Writing

Articles by Tom Stuart-Smith

What's new at the 2017 Berlin IGA?

"Three years ago I was asked to design a garden as part of the Garten der Welt (Gardens of the World) category at the 2017 Berlin IGA, an international garden festival which runs until October 15. The budget was less than 20 per cent of what a garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show now costs and there was a very modest fee, but I was flattered to be asked and liked the idea that it would be a permanent garden, not just there for a week. I was also in good company; three other designers I admired: Teresa Moller from Chile, Vladimir Durovic from Lebanon and Kate Cullity from Australia had all agreed to come on board."

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Tom Stuart-Smith on Pissarro

"It seems that alienation from nature is the inevitable fate of the elegant bourgeoisie, whereas perhaps if we keep Pissarro's dirt under our fingernails there is still hope that we can connect with the natural world."

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Chelsea Flower Show : Conceptual Gardens Require Good Plot

"The past 10 years have seen an explosion in the popularity of gardens that might loosely be labelled as conceptual – where the theme or message of the garden is more important than any horticulture. But conceptual gardens can be tricky. A designer needs to formulate a sufficiently subtle narrative that bears up to daily reading."

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Dutch Master: the Garden Design Genius of Piet Oudolf

"Gardening is a constant negotiation between freedom and control. On the one hand we have the clipped hedges, the neatly aligned rows of bedding and the collections of rare plants all neatly catalogued and preserved. At the other we have a seemingly endless quest for some elixir of the natural. We all have a position on this spectrum but it is arguable that Dutchman Piet Oudolf has done as much as anyone over recent years to redefine what is thought of as naturalism in planting."

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Seven Wonders

"When you look at the rainfall maps of Peru, it goes from orange to purple here. In reality, one side is brown and the other is green. You go from somewhere there are maybe 50 different species of plant growing in scrubby ground, to one of the most biodiverse places in the world."

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Gardens : Go Wild in the City

"Looking out from the top floor of Scott Sullivan and Anna Marrs' house in north London, you do a double take. Beneath you is an outlandish carpet of gigantic ferns, which from this height seem like vast dissected parasols of green covering the whole garden. You almost expect a triceratops or an iguanodon to poke its head out from between the fronds."

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Outside In

"This farm in north Norfolk, where I created a garden over three years, from 2005, is half a mile from the sea, set in a hinterland of beautiful small towns and villages that contrast with vast windswept beaches and empty marshes."

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What Role Does the Subconscious Play in Garden Design?

"Most gardeners will admit that even their finest efforts fall short of nature at its best. Every spring when I go into the bluebell woods around where I live in Hertfordshire, there is always a moment when, after drinking in the perfume and surveying the blue that seems to stretch to infinity, I wonder why I bother with all this gardening lark. The real thing is just so much better."

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The Point of A Garden

"Most gardens are set within a wider context than this; within a landscape or city that has its own patterns, cultural traditions and processes, and I always seek ways in which these can be reflected or distilled. In this way the garden becomes a receptacle of influence and condensation of landscape and culture, and not a completely ectopic extravaganza that turns its back on the qualities of a place."

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Gardens: The Toff and the Teenager

"I have arranged to meet up with Zak Akers, 17, at the pond and vegetable patch he looks after in the grounds of his secondary school, the London Academy, a huge, mixed-intake school in Edgware, north London. Zak won his borough's young gardener of the year award for his work landscaping and planting the school pond. I want to find out what made a teenager like Zak, who has been in some trouble at school, to develop a love for gardening."

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Reach for the Sky

"Plants that grow fast and tall have a special appeal to me. It is partly that, at 6ft 5in, I am an outsized specimen myself, so I occasionally prefer to look a plant in the face than creep around the garden on my hands and knees in order to get an eyeful of detail."

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Show Stoppers

"Behind the scenic Clipped box remains a dominant theme at Chelsea, where designers suffer a hectic week creating show gardens - some using extreme measures to preen blooms."

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Go Forth and Multiply

"If I were to relieve my last 20 gardening years, one thing I'd do from the start would be to plant more bulbs."

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February : Full of Promise

"February is as bad as it gets. Excepting snowdrop lovers, who are levitating quietly at the mere thought of Galanthus nivalis 'Pusey Green Tip', the discreet charms of which are revealed only to those prepared to lie nose in mulch, most of us are just wishing it would all end or, rather, begin."

