RHS Chatsworth

RHS Chatsworth, here we come..

Not mad enough to only complete one show garden this year, I’ll be travelling to the beautiful peak district later this week to begin the build of ‘tending the mind’, a small (6mx4m) show garden under the ‘mindfulness’ category at the show. The garden is a contemporary vision of a herb garden, complete with cascading water features and sleek planters. 

When given the brief of mindfulness by the RHS back in oct of last year (Yes, over 6 months of work into this tiny garden..) I was at first baffled by the remit. But looking back at my own horticultural journey, I realised that mindfulness and the relief of stress has always been a key ingredient to my own gardens. Back in the dark old days of working in the city, I had a very similar sized garden in central London, indeed, it was my first garden. Building up a small herb garden gave me a great escape after coming home from a day in the office and so looking back at my own experiences, was the answer to the brief and the hope that other people will appreciate this intimate style of gardening. 

If you get the chance to visit the show over the 4th to 9th of June, please do say hello! I’d love to tell you more..


How to get started in Garden Design

Well if only I knew… 

Rome wasn’t built in a day, as I keep telling myself and starting out a studio has opened up a whole new world to me, not of design per se, but rather of google business, google search engines, blogs, websites, website hits and trying to get a name out there in what is a crowded market. 

And thats not even mentioning the impact of Brexit….

The great news though, is that I love what I’m doing, or at least trying to do and am determined to succeed. And I guess thats the key ingredient in any start up. Determination to keep doing and make a success of what you love to do, rather than what you have to do. 

But I have far from nothing to be grateful for. An upcoming show garden for the RHS and another on the horizon (watch this space…), my work featured in upcoming House Beautiful and Real Homes magazines and a real desire to create, undiminished after my first year. 

If you’re thinking of going on the same journey and undertaking a radical career change, or are in the process, don’t hesitate to get in touch and we can chat about the trials and pitfalls. But most of all we’ll talk about the joy of creating.

RHS Cardiff, here we come..

I’m excited to be able to announce that Purtell Parker-Smith will be entering a show garden in the 2019 Royal Horticultural Societies Cardiff show, held in late April.

Entering under the ‘Urban Regeneration’ category, I hope to show how urban artists and designers can work alongside one another to create an exciting space.

So.. watch this space as I update with progress and more entertainingly, the trials and tribulations of a show garden.


When to start your dream garden?

When should you hire a designer? 

Probably not when you would think. 

Typically, business for designers and landscapers picks up in the spring, after a long and quiet winter, however when you think about this, its counterproductive. 

Spring is just dawning and of course our mind turns towards the garden. Hope of a sunny summer, BBQ’s with friends and overflowing flower beds ultimately mean that any ideas of re-landscaping the yard come to the front of our minds, however the amount of time involved in such a project, is often not. 

Even with a set of design plans in your hand, how long do you think it would take to begin the actual work? 1 month? 2?? Unfortunately, peoples expectations here are often rudely shaken, as leading landscape companies often have a lead time of at least 6 months, if not considerably longer. And so while you may be dreaming of spending the summer in your new garden, the reality is that it will be the following summer that you get to open that bottle of champagne. 

Secondly, think about what time of year that it makes sense to carry out the work. 

People naturally envision landscaping work being carried out in the better weather of spring and summer, however if you’re carrying out a large project, do you really want your outside space, often over looked by the kitchen, turned into a building site over the best weather of the year? Landscapers are experienced and more than happy to work in all weather, and this includes the dark days of winter, and so I’d argue that the best time of year to literally dig up the garden, are these winter weeks, just when you wont be using it. And the best part? Careful planning means that the work is done when you are in-side and all complete for the first days of spring, just when you your mind is emerging from the long dark winter days and keen to get outside…

Which Style??


Keeping to an overall style in a garden is very often an area where clients can struggle. We’ve all been through the local nursery and seen that colourful perennial which we just have to have, or filled in spaces with little thought as to the overall impact on a space. 

If its a sense of space that your after though, taking the time to look at different styles and the way plants are used to achieve this, is time well spent. Whether its the mass of colour and life in a cottage garden, or the simple but elegant lines of a contemporary garden that you prefer, specific plants all have their place.


Many gardens we visit are for clients who have just bought a new property and are looking to achieve a look outside, that they have achieved inside and a visit in the garden is very often a case of seeing many different styles of plants, planted over a long period of time, often by several owners. Whilst there is certainly is nothing wrong about this, in that it displays a garden that has enjoyed attention over the years, it can however mean that several peoples aspirations in the garden and their differing tastes can become entangled. 

