The Belief Style – an emerging style at the 2019 Chelsea Flower Show

The Belief Style of garden design was prominent at the 2019 Chelsea Flower Show. This example, The Savills and David Harber Garden, was designed by Andrew Duff

While admiring the 2019 Chelsea Flower Show, I thought of a name for an emerging style of garden design. The primary characteristic of  the Belief Style is a new view of Nature: as simultaneously endangered, life-enhancing and in need of conservation by and for humanity. Perhaps it will earn a place on the Gardenvisit chart of Historic Styles of Garden Design.

Though I have used ‘belief’ in the titles of books about garden history, I have not used it to characterise a specific design approach. My reason for doing so now is to clarify and enhance an important trend in both garden design and landscape architecture. Without accurate terminology, the development of concepts is hindered.
The dominant design trends of the twentieth century were Modernist and Postmodernist. Both influenced gardens. But both advance on the path to obsolescence every time the clock ticks. With an inward smile, I used the term post-Postmodern in the sub-title of a book on design theory: City as landscape: a post-Postmodern view of design and planning. It’s cumbersome and when I checked the order of ‘design’ and ‘planning’ this morning I noticed that Amazon had contracted it to post-Modern. ‘Belief’ may also be a substitute for ‘post-Postmodern’ in other contexts. Time will tell.

The subtitle should be ‘a post_Postmodern view of design and planning

With regard to art and design, the names I prefer to Modern and Postmodern are Abstract and Post-Abstract. They tell us ‘what’s in the box’ rather than ‘when the box was opened’.
The word ‘belief’ does not mean the same as either ‘religion’ or ‘faith’. Not everybody has a religion. But we all have beliefs in the sense of things we hold to be true that cannot be established by rational empirical science. Even such determined anti-theists as Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkin and Stephen Fry have beliefs. I assume, for example, they have beliefs in the wickedness of cruelty and the virtues of kindness. Both could could influence garden design.
In these agnostic times the belief that is most foregrounded (to use a term favoured by postmodernists) is in the overwhelming importance of nature. This is not new. But it is now being linked with beliefs about conservation, sustainability, climate change, biodiversity, physical health and mental health.
The garden awarded the 2019 RHS Chelsea Best in Show Medal is a good example, designed by Andy Sturgeon.

The M&G Garden, designed by Andy Sturgeon

We also see a love of nature in the work of William Robinson  (mentioned by Sarah Eberle). But though he talked about a wild garden he is not in fact believed to have made a dominant use of wild plants in his own garden. Alfred Parson‘s illustrations to his books are another matter and have a real commonality with some of the planting design at Chelsea.most important these planting designs are favoured both by the RHS and by the Chelsea judges.
What designers say about their work is almost as significant as what they do. Here are some examples, not coordinated with the video clips.
Andy Sturgeon, who won the Best in Show award for the M&G garden, uses ‘a biodiverse range of pioneering plant species from around the world’ to demonstrate ‘nature’s power to regenerate’.
The RHS ‘Back to Nature Garden-, designed by the Duchess of Cambridge with landscape architects Davies White, is conceived ‘as a place to retreat from the world’ while promoting ‘physical and emotional wellbeing’.

The RHS Back to Nature Garden, by HRH the Duchess of Cornwall with Andree Davies and Adam White

Andrew Duff, explaining his design for ‘The Savills and David Harber Garden’, states that ‘The most important aspect of this garden is its underlying sustainability’.
Sarah Eberle, in a design for the Forestry Commission, explores how gardens and landscapes ‘can be made resilient to the threats posed by a changing climate, pests and diseases’.
Beliefs always have been a fundamental aspect of garden design so I’m happy that new beliefs are leading to a new design style – which I hope you can appreciate from the video clips we’ve been looking at. They focus on planting design and are not classified by designer, but the potential scope of the style is much wider – and merits another blog post.

The Belief Style of garden design is related to William Robinson’s Wild Garden but also strikes off in a new direction


Tour of Persian Gardens

The Cultural Landscape Association (CLA) is a non-profit organization specialized in the area of Cultural Landscape and the only institution in Iran that focuses on cultural landscapes interdisciplinary. The Association’s mission is to strengthen the role of cultural landscape in sustainable development in Iran and the Middle East region, by building the capacity of all those professionals and bodies involved with cultural landscape recognition, protection, conservation and management in the region, through training, research, the dissemination of information and network building.

The members of the association are academicians, experts, and ex. managers from different disciplines who work on research projects with the collaboration of internal and external institutions. In addition to research projects, CLA also holds conferences, meetings, and specialized tours.

