Way out west it was too, all the way over in South Kensington on the west of London town. The best of spring days, with the sun out and the skies blue as could be. Trees coming into blossom and plenty of cheery visitors, despite Wednesdays terrible attacks in Westminster. We’re Londoners, even when we’re visitors – I lived in this great city for nearly 20 years so I count myself, on days when I now visit, as a Londoner.

To be fair I didn’t know all that much about this conference having not had much in the way of info once I booked up.  As ever there was a good showing of Landscape Architects speaking to the garden design fraternity 4:1 plus a head gardener and a writer. I will get this out of the way so I am not snippy for the whole post. It annoys me more each time that the Society of GARDEN DESIGNERS is peopled and talked to by so many Landscape Architects. we are not nor will most of us ever be Landscape Architects. Landscape architects study for many more years in many more varied, technical subjects than do garden designers. “Here we go” I think each time, telling a fish it has failed because it cannot climb a blooming tree!  I’m a fish and I am not interested in climbing trees…actually I am but real trees not allegorical trees. Oh you know what I mean 😀

It kicks off with the Garden Design Journal editor Stephanie Mahon whom I have never really considered until now when she starts to speak about her 3 year summer in a wonderful Italian castle with an inspired plantsman obsessed with garden making and doing it on no budget. It is devastating towards the end of her conference intro to discover the castle and gardens have been destroyed in the Italian earthquakes of recent years, demolishing the house and layering the emerging gardens in piles of rubble. The pioneer planstman emerges though and is starting a new garden. I am inspired by this as heaven to me is a big garden with plenty of people working in it together.

Following Stephanie is Lisa Delplace from the world reknowned Landscape Architecture firm of  Oehme van Sweden I don’t recall how she linked to the topic of way out west but I do recall the mesmerising projects they have worked on and the realisation that as a mere garden designing fish it’s pretty unlikely that I’ll work on projects like this and that made me quite sad. My personal favourite was Tippet Rise partly because it’s off OFF grid, not just a bit off grid, it’s also a mahoosive project, demonstrated by a graphic showing some of the biggest sculpture parks in the world dotted into corners of this site like postage stamps. The sheer scale was one thing but dealing with low rainfall and the brutalities of ‘real’ nature, mainly FIRE, was another. I have been involved with a retreat centre (Hidden Valley) property in Australia for over a decade so I know first hand how tough living off off grid can be and how the ever present threat of fire informs so many decisions. During her talk about Tippet Rise all I can think about is questions I have about Hidden Valley’s flora and how we might improve the landscape and building locations based on their experiences with water storage and vegetation surrounding the barn building at Tippet Rise. I cannot find her alone during breaks so resolve to write to her afterwards.

The Hidden Valley

Breaks, still too short but longer than last year, are spent catching up with cross country friends, mainly Scottish, and racing around the industry supplier stalls hearing about new and not so new products. I avoid the ones who seem to have nothing new, time is so short and I manage to escape with only ONE brochure, the rest are in the post. RESULT!

Darren Hawkes is a breath of fresch non Landscape Architect air, aha a Fish talking to Fish. I am struck by his Brewin Dolphin garden for Chelsea. I simply loved this garden even with all it’s slately-ness and hard-scape it was for me a magical space, with mesmerising floaty vegetation, wafting as if in a woodland meadow in his home county of Cornwall (Way out West as you can get in the UK mainland I suppose). A kindred spirit of plants person turned designer with clearly a very good business head on his shoulders.

Lunch is spent basking in the heat of the sun, can it be March? truly? Catching up with an RHS Tatton 2016 comrade, we joke about the horrendous weather we braved to produce great gardens in the Back-to-Back category. She, it turns out, is planning for a bigger garden in 2019 and THE big show. My interest is peaked and I am slightness curious as to whether I might go straight from tiny Tatton garden to moderate sized one at THE big spring show…in 2019 or maybe 2020? My brain has started plotting.

The postprandial spot was reserved for Hallie and Judy from OLIN, a tough gig given the luscious lunch and hot sun we’d all been sitting in. Olin are designing the American Embassy, the NEW embassy located in 9 Elms. A truly exciting piece of architecture and thoughtful landscaping to surround it. Definitely looking forward to seeing it in the flesh once done and whether they can meet the ‘exceptional environmental leadership’ goals set out by the Architects Kieran Timberlake. Again I am regretting teenage degree decisions.

With a complete break from LA’s Mike Needham, Tresco Abbey’s head gardener launches into a mouthwatering slideshow of tropicals and exotics that grow like weeds on their patch. Overcoming adversity might have been the other title for this conference as Mike and his team were hit by not only snow and -20 temps (1987) which destroyed most of the tropical plantings but as they slowly began to recover a hurricane (1990) finished off many of the plants. losing some 300 shelter belt trees in one event. That they went on and rebuilt, re-grew the garden is mind boggling and an truly impressive feat. The Scilly’s and Tresco is now on the list of must visit gardens, but perhaps not this summer.

In closing Eric Kramer of Reed Hilderbrand laid before The Clarke a project ongoing for 17 years and a range of city rejuvenation projects outlining the limitations that must sometimes be overcome and sometimes accepted and worked around. Although honestly, the word chanellizing is never going to catch on, channeled is perfectly fine thank you!

It was enlightening to hear each of them talk about their designs, in an American way or perhaps in a Landscape Architecture way, rich and eloquent language, enticing and evocative, bringing their spaces to life with words as well as images. Passing the ideas behind the images, the space creation, the landscape carving and molding so perhaps after all this fish could climb a similar tree one day.

It’s been a fine day and inspiring which is all one can ask for. There is a small list of things to read and places to visit, which though small will likely have great impact. I head off into the city to find supper with the rest of the shoal.



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