Category Archives: Landscape Architecture

2019 Chelsea Flower Show Garden Designs

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


LAA Landscape Architects Website

LAA Landscape Architects Association

LAA Landscape Architects website

This blog has covered both designed gardens and landscape architecture for 7 years but have decided:

  • to use this blog for garden design, garden history and garden tourism
  • to use the LAA Landscape Architects blog for commentary on landscape architecture, urban design and planning – from me and, I hope, from others

I have not changed my mind about the relationship between the two subjects (please see What is the difference between garden design and landscape architecture?) but not everyone shares my interest in both areas of work.

Should London be a National Park?

The current proposal for London to be a National Park appears, to me, ill-conceived. It is a great city and its open space planning needs staffing and funding, but I can’t see sufficient kinship with the national park concept. Let’s recall the history of the concept. It began in America as an idea for giving the new world something of similar cultural significance to the ‘monuments’ of the old world. So they chose tracts of unspoiled scenery. This appealed to the British. We did not have any unspoiled scenery so we chose areas of high scenic quality instead. Some parts of London undoubtedly do have high scenic quality – but they are already designated as conservation areas and enjoy protection within the planning system. What London does need is a Landscape Authority to get on with work on the All London Green Grid. If London were to have something more on like a National Park Authority it should be a Thames Landscape Agency, as argued in the above video. The Port of London Authority is making a mess of managing the river for anything other than commercial traffic.


Is Greenwich Park London’s most interesting Royal Park?

I think the answer is ‘yes’ – and it should certainly be included in London garden tours. For a start, it is the oldest of London’s Royal Parks. Greenwich has associations with the period in British history most loved by the BBC and English schools. Only the 1930s and ’40s rival the Tudors.
Greenwich was enclosed by Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, who also built what became the Royal Palace of Placentia. Henry VIII was born here. So was his daughter, Elizabeth I. The design and the design history are also of great interest. Greenwich Park began as a late-medieval Hunting Park with an Early Renaissance garden. It was then influenced by the Baroque Style in the seventeenth century by the Serpentine style in the eighteenth century and by the Gardenesque Style in the nineteenth century. The green laser beam is a Post-Abstract twenty-first century addition – and a great idea. The designers who influenced the park include Inigo Jones, André Le Nôtre, John Evelyn Christopher Wren, Lancelot Brown and John Claudius Loudon.

Swan upping 2014. Could the swans and the uppers be attracted back to the Thames in Central London?

Reading about Swan Upping, I found that in the early 20th century the ceremony began in Central London. It now starts at Sunbury-on-Thames because no swans nest on the river in Central London and few swans are seen there. This is a pity. The river landscape would be more beautiful if there were swans to be seen. The Thames, is far the most important landscape feature in Central London, and in 1496, the Venetian Ambassador’s secretary wrote that ‘it is truly a beautiful thing to behold one or two thousand tame swans upon the River Thames, as I, and also your Magnificence have seen, which are eaten by the English like ducks and geese’. We could get the swans back by feeding them, preferably with vegetable matter but a little bread would do little harm. But could the swans be persuaded to nest on floating islands, as they do on the island in Brayford Pool (Lincoln?). See webpage on The re-introduction of swans to Central London.

The Swan Island (with a willow tree) and the recently made floating islands in Brayford Pool (Lincoln)

The Swan Island (with a willow tree) and the recently made floating islands in Brayford Pool (Lincoln)

Otherwise, this may prove to be a video of CENTRAL LONDON’S LAST SWAN

Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park London: a review of the landscape architecture by Robert Holden and Tom Turner

This video review of the QE Olympic 2012 Park, by Robert Holden and Tom Turner, comprises a discussion on 29th June and video footage taken on 29th and 30th June. Mainly a review of the master planning, the two landscape architects spent too little time on the park’s often-very-good detailed design. Our fundamental point is that ‘the landscape planning is much better than the landscape design’. The landscape planning includes the opening up of the River Lea in the northern section of the park, the habitat-creation strategy and the park’s excellent links with its hinterland. The landscape design is dominated by vast pedestrian concourses which will be busy during events but will resemble unused airport runways on every other occasion. There is some good garden-type planting but it has not been used to make ‘gardens’: it is used more like strips of planting beside highways.
The designers were EDAW/Aecom, LDA Design with George Hargreaves.
Comments welcome.