Tom Stuart-Smith Hits the Big Time

Tom Stuart-Smith private London Garden

Tom Stuart-Smith Takes the English Garden Global

The designer works everywhere from Wisconsin to India’s Kerala.

When a landscape designer gets a write-up in the Wall Street Journal you know they’ve hit the big time. This is the kind of publicity you just can’t buy. So it is the time for Tom Stuart-Smith the English garden designer.

Mr. Stuart-Smith has really put together some great work and has been highly recognized. Leading to the level of work he is now doing, a world-wide level of work.

A look at the homepage leads off with a nice splash of images of very nice work. Including the Queen’s Jubilee Garden.

plan view rendering of the Jubilee Garden

The Queen’s Jubilee Garden

The Queen’s Jubilee Garden at Windsor Castle was created for the Golden Jubilee of Her Majesty in 2002. It forms the main approach to the castle for visitors, on the former site of a car park.

The design draws on the tradition of the picturesque at Windsor, which has been the dominant influence on the place since the time of George III. Gentle serpentine forms bring the romantic character of the home park closer to the castle and town. A new bandstand made from York stone, Purbeck stone and Cumbrian slate, is the only significant built feature. Although modest in extent, the garden has transformed the setting of the castle as seen by over a million visitors every year.

Press coverage of The Queen’s Jubilee Garden:

Jubilee Salute by Tania Compton – House & Garden (2002) pdf 576Kb

Royal Horticultural Society’s Bicentenary Glasshouse at Wisley

The Bicentenary Glasshouse Garden, Wisley

The landscape around the Royal Horticultural Society’s Bicentenary Glasshouse at Wisley forms part of the single largest project undertaken by the Society in recent years. The 2 hectare garden provides a coherent setting for the new building and a context for a range of horticultural planting displays, complementing Wisley’s existing plant collections.

Centered on the glasshouse and lake, the garden is designed as a large amphitheatre bounded by a beech hedge. The hedge is irregularly punctuated by openings that connect the garden to other parts of Wisley. The design balances the overwhelming symmetry of the lake, glasshouse and nearby Mount by creating a broad circular movement, instead of a strict hierarchical progression along an axis. Planting changes in character across the site, becoming increasingly complex and intermingled as one moves around to the west. This culminates in two large areas of Prairie vegetation, designed and seeded by Professor James Hitchmough of Sheffield University.

Royal Horticultural Society’s Bicentenary Glasshouse at Wisley
Fantastic plant combinations at RHS Wisley
Herefordshire Garden

Herefordshire garden

This garden surrounds a Regency house on three sides to form an enclosed foreground to the rolling Herefordshire countryside beyond.

The design raised the land on the south side of the house to form a level terrace that screens the entrance. To the west an open lawn for games has broad borders on either side. Above this, the main flower garden leads to a swimming pool and tennis court. Large blocks of herbaceous planting with a high percentage of grasses define the spaces around the house. The planting design makes for ease of maintenance and gives a dramatic textural effect when viewed from the first floor rooms of the house.

Press coverage of Herefordshire garden

Golden touch, by James Alexander-SinclairGardens Illustrated pdf 1.8Mb

Herefordshire private garden
Planting Paradise: From May to August last year, a retrospective of Tom’s work formed the basis of a major exhibition at the Garden Museum in London – the first show of its kind devoted to the work of a living garden designer. Designed by award-winning architects Carmody Groarke, the exhibition revealed the story of Tom’s own garden as well opening the door on three epic country house gardens and two London gardens designed by him. Extensive photographs and Tom’s own large-scale drawings were on display, alongside six specially-commissioned films, which revealed how each garden changes in response to the seasons.
Tom’s courtyard garden
Tom’s West Garden

The above images, drawings and information come from the projects link. There’s a lot more there, so if you have an interest in this type of garden design with these massive sweeps of perennials and grasses do take a look.

He’s got a book out there. It’s about the evolution of their “Barn Garden”

One book, so far
The Tom Stuart-Smith philosophy

The practice-philosophy of Mr. Stuart-Smith

We seek to create landscapes that offer a rich and multi-layered experience – places with an emotional depth that derives from the ideas behind their design. Juxtaposition and contrast is a theme that runs through much of our work: between simplicity and complexity; the modern and the romantic; between subtle intervention and decisive statement. Our work has a richness of form and texture which belies the economy of means by which this is achieved.

We look to forge connections between place and people. We bring an analytical design approach together with a detailed understanding of the nature of a place, and the wishes of our clients.

We follow an ethic of sustainability and seek to increase the ecological diversity and richness of any landscape in which we work. We use local materials wherever we can and select plants fitted to their surroundings, which will endure over time. We are particularly interested in planting schemes inspired by plant communities as they occur in natural and semi-natural landscapes.

As important as these principles is the idea of the garden as a place that quietly articulates emotions and ideas. The designer’s role is to set the scene without imposing a story. A garden should not bind its inhabitants to a narrow vision. Rather we want to make it a place of imaginative possibility.

Just by looking at Mr. Stuart-smith’s website you can see the impressive list of work for this landscape/garden designer. Easy to see why the interest for the article from the Wall Street Journal, which is in its entirety below.

