I’ve now finished marking the final portfolio submissions from the OCGD students of 2007/2008 who completed their last assignments during the summer and I am delighted to be able to send my heartfelt congratulations to the student who came top of the class and has graduated with a much-deserved distinction.

Emily Garbutt, who lives in Reading, gained an overall score of 80% thanks to her consistency and attention to detail throughout every assignment. I always tell my students “The Devil’s In The Detail” and Emily’s distinction is proof of this adage.

Emily, whose background is in art and photography, is already designing for private clients and, alongside design talent, brings a wealth of understanding of construction and hard landscaping to her projects thanks to working alongside her partner, Trevor, who is the founder of the Reading-based EarthTech Landscaping.

The students in this year’s new intake are just completing the site survey for their very first project and I am looking forward to writing my Blog this time next year when, hopefully, I will be introducing you to more of our graduates who have achieved the same high standard as Emily.

It’s funny but I was only asked the other day how come, when the majority of students attending garden design courses are female (this year we have just one male and ?? females) the majority of the well-known garden designers are still men?

Emily’s success proves there’s no reason for this gender discrepancy but when I stopped to think about it, I guess the answer has to be that primarily, the men who come on the course are intending to be the primary breadwinners in the family while a lot of the females will be working to bring in a secondary income.

A lot of our students, in fact the majority, are usually either mid-life or mid-something career changers and maybe, having enjoyed success in their previous careers, they’re now looking to take their foot of the gas somewhat? I’m not really sure because it’s such a personal thing.

What I do know, and I am forever banging on about this with my students, is that design talent is not enough to make a name for yourself in garden design (if that’s your goal) you also need good business acumen.

One of the first things I send students who are about to graduate is a link to one of their local business support organisations and I’ve noticed that those who follow through on this are those most likely to succeed.

I’ve also noticed that while a lot of our students who, like Emily, have an art background do extremely well on the course, so do many of the career changers who join us from a background of financial services, including banking.

Come to think of it, with the collapse of so many of the once-trusted and long-established banks, maybe we should start advertising the course in the Financial Times!


Lost Opportunity……

Enormous thanks to all of you, students past and present, who called to congratulate Carol and I on winning one of the I Own Britain’s Best Home & Garden trophies from the judges on the Channel Five programme of the same name.

We were, of course, delighted to win our category for our much-loved garden at Greystone and likewise, our congratulations to all the other winners.

That said, and since we were one of the winners this is in no way sour grapes on my part, I can’t help feeling the entire programme, instead of being the perfect platform to not only promote but show the benefits of good design to viewers, was a lost opportunity for all of us involved in the field.

My first criticism of the programme format would be that the producers did not chose to critique gardens of a similar style in each category which, in a way, somewhat tarnished the glow we felt upon winning our category. The garden that we were up against was completely different in its style and feel and so we felt deep commiserations for those owners because in its own right, it was a fantastic garden too.

Secondly, I can’t understand for the life of me why the programme-makers chose not to use botanical names when discussing the plants and planting combinations in each selected garden. Or why the panel of three judges didn’t insist on this before singing their contracts. The fact is, garden centres sell their plants by their Latin and not their common names, and so if part of the aim of the programme was to educate viewers and de-mystify garden design and gardening, then it failed miserably in this respect.

I also felt, and this is entirely my personal opinion of course, that on occasion, the Judges too let themselves down. Many of the comments they were making came across as entirely subjective at best and at worst, downright inane which again, would have been quite insulting to the people who had worked so hard to produce beautiful gardens worthy of selection in the first place.

Carol and I both enjoyed meeting the presenter, Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen, and felt enormous respect for his professionalism. He’s a man who certainly knows about design and space but unfortunately, whoever wrote his dumbed-down links for him managed brilliantly to disguise the fact he is so knowledgeable and I know several viewers who, after the first episode, cancelled their Sky Plus series link because they felt much of the content was so superficial.

Interestingly, when we called the Producers after the first episode to make some of these observations with the regard to the content and the format, we were told the programme was aimed not at the demographic most likely to actually care about gardens and garden design (i.e. predominantly empty-nesters and the owners of larger gardens) but at 30-something males.

Uh, is it me…. or do the Producers need to sit down, before the next series, with someone from the world of gardens and garden design who actually knows what they are talking about?