The Process of Garden Design.
My Preferred Approach and Principles.
My way of arriving at, presenting and executing garden design has evolved during the 30 odd years that I have been operating under the ‘English Country Gardens Cumbria’ banner.
Confidence is a great thing, but more of that later.
The efficiency of being designer and landscaper is fundamental and essential to the way I operate.
Excerpts from an interview featured in the lifestyle magazine
‘Cumbria Life’ October 2012.
‘MEET THE GARDEN DESIGNER AND PLANTSMAN’
Ian Huckson (Dip. Hort.) English Country Gardens, Ravenstonedale.
Tell us about English Country Gardens and how it started?
The business was set up soon after my wife Jo and I moved from Gloucestershire to Cumbria in 1980. English Country Gardens undertakes full and partial design and build projects, have some select maintenance contracts, and are versed in all things horticultural.
Is the business family run and how many people do you employ?
As it is more a way of life than a profession the co-operation and support of family is essential! Although Jo works full-time elsewhere she has always been involved in areas of the business, as was our daughter Lynda when she lived at home. I have always employed at least one other person, but since son-in-law Alan has recently become my assistant, it is purely a family enterprise nowadays.
How has the business developed?
Adaptability was the key in the early days; this has stood the business in good stead. Now we are in the position of being able to select more interesting work we have the skills to carry out every aspect and constituent entailed. Alan’s welding and fabrication skills have added a new dimension to our armoury; which increases our options for the future.
Who are your clients?
Our clientele are almost exclusively private customers. I have carried out work for National Parks, the environment agency, the M.O.D. and housing associations; but producing something individual and personally relevant is more rewarding.
Following a consultation visit to determine the needs, desires and thoughts of the client, and an agreement to take the next step, a day or two doing any essential on-site basic clearing work, removing weeds and rubbish, or cutting back overgrown vegetation etc., is a valuable, productive and natural progression. This introduction is an ideal way for both parties to learn more about each other, and the task ahead. It is an effective use of time and money and it’s always comforting to see something happening from the outset! This also proves to be the very best way of getting a feel for a garden, understanding how the space sits in the surrounding landscape, its atmosphere and micro-climatic zones, the soil type, aspect, any existing problems or restrictions etc. It can also be a chance to discover any circumjacent materials or existing plants that might be useful, recycling can be very satisfying and of course cost-effective.
Ideas formed at this early stage often stay the course. Here my dual role provides a short cut; the information gleaned during this time does not have to be recorded in a universal format, only I need to bear it in mind. Using all I have gathered to this point I consider possible design alternatives and reach the stage where I have a preferred fundamental outline plan to present. Nowadays rarely am I required draw out a series of meticulous plans. I am happier working in this more informal manner, on the ground, allowing the land and space to be felt and heard fully. A simple schematic sketch, done to scale to ensure balance and practicability, is generally adequate along with a conversational presentation. This relaxed and slightly informal procedure does not equal slapdash or unsophisticated by any means.
With shapes, lines, forms, materials, colours, features and elements agreed, subsequent details and additions are then decided on as they harden around the basic build. In the same way as all gardeners always alter even the best laid planting plan once working on the ground, with the plant material, so the other landscaping elements and processes should not be shackled at the outset by being set in stone, in sacred ink, to the bitter end of a build. If different, better, solutions or opportunities present themselves then we are allowed the freedom to alter details. There should be no hint of embarrassment; a superior result can be achieved by utilising such an adaptable approach.
This less rigid method of proceeding works exceedingly well when developing a garden over a number of years (like eating an elephant, it can be easier to achieve in smaller chunks!) A readiness to string together a series of partial builds permits a flexibility that spreads out the cost and can allow the owners as much or as little input as they wish or are able to contribute to the design process as it unfolds. There is always an overriding, holistic integrity to be adhered to of course!
What are your favourite plants?
Individual favourites change. I love trees, but my enduring affection remains for herbaceous perennials including grasses. The beauty and diversity of this group means one could create an entire garden using just these, and still produce the height, texture, colour, interest and focus necessary for a complete landscape.
Have you major plans for the firm’s future?
I am obsessively ‘hands on’ with everything under the ‘English Country Gardens’ banner so it is never going to develop into a big concern, but that retains its essence and quality, hopefully things will roll on much as they are.
What’s the most challenging commission you’ve tackled?
A 3-acre derelict garden at Appleby was interesting. The challenge was to transform a neglected, once intricate garden; into a series of manageable, attractive and contemporary spaces whilst retaining its original spirit, character and historical aspects.
Have trends in garden design changed much over the years?
Fashion maybe the driving force behind garden design but fads deserve to be ignored. There are cyclical elements e.g. Dahlias have moved from popular to despised and are now restored as ‘cutting edge’. Topiary is a returning feature. Space for growing vegetables, herbs and fruit is back in vogue having been largely ignored for many years. Interest in ‘natural’ landscapes, indigenous plants and the associated wildlife is greater nowadays; an organic ethos is part of the trend. I am now creating gardens that have a lot in common with the ones I worked on over 30 years ago but there has been evolution, for instance ‘prairie planting’ can now be considered a component of the English garden tradition. Contemporary styles have been incorporated; good design though, is timeless!
I strongly believe good design should not need or have to cost the earth. Getting away from the stricture of a traditional design job: brief, detailed drawings, specifications, tenders etc. opens up the possibility of a unique, designed garden to many more folk. Interesting professionally designed gardens should not be solely the preserve of the very rich! Despite (or because of?) the popularity of T.V. garden makeover shows and the attention paid to the contrasting high-end gardens at the R.H.S. shows, the majority of gardens are still bland, predictable and uniform. Their owners’ potential dream garden and landscape expectations remain unfulfilled. Many people are put off by the mystique surrounding plants and landscaping and the feeling they have to pay for work taking a form that leaves them baffled and excluded can exacerbate this. Drawing up detailed plans is time-consuming and can represent a substantial chunk of the monetary outlay for a new garden. Not everyone has the ability to read, understand and translate a plan, keys etc. in the same way as those of us who have spent a working lifetime doing just that. But that must not mean people are prohibited from the chance to have stimulating and rewarding surroundings. Being profligate with the budget before even a spade is dirtied can compromise the potential of any project. This resource can be safely liberated/ better used, in the right hands.
The principles, possibilities, practicalities and solutions I draw on have been accumulated over the years through study and experience. This does not preclude exclusivity nor innovation and indeed my work is deeply rooted in the eclecticism of the English garden tradition.
This plan of attack and attitude will not appeal to or suit everyone, whether they are commissioning or designing.
It probably all comes down to trust between client and designer/landscaper. If that confidence is achievable then splendid results can be accomplished and, more importantly, well designed landscapes are available to many more garden owners.
English Country Gardens Cumbria
Town Head Cottage
- Garden, Estate And Landscaping Services.
- Garden Design And Construction.
- Conservation Work And Land Management.
- Garden Consultancy.
- Bespoke Garden Features/Structures/Accessories/Artefacts/ in Metal and Wood.