A key starting place therefore, is for clients to take a good look at differing styles and the messages that they convey, as good design is fundamentally about a clear message. Whether that message is about cool, sophisticated modernity, or a message that speaks in harmony with a wider landscape, plants play a central role in this and so having a style in mind for your space, will mean that trips to the nursery will compliment, rather than confuse this. 


However.. is the right style purely a choice of personal taste? Unfortunately, its not so simple. As a garden is only part of a wider landscape, almost always dominated by a residence, careful consideration needs to be applied. 

As an example, let’s look at a very popular architectural style, that of the Arts and Crafts.  At its height in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and mastered by the famous names of Frank Lloyd Wright and Sir Edwin Luytens, this simple, ‘honest’ style of architecture, espousing a return to craftsmanship, become a popular choice in the home counties of England. And so it was that garden design quickly responded, with a style championed by the artist come designer, Gertrude Jekyll. 


Honesty is what is needed when designing a landscape around such an architectural residence. Honesty not only to ones one own taste, but honesty to what the building is, and means. Shoe-horning an ultra modern garden into this space would be breaking this honesty and the result would show it, although good design can blur some of these lines, being one thing whilst in harmony with another. Instead of forcing a style, look at what style the residence is conveying and explore this. Perhaps a few contemporary touches to a traditional Arts and Crafts style design is what is really needed, rather then re-inventing the entire space.

And so to come full circle, ‘which style’? Well first, look at styles and find one that speaks its message to you. Then ask, is this something that would fit into our space? Luckily, you’ll have one key thing in your favour! Clients will most often buy a property that is attractive, architecturally, to them. This means that finding a style which will fit with the property, often means finding a style that they equally like!


The English Garden

We're very proud to say that Max was awarded best design by the English Garden magazine (www.theenglishgarden.co.uk) at the annual Inchbald School of Design exhibition.

His design, a country house in Surrey, was noted for its sympathetic choice of planting and relationship to the wider landscape and now we cant wait to see the garden being built and used for many years to come. 

All of our congratulations also go to the students of Inchbald, both in the landscape and interior schools, for a great year and very impressive work. 





Hiring a designer is just about getting the 'look', right?

Well yes.. and of course no.

Hiring a designer isn't only about achieving a look that you may be after, or a signature piece from a well known designer. Its also about accessing the knowledge the designer has about the wider landscaping industry and similar projects to your own and by doing so, avoid costly mistakes. 

For example, a recent client had been quoted for sandstone paving. A beautiful material in the right place, however that was the issue. The patio area in question was north facing and after being asked to come over for a chat, we pointed out that the particular sandstone, being highly porous, would quickly loose its smooth tan appearance under a blanket of algae in such a position. Simply changing to limestone, would achieve a similar look, while avoiding much of these problems. And so a quick chat meant that a very costly mistake was avoided.


 Or what about planting? A planting plan is not only about appearance. It's also about what works in the space. We all know after a visit to the local nursery that planting is not cheap, particularly when specimen examples are used, but did you know that many designers, including ourselves will guarantee all plants that we install? So not only can you be assured that the designer has selected species that will not only live, but thrive in your conditions, you can also know that should this not be the case, they will be replaced in any trouble areas. 

And council planning? Well that can of course be a minefield in its own right, however a designer can work with you in steering through an ambitious project by dealing directly on your behalf and pre-empting issues, such as replacing trees that are ear marked for removal on the master plan.

So hopefully, these small examples will highlight how commissioning a designer is so much more than just achieving a look. Its about executing that design that you love, in a way that ensures not just immediate, but also long term success.

Why we adore what we do.

Nature is a part of us and we are a part of nature. 

I recently read an article that wrote that the garden is usually a place that is connected with during the later stages in life. This, of course, is nothing new. You can look at most of the people below the age of 40 odd and see that the idea of doing one's tax reutrns is more appealing than picking up a pair of secateurs and dead heading the hydrangea. 


I suppose it has something to do with the fact that you have more time on your hands or you allow yourself to slow down when the grey hairs start to show and the simple things in life suddenly become a lot less...simple. Having said that, I definitely found a white hair on my 24th last year and I don't intend to slow down any time soon.

