With countless specimen plant nurseries across Europe, the spectrum of sizeable plants imported daily into the UK is unrivalled. One of our principal tasks as garden designers, and project managers, focuses on maximising clients' plant itineraries, and applying them optimally and flawlessly into functional landscape design layouts. A comprehensive grasp of growth rate, maintenance requirements and winter hardiness, coupled with profound, specific site insight, provide a solid platform from which to fully endorse specimen plant price tags, or an intricate hedge design outlay. We consistently select all plants hands-on at the nurseries to enhance projects with unique, diverse flora, and provide our clients with high-quality, architectural specimens.
A multi stem Pine tree appears spectacular at dusk, as light beams project into its canopy, enhancing bark, form and foliage attributes, while further balance is achieved by accommodating all of the plant's elevations with multiple fittings. We distinguish key specimens in our outdoor lighting blueprints, forming distinct, landscaped showpieces, where downlights' projection through sculptural branches generates gentle silhouettes onto surfaces. Aligning a narrow beam along the smooth trunk of a Paper bark maple, or a Silver birch, accentuates individual, structural beauty and refines inherent textural qualities.
At times, we're tempted to select a plant we adore, yet the location lacks suitable conditions or space. When first visiting a garden, we appraise which plants thrive in nearby gardens and local parks. We survey the orientation on a compass and observe seasonal changes, shade patterns, soil type, available moisture, and assess wildlife and environmental factors. London's high rainfall necessitates adequate drainage, where raised beds and bespoke planters produce platforms to sustain specimen planting, augmented by automatic irrigation which provides further water for specific groupings.
Automatic irrigation is pivotal in sustaining and maximising plant growth across both garden and roof terrace landscapes. Small pot sizes and large tree specimens equally require ample moisture when acclimatising in new environments. Laying out pipes in advance, and setting suitable nozzle intervals, augments the varying requirements of specific plants, while seasonal watering programmes, efficiently adjusted, promote robust, thriving cultivation. A well-designed and adequately maintained irrigation system sustains built-in raised beds and rooftop planting effectively, where compost continually dries up due to drying winds, rapid drainage and overhanging canopies.
Every now and again, clients ask us to plant an Olive tree where sunlight is scarce and drainage is rather insufficient. If there's no fitting alternative, we improve soil aeration and enhance planting mediums to accommodate this prospect, since plant cultivation is ultimately shaped by experience – nurtured by lifelong observation. Fig, Olive and Palm trees often sustain diverse growing conditions, and thrive in unexpected London settings, producing larger leaves. Likewise, Yellow groove bamboo cultivars form definitive selections when seeking compelling focal points, and we continually develop innovative methods to display Bamboo species. In this Shoreditch garden, a clump of clear Bamboo canes emanates from an inverted light well constructed as its home, in the shade and shelter of a small city garden, to architecturally animate a tiny space.
Occasionally, there are certain city locations where it's unfeasible to hoist a large tree specimen into a site, specifically in urban rooftop settings and terraced houses. We mitigate this logistic dilemma by utilising bendable plants, carried through stairways or paths, such as Bamboo, Silver birch and Willow species. Where vehicular access is available, we hire a compact furniture lift to transfer sizeable plant specimens, and once on site, they're stabilised to minimise toppling over in gusty wind. When we plant up tall raised beds and oversized planters, we hoist plants into position by building ramps, stacking surplus delivery pallets, or hiring a nifty Ginny lift.
Planting tender species in London's clay ground presents a frost damage likelihood; indeed, it can be tempting to source a beautiful, exotic plant which has grown in top-notch conditions in a European polytunnel, yet giving it a suitable home requires ample preparation. We prefer semi-hardy plants in small pot sizes, as they acclimatise readily. The knack is to introduce species which seem exotic, yet are winter-hardy, to produce a thriving, lush London garden. A sheltered position, great drainage and efficient irrigation are paramount when cultivating less hardy floras in cold climates, as plants often wilt due to repeatedly waterlogged roots rather than air frost.
There aren't many evergreen architectural plants native to Western Europe, and this aspect entails alternative design uses for available species, as well as seeking new flora prospects. When requiring long-term, robust planting solutions, we often incorporate genera such as Agapanthus, Agave, Arbutus, Astelia, Beschorneria, Butia, Chamaerops, Cordyline, Dasylirion, Dicksonia, Equisetum, Eriobotrya, Eucalyptus, Fatsia, Nandina, Olea, Phormium, Phyllostachys, Pinus, Pseudopanax, Quercus suber, Trachycarpus, Trochodendron and Yucca.
Deciduous architectural specimens are available in abundance throughout Western Europe, with native species aplenty, yet one of our great favourites, Lagerstroemia, the Crape Myrtle, is from Northern Australia! Deciduous trees enhance seasonal change; their outline and bark brought to the fore in wintertime, when highly structural, natural beauty is revealed and easier to prune while crowns are accessible – conveying the essence of landscape gardens among sheer urbanised backdrops. We love to integrate Acer griseum and palmatum, Aralia, Betula, Catalpa, Cornus, Ficus carica, Ginkgo, Gunnera, Magnolia, Paulownia and intriguing cultivars of native Euonymus and Salix.
Most architectural outdoor designs require minimal maintenance, where many Mediterranean gardens sustain a diverse spectrum of unfussy, evergreen vegetation. Yet, upkeep in warm climates is at times greater due to plants' rapid growth rate, when crowns become inaccessible while at full height. Around most of the UK, architectural plants are slow-growing, where it's easier to thin Palm tree canopies and transform their outline from rounded to pyramidal, producing a silhouette highly conducive to immersive outdoor lighting. Removing the fibres of a Trachycarpus palm reveals beautiful bark patterns, updating an ordinary trunk into an exotic, living woody motif.