That Magic Touch
Iris Jardine talks to Roger Platts, winner of this year's Chelsea Gold Medal and Best Garden in Show.
Three years ago Roger Platts was approached by the organisers of The National Gardens Scheme (NGS) to design a garden in honour of their 75th anniversary. He was chosen because they particularly liked his typically English style of design. He picked as his theme a neglected walled garden, dating back to 1927. The garden had been partly refurbished, and led to a newly
created garden with narrow paths, and soft planting which included features from the original. As the NGS is a charity, Roger had to fund most of the work himself, but was fortunately able to rely on some of his suppliers for sponsorship of the materials including the bricks, tiles and paving. He was able to develop and grow plants for the show garden in his nurseries in Kent where he
has a seven acre site near
Edenbridge. Many of the plants which made up the winning garden are still on view, and available for people to buy, although some are prized and not for sale.
Roger prides himself on being both a designer and a
horticulturist, having trained and worked for 15 years in horticulture before setting up his own business in 1989. 'I am still surprised today,' he says, 'at how many garden designers know very little about horticulture.' He is astounded at how many
gardens are designed to look good initially, but, because of a variety of things, are difficult to manage or particularly impractical for the lifestyle of their owners. Often designers do not take into account, for example, rockeries, which look attractive, but which are high maintenance because of the difficulties of weeding between the stones, or lawns where the grass has been laid at the same level as the
paving stones, which makes it difficult to trim.
Considering my own reservations towards garden designers, in that I have never asked one to look at my garden because I imagined the costs involved to be high, I asked Roger how much one could expect to pay to have a garden designed. My fears were ungrounded. Roger's charges were nowhere in the realms of what I had expected, being £100 an hour plus VAT, although mileage was an extra consideration if the client
If using a designer, there are two types of visit - one for advice, and the other with a
view to carrying out work, whether it is planning, recreating a space or helping with the planting.
Were all his clients novices, I wondered? Roger reassured me that many were experienced gardeners who were looking for help and advice in certain areas. Some
were already clients, and usually keen gardeners looking for advice, and would have a list of questions ready that they wanted answered.
Roger also has people
who want someone to design their garden from scratch. 'Usually people come on recommendation or have seen a garden I have designed. They have seen my style, and want something in the same vein.' Roger's initial visit is to assess what needs to be done
and how best to help. According to Roger, people think they are not sure what they want, but after chatting to them, there are always things they like, and others that they definitely don't want.
Depending on the budget and time frame, this can either be done by him quite quickly or over a period of time. He draws up specifications, a bit like architects' drawings. However, unlike an interior designer, who can actually show you what you are buying, it is more difficult with plants, where you have to be able to visualise everything conceptually.
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