However, I decided almost 10 years ago that the life of plants was for me. I do in someway feel rather lucky that I have been able to open my eyes up to the joys of this world at this early stage of my life. I have learnt what a pleasure it is to be among the living outside world; where you can bathe in the awakening of all the senses, where colours become richer, smells become sweeter, touch becomes softer and sound becomes sharper. 

The design of most plants, for example, are things one could only imagine in dreams. Take a look at a Passiflora caerulea, Passion flower, you don’t even have to look hard at the intensity of its’s psychedelic colouring and alien like form to make you think like you’re seeing things. How the hell did it get that to look that good? 


Even something as simple as this Hedera helix, Ivy, leaf gives one the impression that you’re on google maps satellite viewing some sort of giant water system spreading out over an apocalyptic landscape.



To be able to work with something so wonderfully simple but complex, something that brings good health and joy to people and something that has such a great purpose on this planet is certainly more then enough to get up in the morning and start working at the drawing board.

So to bring it back to the post title of why we adore what we do is, because we get to work with the most incredible and beautiful employees on the face of the earth.

Where does our inspiration come from?

In a nut shell, the world around us, just like everybody else, however I guess its the ability to see the less obvious, that makes a design unique.

And an example? Well, a rug....

As students of the Inchbald School of Design, we have the great opportunity to design a floor piece for the beautiful Veedon Fleece company (www.veedonfleece.com) via an annual competition. 

Judging is based on the design itself, but also on the process by which the design was conceived and it was in the recording of this process, that we thought you may find interesting to see just how we  ultimately portray inspiration. This has nothing to do with a garden I grant you, however the journey of finding a narrative for a design, the inspiration and the process of refining it, is one that encapsulates our entire design ethos, whether its a garden, landscape, or indeed a rug.

The conditions of the competition where that the design of the rug had to be aimed specifically at the brief of a client of our choosing and for this design, I rather ostentatiously chose myself. This was done in order to less reflect myself per se, but rather to commemorate a key moment, done so in a style that encapsulates its spirit and my reaction to it. 

In 2017, after a career in finance and at the age of 35, I decided enough was enough and it was time to step through a new door each morning and pursue a career which I was motivated and excited about. As such, I found myself, rather excitingly, enrolled at the Inchbald School of Design.

The brief I created therefore, was to create an image that captured the feeling of a new beginning. Of the excitement at change and the personal reaction to it, done so in a style that made the piece not only personally unique to myself, but also adaptable enough to ‘work’ in multiple spaces and environments and for other people.

As I had the luxury of using myself as the brief, I was able to appreciate the emotion, first hand of the design. Walking up to Inchbald School and passing through the impressive doorway on my first day is an exciting memory for myself and as such, I explored and used the concept of ‘stepping through a new door’ as the driving force of the design. 

The challenge therefore, was a representation of a doorway and whether this would be a literal image, or an abstract one. 

To begin, I made watercolour sketches of the doorway at Inchbald. 


Its strong geometric design and archetypical look, meant that the actual door itself immediately become my next focus. 

Initially, the idea of using an image of the entire door as the design, was explored. However, I soon found this too heavy handed and unsophisticated. Through numerous sketches, I found that using the separate panels of the door, gave all the meaning required, while still keeping an energy and freedom in the piece that I felt had to be reflected. 


While the finished design, which you'll see below, may appear sketch like, this was a very deliberate decision. I sketch in my free time and have developed a very quick, fluid style, which my fellow students within Inchbald recognise as mine. An example of this style is below and it was incorporating this style into the design that I knew would invest the personality and individuality required.  

Tate Modern Turbine Hall.

Tate Modern Turbine Hall.

Also, using this style was a deliberate nod to the wider design process and the work done at the school. Its mimics the fluid, quick sketches made by students when exploring a space and by doing so, connects the piece to the design school in general and my ongoing memories of it. The use of broad, un-neat brush strokes of marker pens inject an energy and anchors the piece as a reflection of the ongoing creative process, rather than a final statement.

The colour palette and arrangement was the next challenge and this was a relatively simple process of elimination. Working through multiple sketches in order to find the right balance led to several that portrayed the required energy and also a pleasing tonal quality.   


While the above images are only some of many, they highlight the relatively simple process.   

Having now settled on a composition and colour scheme, I made several copies of the design, trying to find a piece that was expressive, without looking staid and having found that piece, the final design was now complete. 


