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I’m a garden designer on tv and IRL. I’m also an author and entrepreneur who thinks she can save the world by teaching everyone a little something about landscape design.

Tim Richardson – Fav. Garden Writer

“We need to get to a point where a designer can say ‘ I don’t know that much about plants’ without fear of vilification.”

I first read this article by Tim Richardson years ago in the Garden Design Journal. I forget lots of things I read. I can never remember how movies end. But when I stumbled upon this article this morning, I re-read it because I remembered it (a compliment unto itself) and enjoyed it a second time around.
The article is all about Tim’s observation of the rift between plants oriented designers and design oriented designers. At that time (2006) it was a divide easily felt by anyone working in landscape design in England.  I am curious what you think. I don’t feel that rift so much anymore (perhaps because I am in the USA) but  I feel  different ones here…the rift between Landscape Architects and Garden Designers. And the general brush off  -(if not complete dismissal) that design based garden blogs (of which there are too few) get from gardening garden blogs (of which I think there might be too many). It is another separation that I don’t understand, but maybe based in the same root sentiment? What do you think? Are UK planty people stiff miffed at designy people? What is at the heart of all this?  I agree with Tim – Why can’t we all just get along?

p.s. Tim has a book out that I have not read but am so interested in.  Have you seen it? Avant Gardeners I think it might be worth a buy (or at least ad it to your wish list for someone to give you)

avant gardeners tim richardson

p.p.s. – I have to mention this article brought another thing to mind. Last month when I did the Shed Chic book giveaway and announced the winners, I meant to mention all the comments in my wrap up post….but I realized much after the fact that I had missed one….totally unintentionally… it came from High Desert Diva ( who is having a beautiful break in Italy- you can read about at her site) Anyway – she mentioned that while she loves garden design, she hates to garden…a sentiment I have cyclically felt in my own career/life….and one that I thought of when I re-read Tim’s article.

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  1. Sarah O says:

    This topic is increasingly interesting to me as I get closer to starting my landscape architecture degree in September. In my jaunts around the gardening blogosphere, I’ve heard that LAs are ignorant about plants. It feels quite protectivist to me. What I hear is “plant-driven design is the only thing worth pursuing + the only ones who know plants are garden designers = LAs stay out of our business.”

    I’m not exactly put off by this but I think it’s a little insular and shortsighted. However, I realize I think this *because* (despite loving my own little garden) I think in terms of landscape, not just gardens. I’m a cultural landscape historian, so I’m always going to think first about how a collection of physical and cultural elements that make up this or that landscape, and then I will enjoy the flowers.

    Although there may always be “sides” in this discussion, I think it’s important that we come to a place of mutual appreciation. I like it when people say, “I see what you’re getting at but personally, this interests me more” rather than prioritize one side over another.

  2. rochelle says:

    as emailed by Janet at

    I discovered your blog, Studio G, a couple of months ago, and have since been enjoying your posts in my Google Reader. I found your topic today about the “rift between plants oriented designers and design oriented designer” and the “rift between Landscape Architects and Garden Designers” very interesting.

    A little background about me may explain why: I went to college for architecture at the University of Cincinnati, but I didn’t finish right away. I started in 2000, but before I finished in 2004, I got married and moved out of state. After I moved, I began a wedding and event based floral studio. While running my business, I returned to school in 2007 to finish my degree (B.S. in Architecture). The first time around in school I was shocked at how few of my peers were interested in manipulating the landscape to complement the building they were designing – They would either leave the ground exactly as it was, or they would flatten the entire site before they placed their building, and no one ever even considered what plants they would use around their buildings. When I returned to school in 2007 the atmosphere had changed only slightly. Students were using plants in their designs, but only as green roofs and living walls. I, on the other hand, have always been interested in working with the existing topography, using it to inform my designs. And I would always spend a significant portion of the quarter designing pergolas and out door spaces, and researching plants and trees to enhance my building designs. Model building was my favorite part of the design process. It was where all the ideas would really come together.

    I am no expert in either landscape architecture or garden design, but I have long felt the rift between those who “design” and those who “do.” I really enjoy working with cut flowers. I like the ephemeral nature of them, and I like creating things with my hands. I guess I’ve just always been a do-er at heart, who just happens to be interested in design.

    At some point, I would like to combine my passion for creating with my love of design. I have been considering getting a Masters in Landscape Architecture, but am afraid that it would place me firmly in front a CAD program for 40-60 hours a week – kind of like the jobs I had at architecture firms. Do you feel like you have a good balance of designing and doing in your career?

  3. I have a very small niche in the garden/landscape world, so I kind of feel outside the debate. I design containers for people’s patios, around their pool, special hanging baskets, etc. In general, I think it’s hard for any professional to admit that they don’t know the answer to a client’s question. I know it’s hard for me to say “I don’t know” when a client asks if a plant I’ve never heard of before is available in our area, or asks for a type of pot that I’m unfamiliar with.

    With regard to the discussion at hand, it seems that both groups need to come back down to earth. I’ve seen from my own small sliver of the profession that there isn’t a one size fits all approach for every client. Some clients love having exotic plants that need tons of care, love knowing the scientific names, love discussing companion planting, etc. Other clients don’t enjoy puttering around in their gardens, but just want something that looks good and is easy to maintain. There is room for both design based and plant based gardens. One is not necessarily better than the other. The real question when deciding whether or not a garden is successful is whether it fits the homeowner, the home, the area, etc. If the answer is “yes” then who cares if it is design or plant based?!

  4. Lena Athanasiadou says:

    I totally agree with Tim Richardson’s :’Good small gardens are not made by ‘planning’ or by finding ‘design solutions’ (phrases that occur all the time in the titles of garden design books) — they are made by a conceptual, psychological and emotional involvement with the space and the people who are to use it.”
    the best explanation for the garden and the importance of its conceptuality…

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