In what is fast becoming a long career in garden design, I have met or talked to quite a few of the modern giants of our profession. Christopher (Christo) Lloyd, Charles Jencks, Piet Oudolf and Ian Hamilton Finlay to name just a few.
I have dreamt of meeting André Le Nôtre from the 17th-century, William Kent from the 18th, John Claudius Loudon from the 19th and Roberto Burle Marx and Russell Page from the 20th. I would have quite liked to natter to “our” Lancelot “Capability” Brown too.
But that list leaves out a medley of remarkable women who have worked their magic and cultivated wondrous beauty in some of the greatest gardens you will ever see through a passion and delicate understanding of the quirks of nature.
Some are well known, like the incomparable Gertrude Jeykell who looked a bit like Queen Victoria, the celebrated Vita Sackvill-West, Beth Chatto, champion of gardening on dry land and the inimitable Irish 88-year-old Penelope Hobhouse. I know it’s ungallant to mention a ladies age but when you are nearly 90 it ceases to be discourteous and becomes an appreciation. There is, as well, an ever-growing garth of emerging talent.
A few years before her death I became friends with Rosemary Verey, OBE, VMH, an internationally known English garden designer, lecturer and prolific writer whose famous garden at Barnsley House, near Cirencester is much recorded. She introduced me to Alvilde Lees-Milne another inspirational British Garden expert.
Rosemary had been busy making a garden for Sir Elton John in England and Alvilde was doing the same for Sir Mick Jagger in France. I suggested that perhaps we should make a series of gardening programmes called Rock Gardens. Whilst the formidable ladies were on side, the singers did not want to play.
More recently I have re-established a friendship with another impressive member of this exclusive club, Rosemary Alexander. Born, brought up and educated in Scotland, she now lives near Chichester. Having trained as a landscape architect she was the first woman to be elected a Fellow of the Society of Garden Designers.
For 11 years she was tenant of the National Trust property Stoneacre, near Maidstone, Kent where she transformed the gardens and then in 2011 she was awarded the important Veitch Memorial Medal by the RHS in recognition of her contribution to Garden Design. She now lives just over the border in Hampshire and has since 2001 created a new, smaller garden that is the subject of various magazine articles.
A practical and hands on gardener, she started the London based English Gardening School in 1983 initially in response to a need from enthusiastic garden lovers for more information about how to grow and nurture plants. Roots were put down in the historic Chelsea Physic Garden, at that stage only very rarely open to visitors. With a meaningful location together with a strong set of gardening personalities on hand to lecture, her courses were soon a success and continue to be so.
However, as popular as The English Gardening school remains Rosemary realised that it was prohibitive for some people living outside of London to attend. That has been resolved and now people interested in making a career out of gardening have a chance to explore the horticultural world via Rosemary’s emerald fingers at her farmhouse near Chichester where she gives talks and masterclasses based on 40 years of experience of designing gardens and teaching.
The latest is the new starter course; Gardening for Beginners starting in April for four days. You won’t necessarily emerge from it as a fully paid up member of the Fraternity of Brilliant Gardeners, well you might, but it is more likely to awaken your potential and make you want to know more and there are not many people who could wind you up better than Rosemary. You may even think it worth spending a bit more money and time and join one of her several courses run from The Chelsea Physic Garden in London.
Cecilia Cole (above) attended one of Rosemary’s London courses, The Ten Week Intensive Diploma in Garden Design. Now in its 6th year, this course is aimed at designers and advanced gardeners and runs in January, February and March. With three days a week at school and at least two days homework, it is for people who really want to be professional garden designers and covers everything from surveying a site to design layouts, planting plans, specifications and costing.
Cecilia considers it a sizable success but warns: “It is quite possibly the hardest I’ve worked, and the most I’ve learnt in a short space of time, pretty much ever.” It has qualified her to design and construct not only her own charming garden (see below) in Chichester but has also prepared her for taking on new commissions which she does with great aplomb.
Cecilia comes from a formidable background of garden lovers; her father held the National Acer Collection and was an active Royal Horticultural Society lobbyist and her Great Grand Father was Edwin Lutyens.
The English architect much praised for his versatility and range of invention along traditional lines. He is especially noted for his design of the Viceroy’s House in New Delhi…but also managed a princely portfolio of beautiful houses in the UK and who hasn’t seen the ubiquitous Lutyens garden seat? With its roll-over arm-rests and distinctive shaped back it must be one of the most popular garden bench seats around.
But even more exciting is the professional friendship Lutyens enjoyed with the indomitable Gertrude Jekyll. Jekyll who died in 1932 created over 400 gardens in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States, and wrote more than a thousand articles for various magazines. One of their joint ventures is Hestercombe, a historic country house in Somerset.
Oh, such incalculable grandness, such space, such budgets! I have walked through this garden making a short film for the Beeb and remember thinking, and I am whispering here, it’s slightly overcooked compared to her sublime garden at Lindisfarne Castle, Northumberland for example.
That aside, she has been rightly described as ‘a premier influence’ on garden design and quite probably on Edwin Lutyen’s great grand-daughter Cecilia as well. You can contact her on firstname.lastname@example.org
For those who are interested in making a career from gardening there are various levels and options.
Rosemary Alexander For the English Gardening School, (London) please visit the EGS website They also do 2 Distance Learning Courses for those who cannot attend in person.
For the Gardening for Beginners Course contact email@example.com Sandhill Farm House Garden Nyewood Road, Rogate, Petersfield, Hants GU31 5 HU t. 01730 818373 m. 07551 777 873
Sandhill Farm is also open under the National Gardens Scheme 2018 on:-
Sat 21 April & Sun 22 April
Sat 23 June & Sun 24 June
Sat 22 September &Sun 23 September
Open 2pm to 5pm
Entry £4.50 per person
To qualify as a fully blown Landscape Architect you will need to complete a Landscape Institute accredited university course. To gain landscaping diplomas and certificates, with progression right up to degree level Merrist Wood near Guilford is highly rated.
Merrist Wood College
Tel: 01483 88 40 00
Or for more local instruction: – Chichester College 1) Brinsbury Campus : North Heath, Pulborough, West Sussex RH20 1DL 2) Chichester Campus Westgate Fields. Chichester West Sussex PO19 1SB 01243 786 321 firstname.lastname@example.org