By  J.S. MARCUS | Wall Street Journal

Marianne MajerusGrass-Roots Effort: A walled garden near a home in Cheshire, England. Tom Stuart-Smith envisioned creating a secluded retreat amid an open landscape.

British garden designer Tom Stuart-Smith made his name close to home. The winner of eight gold medals and three Best in Show awards at London’s annual Chelsea Flower Show—the Oscars of the gardening world—he has counted among his clients Queen Elizabeth II, for whom he designed a garden at Windsor Castle.

Mr. Stuart-Smith, who works out of a studio in inner London’s Clerkenwell district, has just finished a spacious walled garden in Cheshire alongside a 19th-century brick house, and a pair of enclosed garden spaces in Norfolk, near the North Sea, complemented by a wild garden between a restored 18th-century farmhouse and fields leading to a beach.

Dylan Thomas for The Wall Street Journal – Mr. Stuart-Smith is shown.

Now, he is taking his sketchpad on the road. He is designing gardens as far afield as northern Wisconsin, where he is creating a landscape for a compound belonging to members of a Midwestern industrial dynasty, and southern India, where he is working with a team of Mumbai architects to create gardens around a cluster of residential buildings in Kerala state.

Each garden he creates is different, says Mr. Stuart-Smith, but his overall approach is marked by “a strong geometrical structure” and “planting in a natural way.” That sense of structure follows his investigation into the natural and demographic history of a site. He sometimes likes to create a wild effect with plants like American grasses.

Mr. Stuart-Smith says he wants the eye to notice space and overall shapes “not whether this a pink bush or white bush.” That means his gardens tend to have “quite a bit of complexity,” he says, not “a beginning, a middle and an end.” A word he disdains in garden design is “minimalism.”

Always, a garden begins with a sketch, says the 53-year-old. “If I don’t draw something, I haven’t connected with it in a proper way,” he says. People think of planting being “the thing,” he adds, “but ordering principles are what’s most important—how you go about making a place.”

He says his ideas don’t come from gardening traditions or looking at paintings—common sources of design ideas—but rather from looking at natural landscapes and natural patterns of vegetation. He also is inspired by classical music, he says.

His urban gardens can be small, but his projects also have covered dozens of acres. At the Connaught, a luxury hotel in London’s Mayfair district, he designed a 10-by-40-foot garden with a reflective serpentine pond. In Islington, in northeast London, he designed a small residential garden presided over by eight exotic tree ferns. He planted climbing hydrangeas in the walled space that flower in the summer; the ground is covered with a deciduous grass that becomes rusty-brown in autumn.

His budgets start at about $300,000 and can reach $7.6 million. He has benefitted from the professionalization of garden design in the U.K, where amateur gardening otherwise is a national passion. Until recently, he says, the British were loath to hand over control to an outside garden designer. Knowing how to lay out a garden was thought of as “part of the equipment you’re born with,” he says, “like knowing the difference between burgundy and claret.”

Mr. Stuart-Smith grew up in Hertfordshire, outside London, on a 250-acre estate built around a Queen Anne house, where he picked up gardening early. “I realized that gardening was something I really loved,” he says of his teenage years.

He returned home in the 1990s after doing post-graduate work in landscape architecture in Manchester, and began to design a garden on land acquired from his family. “There was nothing there when we started,” he says, just “50 acres of wheat.”

The results were featured in an article in House & Garden magazine, which led to a professional breakthrough in 1998 when German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, head designer at the Chanel fashion house, asked him to enter the Chelsea Flower Show with a Baroque garden design.

“It wasn’t the garden I would have designed myself,” he confesses, “but I had this amazing experience” of collaborating with Mr. Lagerfeld. It was a publicity-grabbing experience, he adds, that led to him “being pushed right out there onto the deck, as it were.”

Clients have varying expectations of Mr. Stuart-Smith, who oversees a staff of eight or nine architects and landscape architects, and shares an open-plan office with two other landscaping firms. Although clients rarely ask for departures from his designs, he has noticed that some security-conscious people “want to surround themselves with prickly plants” to ward off thieves.

“You have to talk them out of it,” he says.

The length of time spent on projects means there is often overlap. “In a typical month we might be working on 30 to 40 gardens,” he says. “I might be working on a garden for seven or eight years, or even 20 years. It’s completely up to client if they want to keep us involved.”

He thinks of his gardens as intimate creations, which are then handed to their owners to care for and perhaps to reinvent. “We’re like an adoption service,” he says of his business. “You’re giving somebody something, and you hope that they make it their own.”

By Rick Anderson

The Whispering Crane Institute was originally formed to act as the umbrella organization for the Philosophy of Design Symposium, and other seminars and workshops given by Rick Anderson and Richard L. Dube’. In the year 2000 WCI became a sole proprietorship owned by Rick Anderson. Today the WCI provides design and consultation services for Landscape Contractors, acts as a Green Industry think tank, and provides training for others in the form of workshops, seminars, and individual consulting. The WCI also provides written material, opinions, case-studies and how-to articles for industry trade magazines.


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