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Brockhampton Cottage : Living with the Landscape

"Brockhampton Cottages lie some five miles north of Ross-on-Wye, with views over deep Herefordshire valleys, perry orchards and game coverts. It’s a richly patterned landscape of fat hedgerows bursting with hazels and oaks, and warm soil the colour of fresh liver. Peter Clay inherited the cottages and the surrounding land from his grandfather, and he and I began making a garden in 2000."

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The Making of a Show Garden

"Anthony Glossop, the head of St Modwen (joint owners of Trentham), and the brains behind the Trentham project, suggests the idea of a garden at Chelsea to publicise the opening of the first major phase of the garden in 2005. I am keen on the idea, but wonder how I can possibly do something on such a tiny plot that can evoke the scale and history of Trentham."

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Design Guide : Broughton Grange

"It is hard to believe that five years ago the walled garden at Broughton Grange was just an idea. In its place was a slightly scruffy and empty paddock, blessed with lovely views over the Oxfordshire countryside but nothing much else, Now it is brimful of flowers, fruit and vegetables, and seems to have been there for decades. You come across the garden rather by surprise, almost as though a huge tardis had landed in the next door field."

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Gardens of Inspiration : Hemannshof, Weinheim

"Weinheim is a prosperous, rather sleepy, town near Frankfurt, with several picturesque castles clinging to rocky outcrops. Charming, certainly, but cutting edge? Surprisingly, yes, if you walk two minutes south of the town square to Hermannshof public garden, where the curator, Cassian Schmidt, has developed extraordinary experimental plantings using American prairie plants."

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A New Dawn

"Five miles south of Stoke-on-Trent, Trentham lies on the bank of the river whose name it bears. It began as a royal manor and priory and was acquired by the Leveson family - later to become Leveson-Gower. As the family became ever grander, the house and the garden were greatly enlarged, and many of the great names in English architecture and gardening worked there."

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A Parallel Eden

"I was asked recently if the current craze for naturalistic planting is not just a passing fad. In ten years’ time, will we be shaking our heads and wondering how it ever caught on, as we chuck our clumps of time expired Miscanthus on the compost heap? I, for one, don’t think so. It seems to me that this planting responds to a desire many of us share, to connect with nature at a deeper level."

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Vive la Difference

"The information explosion in gardening has made the job of designing gardens both more exciting and more difficult. Twenty years ago it was an uphill struggle to inject some semblance of modernity into a garden composition - now it may be the other way round. We are crowded with images of pink plastic decking, post-modern gazebos and brushed stainless steel."

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A Question of Boundaries

"We are all conditioned by our environment, and I think that if I had spent the past fifteen years gardening in north London, the Scottish Highlands or the Marlborough Downs, rather than five miles north of Watford, I would approach things differently from the way I do. Much of my garden making at home has been to do with relating the abstract structure of the garden to the little morsel of Hertfordshire countryside that surrounds me."

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A Discordant View?

"Three years ago I commissioned some modest but rather beautiful oak posts from the sculptors Martin and Dowling. They are totemic, tapering spires gouged into series of horizontal ridges, with the crests of the ridges charred black as if for some pagan ritual. They remind me of narwhall tusks, satisfyingly primitive, and I had this vision of them in the garden rising from amid a sea of grasses and Echinaceas."

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Wind Assisted Style

"Airy plants have a special place in the contemporary garden. Not the neat hummocks of the rock garden but the delicate grassland and woodland flowers that move in every breeze and seem to inject space into every planting."

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Rousham: Learning from Elysium

"When I began making a garden at our barn home in Hertfordshire fourteen years ago, the site was completely bare, with not a single shrub or tree on the place. This was a daunting void - but also a wonderful opportunity to make sense of a blank. I planted a framework of hedges in hornbeam, box and yew which interlock and partially enclose a number of interconnecting spaces."

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Wanted : Dead or Alive

"As winter’s chilly embrace beckons, the balance in the garden and landscape has changed. We now see more bark and branch, more underlying structure and less froth. At home, the hedges loom large. They become like the walls of rooms where the party is over and the space is now populated with more or less graceful decay."

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On the Grand Scale

"I have had a thing about big plants ever since I can remember. When I was small (although I never seem to have been that small), my brothers, sisters and I were regularly sent down to pick fruit or vegetables in the market garden run by my mother. I liked picking the tomatoes, because of their heady smell, viscid foliage and the sensation of being enveloped in a jungle where large red fruits hung down waiting to explode across T-shirts."

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