The 12 panels represent the panels found on the door of the Inchbald School. Within the centre of each, is a gold door handle, which while found only in the centre of the actual door, I found this a visually pleasing addition and another way to anchor the piece to its inspiration. The black mimics the door, while the yellow surrounding the panels, represents the gold Inchbald logo found above the doorway.

So, while certainly not a garden, we hope that this gives you a brief glimpse into how I found the inspiration, refined it and finally executed the design.

And this is no different to a garden. Finding inspiration in the client themselves and their passions, or from within the wider landscape that the garden sits, all come together to be condensed and refined in the above fashion. 

What makes your design unique?

Most people appreciate that a design is unique to a space. Whether it's a small courtyard or a rambling estate, a design is site specific, as if nothing else, each space has its own unique measurements and dimensions. In its most simplistic, a garden of 100sqm, couldn't have an identical garden to one that is 90sqm. Few people realise though, just how very unique our designs are and how we tie the design into the very fabric on the location. 

To achieve this, every design at Purtell Parker-Smith is derived from key structural elements of the surrounding area and building(s). By drawing lines extruding out into the landscape from key architectural elements of the house, such as windows, doorways and corners, we can ensure that the wider space remains in perfect proportion and avoids becoming a disjointed attachment. 

An example can be seen below. By running lines out from the key features of the main residence on the left, we have the basis for a design which places the home at the centre of all our design work. These are merely lines on the drawing table at this stage, however we now know that any future elements added to the garden need to be in proportion to these key lines in order to reach a design which 'speaks' to the house and wider space.


And these lines that we use, do not only need to run from elements of the main residence. Prominent features in the landscape such as trees, and distant views can all be incorporated into the design and by doing so, create a design which is truly unique to the space and which sits happily in its context. 

But these are not the only methods Purtell Parker-Smith use. Really getting to know our clients matters. Spending time to understanding their taste in music, art and popular culture, all plays an important part in making a representation of this is the design. Cherished art works, favourite musicians and cultural influences come together and drive the design, rather than the design being a mere creation of our own tastes. Working with this in mind, Purtell Parker-Smith can and have, drawn artistic representations of clients sculpture and art into the very planting schemes of the wider design. Splashes of colour and bold groupings of plants that derive directly from images chosen by the clients, ensuring that the finished space is deeply personal and above all, truly unique. 

So in a very brief synopsis of the process, we hope you can see that a design from Purtell Parker-Smith is completely yours, and yours only. 

Enjoy your day!


Just how do we design a landscape?

All by hand.. After several years working in investment banking and an ongoing design eduction at the Inchbald School, which places high importance on the traditional crafts of the drafting table and sketch book, I relish the chance to put the laptop away and pick up the pencil. 

Beginning with the simple outline of the garden, we break the area down into sub dimensions, proportionally correct to the garden. These could all be different shapes and sizes, and while moving them around the space, we're constantly thinking about the relation of these basic shapes to the house and the intended style.   


Next is the process of introducing mass and void, as what is a landscape, other than varying degrees of each? The mass of a huge and glorious Oak in the middle of a field, or the dark void of shaded tunnel through overhanging trees. Doing so, we begin for the first time to introduce actual features that are identifiable as belonging in a garden. Stairs, trees & dining areas among many others. 


And now to the sketch book, a process that I in particular enjoy. Being able to visualise some of these masses and voids and their relationship to the greater space enables us to clarify and condense our ideas. 


At this stage, the design has really taken shape, although its still in rough sketches and in our minds. To now move forward, means developing the ideas further and continuing to investigate in depth, how each component works within the space. A quick 'sketch model' does this, whereby we build scale models of the site and cut and change as we progress.

After this, its finally its time to transfer our clarified ideas and concept to the drawing board. All done by hand, these plans are beautiful in their own right and are a source of pride, taking several hours of very detailed ink work to achieve. 


Once rendered, this plan is then complete and conveys the design to the client, alongside of which are presented detailed sketches and mood boards. These plans have even been known to be framed by clients, for a future talking point.


Well, there's certainly a lot more to it than that, but this will have given you a brief glimpse into our world and the varied steps that go into a design. Of course, its not only our scribbles that make the design, but the unique ability in all of us to interpret these scribbles in differing ways and being able to filter these through to a successful design. That, at the end of the day, is what really differentiates designers from each other and what we take pride in.

And with that, enjoy your day..