Garden designer profile: Tom Stuart-Smith

The winning garden at the 2010 edition of the Chelsea Flower Show in London was designed by the now famous and in my eyes, god-like Tom Stuart-Smith.  This garden designer has won seven gold medals since 1998 as well as three ‘Best in Show’ titles, making him the winning-est designer at that prestigious show since its inception 87 years ago.

This particular garden, as well as several of his previous winning ones at Chelsea, demonstrate seemingly effortlessly and without any awkward obvious intention, Stuart-Smith’s philosophy:

“We seek to create landscapes that offer a rich and multi-layered experience – places with an emotional depth that derives from the ideas behind their design. Juxtaposition and contrast is a theme that runs through much of our work: between simplicity and complexity; the modern and the romantic; between subtle intervention and decisive statement. Our work has a richness of form and texture which belies the economy of means by which this is achieved.” 

Photo reproduced with kind permission. Copyright Sabina Ruber; http://www.sabinaruber-photographer.com

These Chelsea gardens are perhaps most immediately statements of colour; this 2008 garden (above & below) is a study in blue and white and green, the blue being achieved through the distinctive patina of the zinc boxes, planters and rear wall.  The white is provided by the structurally important flowering perennials (i.e. Rodgersia, Peonia) and the green through the varied and elegant juxtaposition of foliage plants (both grassy and flat-leafed).

Photo reproduced with kind permission. Copyright Sabina Ruber; http://www.sabinaruber-photographer.com

In all Stuart-Smith’s gardens there is an incredibly satisfying dialogue going on between the rigid and the effusive —

You might be tempted to say that these show gardens are all well and fine but what about Stuart-Smith’s real world work?  Many of the gardens he’s designed are highly structured within expansive spaces on traditional English country estates.  These kinds of gardens are hard for us here to accept as part of the North American vernacular.  The rigid contrast between lawn and deeply planted bed, often with ancient walls behind, is traditionally English and are perhaps even ‘on the outs’ these days, even across the pond.
I think it’s in Stuart-Smith’s own garden where he is able to strut his stuff.  Elements that have been a part of his show gardens find their place here (literally) not in part, I’m sure, because he is his most amenable client. 

2 thoughts on “Garden designer profile: Tom Stuart-Smith”

  1. He’s one of my favorite designers. That Rodgersia in his 2008 Chelsea garden has a particularly beautiful leaf shape. I’ve been looking for it for several years. Margaret Roach has it in her garden.

  2. It was thanks to you, James, that he was brought to my attention. I remembered your comment about the Rodgersia and looked him up. He really has embraced the modern naturalistic prairie style that is so dear to your heart as well.

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