Questions for Andy Sturgeon
How long have you been designing gardens?
I designed my first garden in 1983. To be honest I didn't know much about gardens at the time so I took a lot of risks but I'm still pleased with how it turned out. It taught me to be brave with design.
Tell us a bit about other work, what achievements are you most proud of?
I've got four Chelsea Gold medals now but I'm most proud of the garden I designed in 2005 for Merrill Lynch which had square voids set in a dark pool. You tend to get pigeon holed as a designer and for years I designed mostly small urban gardens and roof gardens. I still enjoy those types of projects but I've been allowed to spread my wings and also now make gardens on a far larger scale.
The last few years have taken me around the world from Hong Kong to Rwanda, Moscow, USA and all over Europe but I get just as excited by the prospect of a nice local project in the South East of England. I have always designed sculpture, garden buildings and bespoke water features but I've recently been asked to design a furniture range and some garden lights which is a new avenue for me.
Who were your early influences? Who first inspired you to get into garden design?
My brother Neil was a landscape gardener and he encouraged me into the profession. At first I got virtually all my inspiration from John Brookes 'Small Garden' and Anthony Paul's book 'The Water Garden'. There was little else available.
Are you a gardener as well as a designer? Do you have your own garden and how would you describe it?
Definitely. My background is landscape gardening and I also ran a garden maintenance company for six years. The garden I have now is long and thin like a ribbon and is split into a number of different compartments including a tree fern glade with a snaking boardwalk and right at the end there are vegetables and the childrens' play frame. Everything has to be quite robust as I've got three young boys.
What five plants could you never do without?
Astelia chatamica, Pittosporum tobira and Anemanthele lessoniana.
What materials do you like to use in the garden?
Natural materials, particularly stone and wood. I'm a huge fan of Portland Stone and York stone.
What's the most common problem you come across when designing a garden and how do you overcome it?
Garden design is all about problem solving and each garden is unique and comes with its own set of problems. Perhaps the biggest challenge is ensuring that the garden is looked after properly once I've left or the original vision can disappear in just a few short years. I always design the garden with this in mind using plants and materials with longevity. We also offer a service where we visit the garden each year to keep it on track.
What is your biggest design or gardening mistake?
I'm responsible for some real howlers in my first few years of designing, but they say learn from your mistakes and I've certainly learnt a lot. When I started there were few materials available and one of the cheapest and most popular was reclaimed railway sleepers which unfortunately oozed tar everywhere. We used them to make seats and all sorts of things. I hate to think how many people sat on them. They’ve been banned now.
What's your favourite garden to visit and why?
I'm a big fan of the RHS garden at Wisley. I know it well as I visited frequently as a child and worked there when I was older. It doesn't have much to offer in the way of design but the planting is superb.
If you could design a garden for anyone, who would it be and why?
I've yet to work in the Caribbean and I'd like to work there for all the obvious reasons but also because I studied tropical plants for years. Sean Connery springs to mind but I read an article that said he was stingy, so maybe one of his neighbours? The important things for me are that clients must have vision, a passion for design and a desire for quality. A sea view can be a bonus.
How would you describe your design style?
Our practice is dedicated to creating contemporary external spaces for private, commercial and international clients. Modern design, natural materials and innovative planting are blended to create bold, architectural and timeless landscapes.
What's the one piece of advice you'd give to someone starting out with a new garden?
Don't rush and don't try and cram too much in.