Monday, 29 March 2010

Branklyn Garden - plants and design concepts

With the long dark winter just about drawing to a close, our minds turn to spring time and all the lovely plants that we'll be seeing in the next month or two.  It reminded me of a college visit to Branklyn Garden in Perth when I was a horticulture student. I had no notion of working as a designer then, just knew that I loved plants and wanted a job that allowed me to be near them every day! Looking back at them tonight, once again I'm reminded of the importance of texture, colour, light, repetition, interval, shape & form, scale and rhythm in not just planting but every aspect of garden design. First, here's a great example of how invigorating just using green can be:
And even more visually exciting it can be with just the introduction of a small amount of colour. The difference between the Gunnera and Candelabra Primula highlight size and scale.
This hosta and Birch tree emphasise texture in its simplest form. Beautiful.
Look how the cup/bowl shape of the Gunnera is echoed by those of the himalayan poppy.
I'm a huge fan of the Christopher Lloyd approach to colour and love seeing more vibrant combinations in gardens I visit. In my own garden especially I don't get too worried about following the rules of what is 'good taste' or should work well according to pure colour theory. The best combinations can often be accidental. I'm really into orange & purple at the minute, here's a couple of zingy examples I saw there:
Often the same plant but in different colours work well. These pink and purple Aquilega are lovely together.
And these bright pink & marmalade Candelabra primulas are probably not to everyone's taste, but I think they're great.
Look how the light bounces off these grasses, lovely lovely lovely.
And how well they work in the middle of a bed of pink geraniums.
At Branklyn they also have some beautiful maple trees, the colours of which were so vibrant. The sunlight hitting the green palmatum one from above was amazing, as was the light filtering through the red leaved more dissected one.
Lastly just some flowers I like - their colour, shape and forms are stunning close up.

Go and visit - any time of year is great, but in late May/early June the show of Azaleas and Himalayan Poppies is stunning.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

I'm a garden designer - now what??

There is a 'Renew, Refresh and Reinvent your Garden Design Business' SGD event this weekend in Edinburgh, and we are all looking forward to hearing Andrew Fisher Tomlin talk about business plans, improving profitability and finding new marketing opportunities. With the latter subject in mind, the Edinburgh cluster group got together for a Social Networking introductory night looking at everything from Facebook, Twitter and writing blogs. It all got me thinking about how we get work as designers, and how it has changed even in the short time I've been practising as a designer. We leave college with a few designs in our portfolio, but what next?
1) Company identity - once you've thought of a name for your business (now always easy in itself), you need to sort out a logo which represents your business and targets your desired client base.  I spent hours agonising which fonts to use, what colour any text or graphics should be. As this will probably be used for any business stationary, websites, flyers, van graphics, banners and  marketing boards it's worth the extra effort and time to get it right at this stage. From this basic logo:

We were able to produce this as a flyer (A5 sized, nice silk finish postcard):
2) Make people aware that you're open for business. As well as creating a website, I targeted certain streets, popping these flyers through doors. This can be hit & miss, lots of walking with no end result. I was lucky in that I got a big enough planting job from my efforts to cover the cost of getting them printed. Most people of course now know the benefits of using a website, and that should be high on the list of anyone who's starting up as a designer. This is the basic template for my home & portfolio pages.

It can be tricky as being a new designer we won't have many images to use for a portfolio page, but even getting a basic website with your contact details, a little about yourself  and some examples of college or any practical projects you've been involved with will help. Getting your website optimised is as important as a good design - my website went live in the December and I got my first commission directly from it around 6 weeks later, and another a week or two later. From then I've never really looked back - a majority of work now comes through my website and now that I've got a few projects under my belt, via word of mouth too.
3) Other advertising. I have used both and Yellow Pages, neither of which worked terribly well for me. I have leased a van, got livery on it and have a couple of jobs as a result of it being parked outside clients houses (one even from being at Ikea!)

I also have a good quality metal board outside any gardens (ask your clients if this is okay first!) and from the one below I got another job nearby just the other day. 
4) Social networking - so most of the above are probably fairly obvious, tried & tested techniques. But as well as having websites, many of us are now discovering the joys of social media & networking and how they too might help improve our businesses. Facebook is no longer just seen as a way for teenagers to keep in touch with their friends (I sound old!) - there is now 'Pages for Business' which we can use as almost a mini blog. I've seen designers post up regular photos of current projects, instructional videos, links back to their main website on these. Magazines, landscape & furniture suppliers are just some of the others I've found. Twitter has lots of designers 'tweeting' every day - I've found lots of links, photos and other useful information on there. Instead of the information overload that many people think it is, I only follow people who post information that's interesting & useful to me, and treat it like reading a very bespoke newspaper or magazine!
Writing a blog has been popular for a while now, I've just started blogging this year, not only writing about projects I'm working on, but also about other experiences I've had since I started working as a designer. I have also found an amazing amount of great designers & gardeners who write blogs. Many designers have a link to their blog from their main websites. This is a good way of potential clients seeing what we're up to in between updates to our website that we realistically only get a chance to do once or twice a year. Being involved with a Chelsea show garden this year I'm enjoying reading about Tom Stuart Smith's & Robert Myers preparation for their gardens there.
Duncan Heather posts lots of useful advice, and many of his students also have great blogs, talking about projects they've been set and experiences they've had. Check: and . One of the best blogs I've ever seen though is at:
So as well as getting a lot of useful information can all of these help us get additional work as designers? Getting more traffic to your website will help improve your Google rankings, which is no bad thing. For many companies one popular use for this new technology is social networking between businesses and their clients. Companies have found that social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are great ways to build their brand image. They help to create brand awareness, for recruiting, and even help us to learn about new technologies and competitors.

