Horticulture, gardening and garden design have been threads running through my family for generations. I grew up on an organic smallholding with my own patch of vegetable and ornamental flower garden. Plants, wildlife, outdoor exploration and drawing were my early interests, and led to an education focused around art, design, biology and physical geography.
After studying an Art and Design Foundation course, I was inspired to apply for a Garden Design Degree course, based at Capel Manor Horticultural College. Studying under the expert tuition of some of the country’s top designers, including Jill Billington and David Stephens, with input from the likes of Cleve West, I achieved First Class Honours at graduation. My work was selected for the Young Designers of the Year Exhibition in Islington.
In 1998 I returned to Norfolk to set up my garden design and build company.
Further to graduation, the quality of my degree submission won me a scholarship for further part-time studies at The English Garden School, based at the Chelsea Physic Garden, on the Plants and Plantsmanship course with Jill Alexander and Roy Lancaster. In 2003 I designed and built a garden which won Best in Show and a gold medal from the Royal Horticultural Society.
I have been studying and designing gardens for over twenty years.
I live with my wife Tess, and two sons, Solomon and Amos, in a straw bale house, self built in 2006, which won a CPRE award for sustainable design. The timber framed dwelling was built without using any cement or concrete, with the footings made traditionally using lime and flints, and lime rendered straw bale walls. We have solar thermal panels and the design of the building maximises solar gain in winter, while keeping it cool in summer. The primary source of heating is a wood burner. We have large vegetable gardens, chickens and a small part of the extensive woods that our property backs onto.
In 2015, I was delighted to be invited to Yunnan in South West China to develop a design for an English garden, as part of a larger tourism development. Yunnan is considered to be the Mother of English gardens, with a huge number of our garden plants being discovered there, brought back by European plant hunters, among them the Camellia, which I was lucky enough to see in the wild, in flower.
As an introduction to the gardens of China, the first part of the trip took me to botanical gardens and public spaces in Chengdu, Kunming and Dali. Water and fish are a garden passion shared by the UK and China.
The trip also immersed me in the religious and cultural history of this incredibly and surprisingly diverse country. One of the highlights was this Buddhist temple in Kunming.
Physalis Peruviana, the Chinese Lantern, or Cape Gooseberry growing wild on the mountains. This was my first visit to the proposed garden site. Late in the season, the warm and strong winds parched the ground on the strongly sloping site – watering was going to be an issue!
The Buddhist temple the proposed garden overlooks was filled with ancient carvings and sculpture. The elephant represents wisdom and strength in Chinese culture and appears often.
A hundred years ago, these mountains were covered in trees and filled with exotic wildlife. Huge areas of China were deforested to power the machines of Mao’s industrial revolution. The topsoil was all lost and they are barren. There is a government drive to replant and revive the countryside, which forms part of the funding of the garden project.
The sacred temple at the top of Jizu mountain is visible in the distance from the garden site, and forms the focus of the design. It is one of the few temples to have survived destruction during the cultural revolution.
The Buddha himself! The base of the mountain the temple is on, is higher above sea level than the top of Ben Nevis. There was a serious lack of oxygen at the top, and I was unable to climb sets of steps in one go! Incredible views and a feeling of touching the sky…
The final plan for the project. The garden starts in dense bamboo and tree planting, with rough hewn rock, shade, water and moss, slowly opening up as you pass through the spaces to eventually arrive at a smooth, light coloured stone platform in the open, overlooking the temple in the distance…