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Behind The Scenes At RHS Hampton Court Garden Festival

21/06/2022 - Case Studies and Inspiration

In the run-up to the RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival, we caught up with garden designer Sam Moore from Consilium Hortus and landscaper Stuart Ashworth from Ashworth Specialist Landscapes who are creating a show garden with sponsors Suns Lifestyle.

Sam, Stuart and our own Richard Bickler, discuss how the relationship between designer, landscaper and supplier impacts upon not only the speed and efficiency of the build, but also on the physical and mental health of those closest to the project.  All three gents, explain how communication is key to a successful show garden (as it is for any landscaping project)  and how involving suppliers and landscapers as early as possible in the design process really can help to avoid unnecessary stress during the build.

Here’s what they each had to say.

Designer: Sam Moore, Consilium Hortus 

Sam Moore, garden designer at Consilium Hortus

Sam has a degree in Landscape and Garden Design from Writtle College and with several years of experience working with other companies, founded Consilium Hortus, his own garden design studio based in Essex.  Sam’s portfolio includes RHS award winning gardens and a whole range of beautiful gardens in London, the South East and East Anglia.  Visit the Consilium Hortus website here

Q: When designing a show garden, do you consider the practicalities of the construction process, or do you trust that your landscaper will be able to make it work?

Sam:  Yes, I try to design things in a way that will make sense from a build view.  i.e. using appropriate dimensions for patios to ensure less wastage and cuts. This isn’t always possible though, depending on the design and existing features on site.

Q: Do your have a landscaper in mind BEFORE you submit your show garden design for consideration?

Sam: Yes, we work closely with a contractor who will know will carry out an excellent job.

Q: What qualities do you look for in a landscaper? Experience? Skills? Temperament? Contacts?

Sam:  A mixture of all of these qualities is important.  Always try to visit a project a landscaper has carried out to view the quality and craftsmanship on show. Having a good working relationship is also key to the collaboration - being able to communicate clearly and openly is one of the most important elements I feel.

Q: Do you collaborate with the landscaper and/or suppliers during the design process?

Sam: Yes, I share an office with our main contractor so we discuss projects right from my initial visit to view a new design project, all the way through to pricing so that they understand the projects really well before a spade hits the ground. We have collaborated with suppliers through the design process too; this may be to ensure materials are appropriate for site and the actual design.

Q: How do you allocate tasks? For example do you agree before the build who is going to be sourcing materials and placing orders?

Sam: This can change project to project.  I have found that leaving the landscaper to supply the majority of landscape materials is appropriate and easier to manage. Consilium tend to source and supply items which may be a bit more bespoke such as pergolas, outdoor kitchens and planting.

Q: Is the project management down to you as the designer? Or does the landscaper decide with order to do things in?

Sam:  Again, I feel this is a project by project and client by client decision.  Some clients want the designer to remain involved throughout the project and others are happy to work directly with the landscaper.  I feel it is always best for the designer to remain involved.

Q: Do you tend to gravitate towards suppliers that you already have a good relationship with or do you look for the best deal on the materials you need?

Sam: Yes, likewise with the contractor relationship, the relationship with suppliers, whether ordering form directly or indirectly is so important.  Whilst a good deal on materials is always appreciated, the quality of these is more important.  Buy cheap, buy twice.

Q: What makes a good supplier in your opinion?

Sam:  Clear and open communication.  The supplier being able to present clear and concise specifications on the products is vastly important form the concept stage through to detailing makes a designer’s life easier too.

landscaping work to create a show garden for RHS  Hampton Court garden festival 2022

Sam Moore's show garden for RHS Hampton Court Garden Festival 2022 begins to take shape

Q: What are the best and worst aspects of designing and building show gardens?

Sam:  There are so many things to consider here on both sides of the coin.  It’s great to show the public and other industry professionals your brand and what your design skills are. It’s also so nice to be effectively “be” the client (which makes a nice change). I am able to put together schemes which have more planting than we would generally put into gardens we do ‘in real life’ and also put together planting mixtures which I perhaps haven’t used before.  

I get to meet some amazing professionals along the entire journey which has helped forge new business connections. 

Receiving a medal for the efforts is a great moment and hearing lovely comments is always a pleasure.  As is TV coverage.  The after effects of the show are noticeable as well, through new business leads both directly and indirectly.  A lot of marketing material is provided too.  I feel it hows the level of garden design projects we work on toe potential clients too.

Some of the worst aspects are the application process, which can be quite lengthy - although worth it if selected. There is a lot of behind-the-scenes work which can become stressful.  

A show garden will also make you question each and every design decision from inception through to construction detailing. Consequently, the design will change as you go along.  It is also  very time consuming to see the garden thought to fruition.  There is the build stage, which is around 3 weeks, show week and a few days of breakdown. But even before that, there’s time which needs to be allocated for meetings with sponsors, organisers and contractors as well as  elements such as visiting nurseries to select plants.  We say nearer the show ground too for the on-site elements, so being away from family can be hard too.

Landscaper:  Stuart Ashworth, Ashworth Specialist Landscapes

Landscaper Stuart Ashworth pictured at the Pro Landscaper Business Awards 2022

Having grown up in a farming family, Stuart has a natural affinity with landscaping.  His business, Ashworth Specialist Landscapes, was set up in 2010 and has grown from strength to strength. Precise attention to detail and being able to run a site efficiently, makes Stuart and his team an ideal contractor for dealing with the pressures of building a show garden.