This technology is still very much in it's infancy and it still really remains to be seen how successful it is in getting us any additional work, but it'll certainly be interesting to see how it can be combined with some of the other more traditional methods getting work in the future.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Lost in France - an unexpected find on a buttery yellow cliff-side.

Whilst holidaying in the lot et garonne region of France a few years back Ian and I happened upon this garden - Marqueyssac, near Castelnaud in the Dordogne - almost by accident. I was just starting out on my career as a garden designer at the time, and although I thought it was an fantastic place, I don't think I completely appreciated how well crafted and beautifully designed it is until later. Was looking through some of my reference material for some design inspiration, and thought I'd post up some of the photos we took. It feels like the gardens are clinging to a lovely buttery yellow stone cliff-side, with a river winding it's way in the valley below. You enter through a loggia, and are faced with a lovely ch√Ęteau:
But it's what's nearby that really blew me away - they call it the Bastion, and it is full of the most amazing topiary I have ever seen. Lots of billowy cloudy shapes, lollipops and spirals.
There are even rows of tall 'soldiers' which really made us feel as if we weren't alone...
A walk towards to the chapel allowed us to peer right over the cliff to the Dordogne below.
After a stop to play on the see saw on the esplanade we carried on past the Waterwalls through into the forest, where we saw the most unusual sculpture. Ever.
At the peak of the forest/cliff was a poet's hut where we huddled out of the rain in for a while.
Even the paths were imaginative!

A great, magical, mysterious garden that I can highly recommend. Made all the better for finding it by accident! The website could be a bit better, but you get the idea

Monday, 1 March 2010

Sketchup & Photoshop - using for design.

Thought I'd write a post about how I go about creating my designs, the drawing techniques & software that I use. When I left college I was armed with some Google Sketchup knowledge and over the last couple of years I've developed a technique where I use it & Photoshop to create all my drawings (concepts, 3D models, final client presentation and all the files a landscaper needs to price the build). The case study below was very early in this process and I've refined it quite a bit, but thought it'd be a good place to start. The garden was 10.7 x 8.5m in size, the client wanted a dining patio, some lawn, and lots of colourful planting - the garden only got sunshine until tea time and the large shed (2.5m x 2.5m) was to stay. The process of design then is as follows:
1) Survey - carry out a radial survey (requiring dumpy level, compass, tape measure and a helper). All the points can be easily plotted into Sketchup (using the protractor & measuring tape tools). In it's simplest form you'd end up with an outline of the garden to scale:
2) Concept sketches: This is then used to start the design process - the only part of the process where a paper and pencil are used. It's a form of bubble diagram/concept drawing. These are scanned and imported into Photoshop where they can be edited and shifted around a little. So go from these pencil sketches:
to coloured in concepts that form the first phase of discussions with the client. Once they're in Photoshop, they take virtually no time to firm up - can change material palettes, shapes, colours, positions of sheds with ease. I hand draw all the assets using a Wacom Cintiq 21UX graphics tablet:
3) 3D models: along with the above concept models I more often than not take 3D models of the garden designs. Because I'm using the layout I created from the survey (which was also the basis of my concepts) much of the hard work is already done. I normally pick what I think is the strongest design to model, so in this case I chose the first concept from above and it took about an hour to model: 
4) Client presentation: I take the concept drawings and Sketchup models on my laptop to present to the clients, barely a piece of paper in sight. It's usually then very straightforward to agree a final design based on this modular approach. In this example, the client had asked for the shed to remain in its current location despite it being in a dominant position in the garden, not a very nice focal point - these models helped them see what would happen if we moved the shed over towards the house. Another hour or two using Photoshop allows a bit of further tweeking to create:

5) Final design: The drawing for the client is easily finished off (plants, label & logo added), printed and delivered. They very much have a hand drawn unique style I think, but as this process has developed I have created all the stone, gravel, lawn & brick textures as well as a variety of trees, shrubs & herbaceous plants. They're stored in a master file which allows me to simply drag them into each new drawing, saving even more time. More on this in a later blog methinks (again).

6) Getting quotes/The Build: The great thing about Sketchup is that once the design is modelled you can re-use it to figure out all your Sq. M and measurements. I use these for a Spec/Bill of Materials type document that I give the contractors (in an Excel spreadsheet so they just need to fill in the costs) to get a price. It's also great when it comes to building the garden - to create a Laying Out drawing is a doddle! I've thrown my scale ruler away....