Top tips: working abroad
Jade Goto offers advice on designing gardens overseas
I got my first overseas project through word-of-mouth. My client, who is based in the UK, has a second home on Menorca – a modern house designed by a renowned architect. They were looking for a landscape designer whose work would complement the style of the building, and I was recommended through an ex-colleague. It has been a dream project due to the climate and the available plant palette, but also the client’s openness to creating a sculptural garden that breaks away from the more traditional gardens of the island.
Tip #1: Learn the lingo
I quickly learned that language barriers can be a real problem. We were lucky enough to have a contractor who was bilingual and acted as a translator between me and the on-site team. When he wasn’t there, we managed through gesturing, well-annotated plans and the common language of plants.
Tip #2: Choose local
It is definitely worth spending time exploring the local area and familiarising yourself with the plants of the region. Find the best nurseries and have conversations with the owners. We found a great nursery where the owner was incredibly helpful and kept a dialogue going with us when we returned to the UK. Although there was a language barrier, he sent images of the plants as they arrived in stock and was happy to reserve them for us.
Recce the local building suppliers to familiarise yourself with commonly used materials. Certain things that we regularly use in the UK were not known on the island, but we were shown amazing local stone.
Tip #3: Research
As Menorca is a tightly-governed island, we did encounter problems sourcing specific plants. The banned plant list changes yearly, and this summer the species of Pennisetum we were hoping to use was thought too invasive to import from the mainland.
Knowing the going rate for materials, labour and plants in the country you are working in is also an advantage. If you have a trusted contact, it’s worth running quotes past them to check the figures are in line with local prices.
Running a project from another country doesn’t come without difficulties and I would also recommend making regular site visits. Face-to-face communication often resolves problems or hold ups with more ease than email correspondence.