I began working as a garden designer over twenty years ago in Holland, after doing a four year course in horticultural college at Boskoop, a famous town that is home to about 1,000 nurseries.
In Holland, I worked on designs for all manner of gardens: from small courtyards and roof gardens to much larger projects where I created acres of restful parkland around office buildings, using carefully-chosen mature trees and thousands of herbaceous plants.
Preliminary design for the Dutch Chancellery, Dublin
Coming to Ireland in 1988 was an exhilarating experience for me as a designer. In Holland I had usually worked within a controlled urban or suburban setting, often creating a suggestion of the countryside to offer a tranquil counterpoint to the surrounding built-upon environment. But, here in Ireland I was elated to find the rural landscape right outside many of my new clients’ houses – just waiting to be drawn into the garden picture.
I feel that the garden, like the natural landscape, should reflect the ebb and flow of the passing seasons – rather than sitting like a static stage-set outside the door. I aim to create an always-interesting, perpetually-alive place by using different plants to perform at different times of the year, and by using plants that have more than one season of interest.
Certain herbaceous plants, for instance, after giving a splendid, colourful show of blossom in the summer and autumn, look statuesque and sculptural throughout the winter, if left standing until spring. And, equally, some deciduous trees (those that shed their leaves each autumn) present elegant silhouettes or interesting bark textures in the dead of winter.
When I am designing a garden I like to use strong, architectural plants to create the framework, rather than a lot of unnecessary hard landscaping that might upset the balance. There are, after all, wonderful plants of every shape and size that can be used (alone or in combination) to produce just about any structural effect that is required: screens, vertical accents, low boundaries, bulky mounds, ground-cover. And although I haven’t yet found a plant that will replace a water feature, I think that a rustling stand of bamboo is a good substitute – and a lot easier to maintain.
If possible, I use mature trees and shrubs in my planting schemes so that my clients have a pleasing, balanced garden right from the start. I find that using local contractors usually cuts down on time and expense, but I source or supply all the material myself to ensure that the finished garden matches the carefully planned design. And, where I am designing a garden to complement a new building, I find that the most harmonious effect is achieved by working with the architect right from the start of the project.
My current projects include the development of a five acre pleasure garden for a quality hotel in rural Kerry; the creation nearby of a twenty acre naturalistic garden, complete with ancient woodland and water cascades; and the ongoing development of a highly architectural garden in Limerick, full of sculpture and based on straight lines, avenues and axes.
Some of my past work includes design advise and planting at Fota Wildlife Park, making a Chinese pagoda garden in Co. Carlow, landscape in the grounds of an exclusive apartment block in Cork City and creating completely new gardens for the recently extended Dutch Embassy, in Dublin 4.
I have been a member of the Garden & Landscape Designers Association since its foundation five years ago. The group – whose members are assessed by an independent body of horticulturists and academics – aims (among other things) to set and maintain high standards in the profession. In 1999 I was pleased to be elected chairman of the association.