It’s a common question from friends and family and the answer is, “well quite a lot actually!”.

Every small business has to balance marketing, self promotion and business management, some have employee relations to do and as a designer there is also the keeping up with the trends, legislation and competition element. Finding suppliers, new and not so new for all manner of things from plants and sculpture to paving materials and fake grass (sorry artificial turf!) it takes some keeping up with not to mention the retaining (filing!) of found information so when required it can easily be found again.

Underground route to the SGD Conference

Underground route to the SGD Conference

Twice a year the Society of Garden Designers host a conference at Imperial College in the heart of leafy London to bring together designers and in the main inspirational speakers to get the creative spark alight and to encourage networking within our own discipline. During one of the slightly less inspiring lectures I scribbled some numbers around the stats of people attending. Looking around the room it is clear that in the main women attend these conferences male to female ratio 1:2 is (about 32% Men). What is not so clear from looking about is that ONLY 47 of the 350+ people are actually registered members (MSGD) or fellows (FSGD) (13%). What is also not clear from just looking is that of  the 47 M&FSGD, 17 are men, (36%) so statistically speaking,I wonder if that is representative of the industry?

Brita von Schoenaich’s scathing remark about Garden Design being seen as a ‘Menopausal Career’ option would indicate it is not.

The conference itself was a triumph. Some excellent speakers sharing their take on the topic (The Perfect Union  – the marriage of horticulture and architecture). Kicked of by Andrea Cochran a re-known LA from San Francisco. I must admit to not know who she was but soon realised the dimension of her work and the thoughtful process that goes into creating landscapes that not only bring the piece of architecture to life but engages the people interacting with the architecture in new and inspiring ways. She engaged the audience completely, and even running over, well into the first coffee break we were left wanting more of her.

For me the representative architect was rather uninspiring, mainly due to her rather dull haltingly delivery and a presentation that seemed unable to follow a single thought to conclusion. Enough said. Not a crowd puller.

After lunch the green wall guru Patrick Blanc was replaced by Nigel Dunnett, who I have raved about in previous posts. I was thrilled to hear him talk again even if he might cover some of the same stuff, and though he did bring in the Olympic-scapes it seemed from a different tack altogether. Showing examples of roofscapes in private gardens through to industrial scale bio-swaling on commercial sites his vision for a sustainable and richly planted landscape, including in some of the most inauspicious places does make one think about how much more might be possible with a bit more thought and thinking ‘outside the box’ (apologies for the consulting jargon!). The more I hear and see and I read the more of a convert I become. Perhaps it is in part due to his day job lecturing that he is so skilled at delivery and enthusing people about his work. But I suspect it’s in fact his work that inspires people just as much. His ability to show a well trodden route to something sustainable, beautiful AND low maintenance. Seems like the holy Grail of modern gardens both public and private. It’s hard to not want to head off to Sheffield and study with him and James Hitchmough for as long as possible… this space.

Following on from Prof Dunnett and an excellent cake-ified afternoon tea, was the eminently talented John Brookes, an FSGD with a well deserved life time achievement award he has done as much for modern garden design as Gertrude Jekyll did for English Garden Planting in the early 1900’s. Showing us through a series of his plans and finished gardens, coating each with eloquent stories of clients and garden challenges which amused as much as amazed us all. He continues to teach at his Design School in South America as well as traveling worldwide to design gardens in the large to enormous category.

Finally I must say the presentations from sponsors Barcham and Elveden were both excellent. I know Barcham already but was interested to hear about their new technology and research developments and Elevden have just moved into the direct sales area offering ready made hedges in meter lengths. They’ve been doing this for sometime  but previously product’s gone to market through Practicality Brown. Elveden also provide raw materials for 1:6 Ryvita and have enough carrots per year to line up from  the farm (Suffolk) almost to Nova Scotia (Canada!) So they’re a farm farm as well as hedge suppliers.

Brita von Schoenich was a great chair living up to her, self professed, tactless nature but getting everyone on and off at appointed times and linking speaker to speakers with interesting tidbits and bio info. She was the best yet.

So in our ‘down time’ this is what some of us do, go to conferences, educate ourselves and pick up endless leaflets about PRODUCT!

Next week it’s off to the Races for Futurescapes, can you tell it’s winter?!


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