Now, after our very successful international tours and on-site workshops “Taste Paradise” in May 2013, “Landscape Transformation” in May 2015, and “Taste Persian Cultural Landscape & Architecture” in November 2018, The Cultural Landscape Association (CLA) is planning to orchestrate another on-site workshop and journey (Taste Paradise II) for experts and professionals all around the globe, to visit and enjoy the cultural beauty of Persian Gardens on 27 Apr.-04 May 2019. It is a good opportunity for whom want to taste Iranian culture and history. In order to raise its quality, these workshops are only available to a limited number of people (20 participants for each tour) at the time, so it would be better if applicants register earlier not to lose the chance.

For more information, please  see the tour webpage:  or contact or

Mohammad Motallebi

Interim President – IFLA Middle East

CEO city & Landscape Group


James Veitch and Sons nurserymen and garden designers

Veitch’s Chelsea nursery ceased trading in 1914, rather appropriately for the greatest horticultural firm in British history. It was founded in the eighteenth century  and in the nineteenth century took advantage of peace, prosperity and sea power to engage in plant collecting on a world scale.  It brought 1281 new plants into cultivation and undertook significant design projects including Killerton and Ascott. Sir Harry Veitch played a key role in moving the RHS Flower Show to Chelsea.

A royal visit to the Chelsea Flower Show

There is much to be said for the involvement of horticultural firms in garden design providing they have the good sense to work with talented and independent-minded garden designers. There is a risk of ‘in-house’ designers being over-influenced by technical and business managers with insufficient design judgement for the work in hand. As Winston Churchill remarked, experts should be on tap but not on tap. What they bring to garden design is a focus on high quality planting and construction: very necessary but of limited value when deployed to make a mediocre design.

Veitch & Sons Nursery Cataogue

Veitch & Sons Nursery Cataogue

Gardens of the Château de Vullierens

The gardens of Chateau Vullieren

The gardens of Chateau Vullierens have been influenced by the styles of several periods in garden history: Medieval, Baroque, Romantic and Modern

We are pleased to welcome the gardens of the Château de Vullierens to the Gardenvisit guide. Just inland from Lac Lemen (Lake Geneva) it looks south to the Alps and Mont Blanc. Four important styles of garden design have influenced the layout. When first built, as a strongly fortified house, it was set in a classic medieval walled enclosure. One can speculate that as with many medieval gardens, it was used for growing sweet smelling and medicinal herbs. Perhaps it had a turf seat and a rose bower in which the ladies of the house could enjoy the sun, do their embroidery and listen to minstrels.
When rebuilt, as a baroque style ‘Little Versailles’ the old uses are likely to have continued. The ladies and gentlemen of the house will have walked with family and guests on the elegant terrace, stopping to enjoy the sun and watch their children and pets play on the grass. In the nineteenth century, again following Europe-wide fashions, the gardens will have taken on more of a horticultural flavour and, to use English terms,  in a gardenesque and mixed styles.  In the mid-twentieth century Doreen Bovet, the owner’s American wife, began the fabulous iris collection.

Stupas, conservation, heritage, historic gardens in Ladakh

Heritage conservation is founded on a modernist view of the supremacy of reason and science over faith, religion and belief.

The foundations of these stupas were probably damaged by flood water before the roadway was built. Should conservation work be undertaken?

This leads to the conservation policy of detaching objects from their cultural contexts and freezing them in time. If the culture that produced the object has died, this may be justifiable. But a different policy is surely necessary when, as with Buddhism in Ladakh, the culture is alive.
Stupas are a case in point. They were made for religious reasons, to symbolise man’s place in space-time and the universe.

Stupa heritage conservation? Note the damage from vibrations or collisions

Building a stupa yields merit. Maintaining a stupa yields merit. Going clockwise around a stupa yields merit. Yet seeing a stupa decay is also instructive, as an illustration of impermanence, of anicca. With his last words, the Buddha reminded his followers that ‘All created things are impermanent’. So good actions are more important than any material or worldly goods. Similar considerations apply to the conservation of historic gardens, and much else.
Denis Byrne writes that ‘the life of a stupa is one of disintegration and accumulation’. I agree, and I also believe ‘that the life of a garden is one of disintegration and accumulation’. Only a few gardens and a few stupas should be managed like museum exhibits. Some stupas do memorialise the lives of holy men, but none were conceived as ‘sleeping places’ for the dead, which is the origin of the word ‘cemetery’. The Buddha was cremated and his ashes were scattered by dividing them among his followers.

Roadside stupa in Ladakh: is it good that so many people see the stupa? Or is it bad that the trucks damage stupas?

See also: Landscape Architects Association blog post on the design layout of stupa fields