A Snapshot inside the Garden Design Diploma

By Gillian Goodson

 I chose The English Gardening School based not only on its world-renowned reputation but also because the School offered a balanced approach to garden design.  The curriculum covered not just the principles of garden design but also the practical such as hard landscaping, the use of plants as well as their nomenclature and identification, business management, marketing etc.  It is predominantly hand drawing but you are also introduced to CAD (Computer Aided Design).

My first face-to-face contact was rather relaxed, an interview with then Vice Principal, Simon Pyle, who is now a dear friend.  I remember feeling ecstatic being offered a place on the course not just because of the prestige of the School but I knew that it was the start of my new career; that butterfly in your stomach moment.  I just could not believe that they wanted me.

First day was a buzz.  Meeting the wonderful team that made up the School, meeting the other students including those from overseas, and last but not least, meeting Rosemary Alexander; hard not to be in awe.

First term was exhausting but what an achievement.  The whole year was exhausting but absolutely exhilarating.  Deadlines.  Deadlines.  Deadlines.  It was a fast paced course and not for the faint-hearted.  Two contact days a week with the rest of the work being undertaken outside of the classroom.  You really became focused and had to be neglectful of friends and family at times.  Time flew.  There were additional Master classes with the likes of Tom Stuart-Smith, Luciano Giubbilei, Lady Xa Tollemache, Chris Marchant, Noel Kingsbury and Toby Buckland to name a few.  These weren’t compulsory but why would you not want to learn from them?  I felt like a groupie…

Throwing just about all that I thought I knew out the window and starting again was no easy task.  Being a keen gardener it was hard for me to forget about plants when approaching a design but you soon realise that plants are one of the last things to be factored in.

Scale.  Void.  Mass.  Proportion.  Space.   Such words and terminology were soon drummed in.  Learning to draw lines first in pencil and then in ink.  Sounds easy.  Mastering the scalpel.  It will soon become one of your new best friends.

Surveying.  As all design work is based on a scaled plan, it is essential to get this right.  The theory seemed relatively straightforward; made perfect sense in class but when there are a few of you out on site, it is the blind leading the blind.  Thankfully we had a trial run at the beautiful Sandhill Farm House, Rosemary’s home.

First site survey.  The client should have been awarded a medal.  What a bunch of misfits we must have looked like.  Second site survey was at the start of January; absolutely freezing.  Snow was imminent.  Numb fingers, frozen toes, runny noses; you get the picture.  Not pretty.  Plant identification was more twig identification.  Being our second survey, we thought we had it in the bag or could at least pretend we knew what we were doing.  They introduced levels!  Third site survey was another bleak, sleet day.  Not just levels but a commercial venture.  Our fourth was glorious sunshine, 25°C in fact, how wonderful to be outside only to be comparing our sunburns later.  Each survey led to assessed coursework together with hard landscaping details and plant portfolios.

There were trips to trade nurseries, guided tours of private gardens with head gardeners and precious running commentary from Rosemary.   To have exposure to some of the best in the profession and horticultural industry was a privilege but it really is up to you to make the most of it.

It is what I imagine Boot Camp to be like.  Some of us were hopefully diamonds in the rough and they saw the potential in us.  Thank goodness they did.  They whipped us into shape and put up with all our excuses, moans, and groans, which I am sure they have heard all before.  Students.  We all try it on.

Somehow we made it to graduation.   Lost a couple along the way.  You are no longer a student but a fully-fledged, qualified Garden Designer.  It was worth it.

A year following graduation, I have my own design studio, website and who would have believed, commissions.  Not just in my local area but elsewhere in the UK.  It is thoroughly rewarding to have a career in something that you enjoy.  The discipline instilled has been invaluable.

Gillian Goodson

 Top Student

One-Year Diploma in Garden Design 2012/2013