Inspiration: a Garden Designers Round Table Post

| January 22, 2013 | 12 Comments

Why employ a garden designer?

Of course, for all the technical stuff,

‘the ‘getting from here to there’,

the ‘where this and that should go’.

And the contacts as to ‘who does what’, where the paving comes from, project monitoring and so on…….

But also, and perhaps most importantly, for the inspiration which turns a design from something which is workmanlike and capable into something which is magical and exultant. Something you might never have thought of.

Where does that bit come from?

Well it seems like magic. But its arrival is not. And it is in fact one of the great unseen pieces of work we do!

Renoir’s ‘Nymph of the Stream’ lounges voluptuously beside the source of the stream and plays her hand through its sparkling waters. And it strikes us that inspiration for the garden designer is a little like a spring, welling up out of the ground. Of course the spring is harder work than the nymph is making it look! Behind the spring is an almighty aquifer, bubbling and coursing through the deep rocks of the earth. And behind that the complexities of weather, geology and all time itself!

Our inspiration appears to brim equally magically.  But we sweep up the client’s drive in the Landrover with the combined experience of  30 or so years of gardening, horticultural training, garden design training and 6 years designing gardens together. We have visited countless gardens and garden shows.

This professional development is of course ongoing. We belong to professional organizations and attend lectures. We read the appropriate books and magazines. (Something like 6 of the latter a month) We have an extensive range of professional contacts  in the gardening world both through social media and (how we all used to do it!) just by meeting people in the course of our trade. We surf the net relentlessly, follow blogs……

All this is vital because designers are by their very nature cannibals. Surely capable of creating on their own. But how much is there that is genuinely fresh in the world? And, while we should never insincerely copy, it can be hard to differentiate between what was really all your own work and what was inspired, perhaps unknowingly, by something you saw or someone else thought of first.

And our cannibalism extends to other design disciplines too. We both pursue other cultural interests: art, music, scupture and so forth. We get magazines, attend courses , go to exhibitions. This cross fertlization is also important since a pochoir print in an art gallery catalogue can say as much to us garden design wise as a Le Notre parterre. Our design for Weston Hospice Gardens was mostly inspired by the spool on a child’s toy!

It is helpful in educating your own aesthetic sense if this influx of creative material is then physically exercised to see how ideas and shapes really work. So we sketch them. It matters not these sketches are rough, improbable nor that they may never see light of day again. Regard it as practice. Most musicians do no not sit down at the piano and immediately play like Lang Lang!

So we approach each  project, to borrow another watery simile, like a ‘graceful swan, gliding effortlessly across a lake while underneath the water, there’s these legs paddling like the dickens ……..’ In fact the swan has been paddling hard for a dickens of a long time! There would however be no point in this great creative groundswell if it was not controlled, steered and applied specifically to the client’s garden.

And so close to and on arrival on site our antennae are alert to the garden, its surroundings and capabilities (!!), but equally to the client’s taste in interior design. There is much interraction with the client, showing our portfolio, selected books and photos, listening and looking at any pictures they may have saved which they think are relevant to their future garden. We also ask the client to complete a brief which is not a legal contract so much as a taste contract.

Still paddling hard beneath the water, either we physically measure the garden or if it is large or complex we recommend a professional surveyor. But in either case we conduct a full site assessment and take copious photos. Time spent merely wandering and feeling the space is also never time wasted! These fact finding elements, call them foundation documents, mean that our imaginations can then fly!

The final element which for us inspires inspiration is our partnership. This gives us freedom t0 brainstorm each design. As business partners we have probably seen each other at our best and worst so there is no shame in bowling a completely curved ball – the ‘what if’, the ‘why don’t we’, the ‘i wonder whether they would like?‘.

Our brains whirr as we collectively balance the brief, the site, the client and the ideas which emerge from our creative development.

Effectively the spring is turned full on.

Now, we know that all our esteemed colleagues on the Garden Designers Round Table have inspiration in abundance, so why not check out all their posts below:

Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ

Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Jenny Peterson : J Petersen Garden Design : Austin, TX

Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN

Deborah Silver : Dirt Simple : Detroit, MI

Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA


Robert and Lesley


Category: Design Bites

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  1. Inspiration or copying…interesting but fine line. I tend to think anything applied to a new situation or context, good or bad, is inspiration. Excellent on the process, including all the cannibalism we do, devouring related disciplines (and real food:), to come up with our best…often at no pay. Like continuing education I do for maintaining my LA registration.

    The together part, having a partner to work with and sometimes contend with, is something I hope to have some day!

  2. Robert says:

    Hi David,
    Yes it is interesting isn’t it.
    Of course you will be applying the idea in a new situation per se won’t you?
    I tend to think that it is wot u do with the idea which is important.
    If you buy it lock stock and barrel without any interpretation, any of you, copying it slavishly in all its detail, I guess it is a copy.
    If you take an idea and say, I like it but I’d do it like that, it is inspiration.
    Good luck with the partner. Lesley finds me a bit of a handfull!

  3. Thanks for a little tour of the hard work and ongoing stimulation that makes it all look so effortless. The use of other disciplines really is key in finding inspiration isn’t it? Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. The product is a process that flows like a river. Perfect.

  5. Robert says:

    Hi Jocelyn!
    Just as long as we don’t get washed out to sea on it!
    Thanks so much for your comment!

  6. Robert says:

    Hi Scott!
    And thanks to you for organising this postathon!
    The ‘hard work’ which goes into that is never taken for granted by any of us.
    I think the other disciplines are not only very useful, they are fun and stop you being over influenced by what everyone else in the garden design world is doing!
    Thanks so much for your comment

  7. Robert, its obvious that you are a very skilled, lively, and gifted designer, but you also seem to be so approachable. Your essay is a very good read, thanks, Deborah

  8. Robert says:

    Hi Deborah,
    Wot luvly things u say.
    Wish I felt I deserved them.
    I must say I am having real fun in this career.
    And I am very lucky to have a brilliant partner who is a delight to work with!
    Once again really enjoyed your post and the picture especially of the path through the long grass and the one of the holly allee will live with me!

  9. Great post Robert. I am thrilled that you mentioned the garden shows in your post. I am passionate about the inspiration they bring me as well. I troll for nothing but THE BEST ideas to “harvest”. ;-)

  10. Robert says:

    Hi Christina!
    Thanks so much for your comment.
    Yes shows are fab aren’t they? A treasure chest (as is your wonderful book collection!)
    I like your use of the word ‘harvest’.
    One lives on the ideas and inspiration from show to show, so much like a food store!
    All the best

  11. I’ve never really thought of myself as a cannibal before but I do appreciate, and embrace, the analogy. I really your enjoyed your post and it’s obvious you and Lesley have a wonderfully creative & inspiring partnership.

  12. Robert says:

    Hi Debbie,
    Guess there’s a little hyperbole involved.
    And maybe the use of the word in close association with the nude painting was unfortunate!!!!!!!!
    I think design has often passed in this way, if you think for example of the impressionist painters, how they influenced each other and how the Rennaissance painters had their’schools of’.
    It is a way of learning, but as I have written elsewhere, for me it should not be slavish, there should be ‘me’ in the mix!
    Regarding our partnership, one of my frinds said ‘How does she put up with you?’ !!
    The answer is ‘I am not quite sure’, but she does and that is my blessing.
    Thanks so much for your comment Debbie
    Great 2013 for you your family and your business.