Garden Designers Round Table: Design Heroes

November 22, 2011

Choosing a design hero is not something that comes easy to me , primarily because I can find something I love in most gardens and if someone has even a little bit of skill I can usually learn something from them (making them at least a little bit of a hero in my eyes). Nonetheless, there are a few that I turn to more often for inspiration – even though I am fickle about professing my undying love. Key for me is that they are all still alive. I appreciate following a career as it unfolds and seeing how designs evolve in the context of modern day. That’s not to say I don’t love some historical figures, but I have to keep my heroes in the realm of ‘might actually have a conversation with this person’ someday. Here’s my top 5 (living) design heroes — for today — because as I say, tomorrow I might change it.

Garden Room designed by Diarmuid Gavin

Diarmuid Gavin is arguably one of the main reasons I changed careers to become a design professional. When he and Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen did Homefront (a UK Show), I never missed an episode. The confections of over the top design that always teetered on the edge of disaster never failed to excite. The above is not a good example — it is just a really nice garden. Diarmuid is one of the most imaginative, exciting designers around and I wish I saw the world through his eyes.
Planting Design by Jinny Blom

Jinny Blom – Jinny’s gardens make me happy because they are types of places I want to spend time in, take a nap in, and take care of. Mostly on the take care of — because they always have this sense of being not too stressful (though they actually might be) and their natural beauty always shines through.  I admire her ability to craft a meadow and make it seem natural.

Tom Stuart Smith Garden

Tom Stuart-Smith has a way with plants that really excites me.  The mix, that is so unlike the typical built and layered English borders, really appeals to me.  The first Tom Stuart Smith garden that I saw was at Chelsea and I marvelled at how interesting the planting was even though it all was at relatively the same height.   Mix that with solid hard-scape design that is warm and interesting but has a clean modern edge and you have a winning combination.

Fernando Caruncho design

Fernando Caruncho on the other hand rarely inspires me with planting but rather space and mood creation.   I long to live in his landscapes because there is an ephemeral quality that few designers can consistently create.

Cleve West design

And finally (but not last) – Cleve West.  The garden in the picture above literally stopped me in my tracks when I saw it at chelsea.  The three containers and the gravel garden with the simple spigot fountains — set amongst the unique planting was just perfect.  And so many other Cleve gardens are also perfect (chelsea 2011- for example).  I want to get my hands on all his planting lists because they are always unique and exciting but practical and down to earth.

Would you like to see more gardens by these creators? And also one more of my design heroes? I have created a pin board on pinterest that you can check out for more images and see my final favorite.

Also make sure you check out my cohorts in the Round table who are also posting about their design heroes today.

Thomas Rainer : Grounded Design : Arlington, Virginia

Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ

Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT

Jenny Petersen : J Petersen Garden Design : Austin, TX

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  1. I agree with a lot of your choices. I too became a garden designer through being inspired by Mr.Gavin, I loved the fact he took a lot of snobbery out of garden design and allowed regular people to take flights of fancy with his outdoor spaces. I hope some of my work to be half as good as what he has produced.

  2. Rochelle,

    What a great list! I thoroughly enjoyed it, and was happy to learn about Jinny Blom, someone I’m not terribly familiar with.


  3. A wonderful selection here – and I appreciate the contemporary note! Perhaps we’ll see some future features in Leaf?!

  4. Like Jocelyn I like the point you make about contemporary.
    I also respect your selection and your reasons for each.
    You accurately pinpoint their talents ( how patronizing is that? but it is not meant that way!)
    and that they all bring along something you want.
    Thanks for sharing!

  5. I love the idea of ‘might actually have a conversation with this person’. What a treasure to pick the designers brain and garner insights into his/her concepts. Thanks for sharing your thoughts into these designers!

  6. I love Cleve West’s work, even though I’m not as familiar with it as others are. Those fountains are a stroke of genius. Thanks, Rochelle!

  7. I love the final photo the best and am also a huge Cleve West fan. Thanks for introducing me to a few designers I haven’t heard about – looking forward to seeing more of their work.

  8. Tom Stuart-Smith is my favorite!!!

  9. Andrew Keys says:

    Agreed on all of the above, and I should say I started typing a long and involved comment, but got distracted Google Image-searching your designers and close the tab on my original comment. Oops. Going to look at Pinterest now!

  10. Hi,
    You can actually find a a Diarmuid Gavin inspired garden here in Northern France.
    My husband and I were big fans of Diamuid going back some years ago and we used to get the video recordings of his shows (and ground force and gardners world etc) sent over here by my Husbands mother regularly.
    One show had Diarmuid building a fantatstic suspended patio covered by a glass cube.
    This inspired my husband to build his own suspended patio – translated eventually into a wooden decking type of thing.
    You can find it on my blog at Botanic Bay.
    The great thing about Diarmuid is whether you like his designs or not they do inspire us to create and that is a wonderful thing.

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