In what is quickly becoming a long career in garden design, I have met or spoken to some of the modern giants in our profession. Christopher (Christo) Lloyd, Charles Jencks, Piet Oudolf and Ian Hamilton Finlay to name a few.
I dreamed of meeting André Le Nôtre from the 17th century, William Kent from the 18th century, John Claudius Loudon from the 19th century and Roberto Burle Marx and Russell Page from the 20th century. I would have liked to chat with “our” Lancelot “Capability” Brown too.
But this list leaves out a mix of remarkable women who have worked their magic and cultivated wonderful beauty in some of the greatest gardens you will ever see through a passion and a delicate understanding of the vagaries of nature.
Some are well known, like the incomparable Gertrude Jeykell who looked a bit like Queen Victoria, the famous Vita Sackvill-West, Beth Chatto, champion of dry land gardening and the inimitable Irishwoman Penelope Hobhouse, 88. I know it’s not gallant to mention the age of women, but when you’re almost 90, it stops being discourteous and becomes an appreciation. There is also a growing number of emerging talent.
A few years before her death, I befriended Rosemary Verey, OBE, VMH, an internationally renowned English gardener, lecturer and prolific writer whose famous garden at Barnsley House near Cirencester is well known. She introduced me to Alvilde Lees-Milne, another inspiring expert on British gardens.
Rosemary was busy creating a garden for Sir Elton John in England and Alvilde was doing the same for Sir Mick Jagger in France. I suggested that maybe we should create a series of gardening programs called Rock gardens. While the dreaded ladies were on the side, the singers didn’t want to play.
Most recently, I have reestablished a friendship with another awesome member of this exclusive club, Rosemary Alexander. Born, raised and educated in Scotland, she now lives near Chichester. After training as a landscape architect, she was the first woman to be elected a member of the Society of Garden Designers.
For 11 years she was a tenant of the National Trust Stoneacre property near Maidstone, Kent, where she transformed the gardens, and then in 2011, she received the important RHS Veitch Memorial Medal in recognition of his contribution to the design of the gardens. She now lives just across the border in Hampshire and since 2001 has created a new, smaller garden which is the subject of various magazine articles.
A practical and practical gardener, she founded the English School of Gardening based in London in 1983, initially in response to a need of enthusiastic gardeners for more information on how to grow and care for plants. The roots were planted in the historic Chelsea Physic Garden, at that time very rarely open to visitors. With a significant location as well as a strong set of gardening personalities available to lecture, his classes were quickly and continue to be a success.
However, as popular as The English Gardening School remains, Rosemary realized that it was prohibitively expensive for some people living outside of London to attend. This has been resolved and now those interested in a career in gardening have the chance to explore the horticultural world via Rosemary’s Emerald Fingers at her farm near Chichester where she gives lectures and masterclasses based on 40 years of experience in garden design and teaching.
The latest is the new starter course; Gardening for beginners from April for four days. You won’t necessarily come out of it as a full member of the Brotherhood of Brilliant Gardeners, well you could, but it has more of a chance to awaken your potential and make you want to know more and it doesn’t. ain’t a lot of people who could wind you up better than Rosemary. You may even think it is worth spending a little more money and time and joining one of its many classes at Chelsea Physic Garden in London.
Cecilia Cole (above) attended one of Rosemary’s courses in London, The Ten Week Intensive Diploma in Garden Design. Now in its 6th year, this course is aimed at designers and advanced gardeners and takes place in January, February and March. With three days a week at school and at least two days of homework, it caters to people who really want to become professional garden designers and covers everything from surveying a site to designing landscaping, planting plans, specifications and costs.
Cecilia considers it a huge success but warns: “It’s probably the hardest I’ve worked, and the most I’ve learned in a short time, hardly ever. This qualified her to design and build not only her own lovely garden (see below) in Chichester, but also prepared her to take on new commissions, which she does with great poise.
Cecilia comes from a wonderful background of garden lovers; his father owned the National Acer Collection and was an active lobbyist for the Royal Horticultural Society and his great-grandfather was Edwin Lutyens.
The English architect highly regarded for his versatility and range of inventions along traditional lines. He is particularly known for his design for the Viceroy’s House in New Delhi… but has also managed a princely portfolio of fine homes in the UK and who hasn’t seen the ubiquitous Lutyens garden chair? With its folding armrests and distinctive shaped backrest, it has to be one of the most popular garden benches.
But even more exciting is the professional friendship that Lutyens has with the indomitable Gertrude Jekyll. Jekyll, who died in 1932, created over 400 gardens in the UK, Europe and the US, and wrote over a thousand articles for various magazines. One of their joint ventures is Hestercombe, a historic country house in Somerset.
Oh, such incalculable grandeur, such space, such budgets! I walked around this garden making a short film for the Beeb and I remember thinking, and whispering here, it’s a little overcooked compared to its sublime garden at Lindisfarne Castle, Northumberland for example.
That aside, she has been rightly described as “a major influence” on the design of the gardens and most likely on Edwin Lutyen’s great-granddaughter, Cecilia as well. You can contact her on [email protected]
For those who want a career in gardening, there are different levels and options.
Rosemary Alexander For English Gardening School (London), please visit the EGS website. They also offer 2 distance learning courses for those who cannot attend in person.
For the Beginner Gardening Course contact [email protected] Sandhill Farm House Garden Nyewood Road, Rogate, Petersfield, Hants GU31 5 HU t. 01 730 818 373 m. 07551 777 873
Sandhill Farm is also open as part of the National Gardens Scheme 2018 on: –
Sat April 21 & Sun April 22
Sat 23 June & Sun 24 June
Sat September 22 & Sun September 23
Open from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Entrance £ 4.50 per person
To qualify as a full-fledged landscape architect, you will need to take a university course accredited by the Landscape Institute. To earn landscaping diplomas and certificates, progression to Diploma Level Merrist Wood near Guilford is highly valued.
Merrist Wood College
Phone: 01483 88 40 00
Email: [email protected]
Or for more local education: – Chichester College 1) Brinsbury Campus: North Heath, Pulborough, West Sussex RH20 1DL 2) Chichester Westgate Fields Campus. Chichester West Sussex PO19 1SB 01243 786 321 [email protected]