How Art, the Devil and Gardens go Hand in Hand.

Once a year I take my students to the Tate Modern gallery in London. As part of their course they have to complete a pictorial timeline, comparing art , architecture, gardens, & Socio-economic influences, using thumbnail pictures to create visual links between each category.

This isn’t just another academic exercise. It has real world use for students, enabling them to understand what has gone on in the past and so allowing them to move into the future.

We teach contemporary design at the Oxford College of Garden Design, but it could be argued that a designer should be able to turn their hand to any style, in any period of history, provided they understand the principles of 3 dimensional special design.


Pergola or Sculpture or Both?

Yes, this exercise helps students put into context how each of the four categories influences the other, but it does more than this. It introduces us (some for the first time) to the concept of art as a major influencing factor in all aspects of our lives.

Initially, I get the students to attend under the pretext of seeing the art, not just as a photo in a book, but as it was supposed to be seen, in context, life size and in the flesh.

I get them to sketch, not to improve their drawing skills, but to improve their ability to see.

This week is the students last critique before they present their Project 1to the clients. It’s no accident that the Tate visit co-insides with this.

Having fulfilled the client brief, this is their last chance to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. This is where an average design can become a gold medal winning garden.

I mentions USP’s in an earlier blog but can’t stress enough how important detail is to successful design. It’s at this point in the course that I start to hammer in the mantra ‘the devils in the detail’


The drawings made at the Tate, now become the next design exercise. Weather they become garden floor plans like John Brookes penguin book garden, or landscape drawing or garden sculpture or even bespoke furniture . It doesn’t really matter what they do, so long as they start to think outside of the box. Even if they don’t all get it immediately, some way down the road I hope they all become free thinking, conceptual designers, able to see the potential in the mundane and the extraordinary in the ordinary.

The reason the Oxford College of Garden Design produces the UK’s top design students is because we see garden design, not as a horticultural subject but as art and I believe art and life go hand in hand.