers are trained in principles of design and horticulture and have an expert knowledge and experience of using (and planting) plants.

Where these three disciplines of landscaping cross over is grey territory. There can be significant overlap of talents and skills, depending on the education, licensing, and experience of the professional. Both landscaping designers and landscape architects practice landscape design, and of course they sometimes design gardens too! Many landscape designers have an interest and involvement with gardening personally or professionally. Some integrate this scope with their design practice, informally or as licensed landscape contractors.

In summary, the three disciplines of landscaping are all connected by the ground they work with. They differ in scale enormously, but their joint job description is to better the environment around us, from small flower bed to city park and business park – and in essence make the UK a more functional (and beautiful) space.

Home & Garden Blogs