Q: What is it that you enjoy about building show gardens?

Stuart: There are so many aspects of show gardens that appeal to me.  Testing the teams’ skills at the highest level and that feeling of satisfaction when you step back and know that you’ve done a great job.  Best of all - is hearing the comments from the public, and if the show judges award your work a medal - wow! That just about tops everything.

Q: Is there anything you DON’T like about building show gardens?

Stuart:  Actually, no, I can’t think of anything I really dislike about building show gardens.  It gets a bit stressful at times, but isn’t that the case with any landscaping project? A certain amount of stress goes with the territory.

Q: On average, how long does it take you to study the design and work out how you will bring it to life?

Stuart: As soon as I see the design, it will be on my mind until the build is finished.  Working out which order I need to do tasks in is pretty simple but I’m forever thinking about materials, which team member(s) are best suited to which jobs and of course, how to get the best possible results within a tight time frame.

Q: What makes a show garden build run smoother?

Stuart:  As with any landscaping project, you need to be prepared for anything.  Rotten weather, unexpected surprises, the lot.  So planning everything in advance, and making sure that the designer, the suppliers and the team are all singing from the same hymn sheet are absolutely crucial.  If I was to answer the question in just one word, it would be communication.  Keep it simple, make it clear and keep everybody updated on progress at all times.

Q: How do you feel about the designer working side by side with your team during the build up? Does it potentially increase tension or is it good to have someone to consult about details? 

Stuart:  Personally I like having the designer on site. It means that when questions arise, there’s no delay making decisions.  Having said that, I’m lucky to get on well with Sam, the designer for this show garden.  I can imagine that if the relationship between designer and contractor was fraught, building a show garden would be a whole lot tougher.

Q: Tell us about your most challenging show garden build so far

Stuart: Gosh, that would definitely be the first show garden I ever built.  The less said about that the better.  I didn’t know what to expect and was woefully underprepared.  The finished garden was great, but my stress levels during the build were pretty high at times.

Asworth Landscapes working on Sam Moore's garden for Hampton Court 2022

Ashworth Specialist Landscapes team, part way through building the SunsLifestyle Outdoor Living Garden 

Q: Do you find it easiest to work with designers and suppliers you already know are are you happy to get along with anyone?

Stuart: I definitely prefer to work with people I already have a good relationship with, but if push came to shove, I’m sure I would be ok with anyone.

Supplier: Richard Bickler from Arbour Landscape Solutions

Q: What’s the most exciting thing about show gardens for you?

Richard: We are always delighted to work with landscapers and garden designers to showcase their skills.  Show gardens offer a great opportunity for the industry to showcase expertise and everyone from designers to landscapers to growers and suppliers has an important role to play. 

Q: Tell us what you can do to take the pressure off the designer and landscapers during the design and build process

Richard: We work with designers early on in the preparation of show gardens, looking in detail at the best products to match the design ‘vision’ as accurately as possible.  This can start with samples and also include visits to specialist manufacturers or stone specialists with the designer to truly refine the specifications list. 

Q: Do you feel you can offer a better service if you know the designer and landscaper well, or do you offer the same level of service to everyone?

Richard: We can offer the same service to all designers and landscapers.  It is of course great when business relationships evolve over time too as a shorthand and trust develops which is priceless.  Every project and connection starts with a first step and we hope to develop strong bonds of trust and service with all of our clients. 

Q: Do you offer special deals for show gardens?

Richard: We do not offer specific ‘deals’ as such however we will always work hand in hand with the designer and landscaper to do our best on costs or if the garden is for a charitable cause our team endeavour to ensure that there is a benefit for the charity. 

Q: How about late requests for materials - are you able to react quickly if a team needs last minute products?

Richard: Our experience in the industry over the last 30 years means that we are often seen as the ‘5th emergency service’ in the landscaping materials world!  A huge network of contacts and materials sources enables Arbour Landscape Solutions to meet last minute urgent requirements with either exact matches or excellent substitutions for the material in question.

Q: What can you offer designers and landscapers involved with building show gardens?

Richard: We offer a holistic service which includes:

  • yes Access to a huge range (over 5000) landscaping materials.
  • yes Free landscaping advice and bespoke procurement services.
  • yes Time and commitment to designers and landscapers projects to ensure faultless materials delivery as and when required.
  • yes Free marketing of the project during and after the event – reaching out to our extensive data base and social media following of collectively 15,000 contacts.

Each and every person involved with designing, building or supplying materials for a show garden needs to have a really good understanding of the process from inception to judging.  With such a short window in which to create something simply spectacular, It’s important to plan ahead, and to be able to react quickly if things don’t go to plan. That’s where the relationship between designer, landscaper and supplier must be intuitive and strong.

At the time of writing, Sam’s design for the SunsLifestyle Outdoor Living Garden at RHS Hampton Court Garden Festival is under construction.  We’d like to wish Sam and Stuart the best of luck in the competition - everybody at Arbour Landscape Solutions has their fingers crossed for good weather during the buildup and we know that the public are going to love your work.  

Visit the RHS website for a sneak peak at Sam’s design.

Need help specifying or sourcing landscaping materials for a garden design project?  Get in touch with the Arbour Landscape Solutions team and make the most of our free services for garden designers and landscapers.