Designer Chat: Andy Sturgeon

Andy Sturgeon is one of the UK’s leading garden designers. He’s won numerous gold medals at London’s Chelsea Flower Show, designs gardens the world over, and is in Melbourne next week for the Australian Landscape Conference! We caught up with Andy recently to find out more about what drives and inspires him as a designer.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the field of garden design today? Some of the best designers I work with have a very practical base. This may be because they started in horticulture or landscape construction – the knowledge of how things work, how to build and how to plant is invaluable. It’s almost impossible to learn these things on a course so work experience before or during a design course is a good idea. Choosing the right course is also really important so do your research.

Once you’ve finished studying, get a job with a designer – don’t go straight into practice on your own or you will spend a lifetime learning from your own mistakes. It’s much better, much faster and much cheaper to learn from other peoples.

What role does the garden play in connecting people to place? In the last few years there have been many reports produced making scientific and anecdotal links between gardens and health and well-being. It’s something every gardener has known since they first got dirt under their fingernails.

There is a huge value in simply being able to see a tree or a garden from a window but when you create and nurture a garden you become in tune with everything that is going on around you. The changing weather, the visiting wildlife, the texture of the soil all become part of an intimate relationship.

What draws you to plants? Like so many people I started growing mustard and cress on the window sill as a child and was enthralled by the miracle of watching a plant emerge from a seed that you could then eat and start all over again. I graduated to cacti and succulents, partly as they thrive on neglect and because I found their their ability to survive intriguing. I was always outside as a child, my mother taught me the names of wildflowers and I loved nature.  And then, through work, I drifted into a world of botany and horticulture where I can get excited by the shape of a leaf or the way that light falls on the bark of a tree.

In the end, its simply the magic of planting something and watching it grow.

To you, what makes a garden successful? Fundamentally a garden must have a heart and soul. There are plenty of ‘cool’ gardens adorning the pages of our magazines that are compiled like stage sets to be seen from one angle but not ventured into with everything arranged around the edge like shy kids at a school disco. For me a garden must embrace you. There should be a sense of discovery and exploration. A path that curves around out of site, a seating area immersed in the planting. I am not a minimalist so wall to wall paving is out,  and there must be a good balance between hard materials and planting.

If you were a plant, what would you be? A Euphorbia. It’s an enormous genus with incredible variety so there’s something for everyone. One day you could be something tall, dramatic, elegant and demanding attention and the next you could be a only a few centimetres tall, almost invisible, yet fascinating.

Find out more about Andy’s work on his WEBSITE.

Or, if you are in Melbourne, Andy will be speaking at this year’s Australian Landscape Conference –Design with Nature: Reconnecting People & Place. Taking place in Melbourne from the 23rd – 27th March, 2018, the jam-packed program includes workshops from leading garden and landscape design experts and photographers, garden tours and an extraordinary group of speakers. Find out more information or book your tickets to the ALC here.

All images supplied by the Australian Landscape Conference.