2017 in review

James Basson MSGD’s show garden at RHS Chelsea 2017. Photo: RHS

We take a look back on the year in garden design

The importance of green spaces and their benefits for health and wellbeing became a widely acknowledged public topic this year, encouraging campaigns and funding for the creation of both private and public gardens for the benefits they provide. The related issue of air quality in cities was also a hot topic, and in particular became a prime priority to be tackled by London Mayor Sadiq Khan - something that offers great potential for horticultural solutions.

A report by Margaret Hodge, commissioned by Khan, was published in April, leading to the abandonment of the Garden Bridge project in August. It finally put to bed the protracted debate on the merits of a garden thoroughfare spanning the Thames. The horticultural benefits of the garden had become largely overshadowed by a series of serious mismanagement matters, eventually leading to its demise.

The Garden Bridge project with planting by Dan Pearson MSGD was abandoned this year.

The combination of the words tree and disease has unfortunately continued to plague the news pages of horticultural publications, necessitating greater vigilance not only by suppliers but also by designers in order to help combat the potentially devastating effects it could have on the profession. In autumn, the RHS took the step of banning the use of six imported plants at its 2018 shows, in the hope of preventing Xylella from reaching our shores.

On the material front, porcelain broke big this year, with a swell of uptake from suppliers and Amanda Levete’s V&A courtyard design putting it squarely in the public eye. Along with a variety of other composite materials arriving on the market, it has generated debate within the design world about the merits of organic versus synthetic products. Simulacra such as plastic that looks like wood have obvious physical advantages, but there is a lack of imagination in their forms, which could instead encourage practitioners to develop new directions for design.


Joe Swift MSGD hosting the SGD Awards

High Society

The SGD Awards kicked off the events calendar for the year. The Judges’ Award was won by Dan Lobb MSGD for his project Breaker’s Yard, which also won the Design for Community Space Award; and the Grand Award was taken by Tommaso del Buono MSGD for a large garden in Provence, which also won the International Award. Christopher Bradley-Hole FSGD was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

The spring and autumn SGD conferences provided inspiration on the themes of Way Out West and Water Ways. The spring event saw Cornwall designer Darren Hawkes take the stage with Americans Lisa Delpace of Oehme van Sweden, Hallie Boyce of OLIN and Eric Kramer of Reed Hildebrand in an arresting display of public and private projects. The autumn event provided a constant stream of ideas from Tom Stuart-Smith MSGD, aquatect Andrew Ewing, Andrew Wilson FSGD, Mette Skjold from Danish practice SLA, and Australian designer Phillip Johnson, who provided a rousing finale with his portfolio of water-wise billabong projects.

This year also saw the Society appoint its first paid executive in the form of chief operating officer Craig Moyes, and after Pip O’Brien MSGD stepped down in autumn, a new Chair in Sarah Morgan MSGD.

The shows

RHS Chelsea is always one of the most notable moments of the garden designer’s year, though in 2017 it was for a different reason to the usual. The flagship RHS show came under media flak before the gates had even opened, due to a lower number of show gardens. The deficit was apparent in the rather more spacious show ground, forcing the main focus to centre on the M&G garden by James Basson MSGD. The garden’s monolithic centrepiece took design drama to new heights and the attention to detail commanded the judges’ attention, Gold and the Best Show Garden accolade, although the public were less enamoured.

The garden opened up the same debate as Dan Pearson MSGD’s Chatsworth garden in 2015, both being recreations of landscapes. For many, the relationship between gardens and landscape is unclear, and there is a disparity in having naturalistic environmental installations next to highly artificial manicured gardens. Their respective merits and value is something that may need clarifying and explaining to the show’s audience.

Jo Thompson MSGD’s Brewin Dolphin garden, which won People’s Choice at the inaugural RHS Chatsworth Flower Show in Derbyshire. Photo: John Campbell

The new RHS Chatsworth Flower Show provided a spectacular setting only slightly marred by inclement weather that put paid to Press Day, and traffic congestion that caused consternation for some locals. The show promised the shock of the new, although most exhibits displayed a sense of the familiar with a few flashes of inspiration.

Cityscapes hanging installation ‘Heart of Glass’ delivered a sense of spectacle in the inflatable Great Conservatory, whilst Heywood and Condie’s Pic ‘n’ Mix Freeform Garden proved controversial. The new unjudged Freeform category was welcomed by designers like Jo Thompson MSGD with her Brewin Dolphin garden, which won People’s Choice; and Pre-Registered SGD Member Sam Ovens took Best Show Garden with his Wedgewood-sponsored garden. How the show develops in the future will certainly be interesting to watch.

RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show experienced something of an edit in the Conceptual Gardens category, with half the amount of gardens as usual. The new Gardens for a Changing World category filled in the gaps with gardens that addressed environmental and social issues, such as permaculture in London Glades by Jon Davies, regeneration in Brownfield-Metamorphosis by Pre-Registered SGD Member Martyn Wilson and wellbeing in the Perennial Sanctuary Garden by Pre-Registered SGD Member Tom Massey.

Pre-Registered SGD Member Tom Massey’s Perennial Sanctuary garden at RHS Hampton Court. Photo: RHS

Going global

The roster of international shows saw an exciting expansion, with new events launched in Sicily, Germany and New Zealand. Radicepura Garden Festival in Sicily was established by the Faro family, who own the impressive local Piante Faro nursery. Assisted by luminaries such as Sarah Eberle FSGD, they gathered together younger Mediterranean designers and a few seasoned pros such as James Basson MSGD, Michel Pena, Kamelia Bin Zaal and Stefano Passerotti. The show ran from April to October and looks set to continue on a biennial basis after the launch of a new botanical garden on site in 2018.

The International Garden Festival, held once every 10 years in Germany, found its host city in Berlin this year, and pulled no punches with new garden installations by a heavyweight gang of top international designers such as Tom Stuart-Smith MSGD, TCL of Australia and Teresa Moller. Alongside the gardens, the show hosted an ambitious events program and looked to deliver long-term sustainable benefits to the city.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand Flower Show rose from the fallout of the Ellerslie Flower Show, and returned to its original home town of Auckland in November. The show is complemented by the Garden Design Society of New Zealand’s DesignFest open gardens event, featuring the work of top local designers around the city.

James Basson MSGD’s garden at the new Radicepura Garden Festival in Sicily. Photo: John Campbell


Changing trends

Attracting a new audience was what lay at the heart of the London Urban Garden Show, the second edition of which took place in July, with an on-trend mix of florists, plant-based street food vendors and nurseries playing to the inexorable Instagram-driven rise in popularity of indoor plants.

We have an ageing population and a lack of enthusiastic uptake from a younger audience to bolster the numbers at shows, and this event aims to capture this demographic, but it leads us to the main question highlighted by the garden shows this year - their continued relevance within the experience economy. With less people getting on the property ladder, and more living in properties without outdoor space, there is less interest in backyard plots and a growing appetite for participatory experiences and engaged entertainment. How the shows, and our industry, respond to this will be key to survival in the future.

Tom Stuart-Smith MSGD’s garden installation at the International Garden Festival Berlin. Photo: John Campbell

For the full GDJ features index 2017, view here.

Words: Darryl Moore & Stephanie Mahon