8 Trend-Setting European Urban Garden Designers and Horticulturalists

December 5, 2013 by

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Luciano Giobbilei project in Barcelona.

Urban gardening is on the increase.  And no more so than in Europe, where some remarkable talents are driving many of the world’s urban gardening trends.

Urban Gardens sponsor, Elspeth Briscoe, founder of MyGardenSchool (formerly with eBay & Skype), shares her thoughts with us on the top leading lights in European urban garden design. MyGardenSchool, the world’s first virtual gardening school offers online gardening classes in a wide range of subjects ranging from garden design to edible gardening.

Richard Reynolds

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Richard Reynolds leads the charge for guerrilla gardening. He is waging a stealth war against the neglect of public space, taking over these disused spaces to grow plants. He teaches people about the art of seedbombing, encouraging them to get involved in illicit gardening projects in their community and defy the status quo (in a nice way). Richard leads troupes of people across the globe to plant up any patch of orphaned land they can find.

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Reynolds planted a mass of white tulips opposite London’s Imperial War Museum. Photo via Reynolds.

By some kind of serendipity, I met Richard before he set up his blog and resources website, Guerrilla Gardening. Weirdly, he was working in advertising when I was working at eBay. Even then, we somehow struck up a conversation about gardening. He is a one off–totally engaging and passionate about changing the world through guerrilla gardening.

Noel Kingsbury

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From Kingsbury and Oudolf’s book, Planting: A New Perspective. Photo via Timber Press.

Noel is one of the kings of perennial planting. For the urban environment, he is beginning to change the way people think about the types and the density of plants they use in specific spaces. Noel co-authors with famous Dutch plantsman Piet Oudolf, known for planting the High Line in New York, Chicago ‘s Millenium Park, amongst many other acclaimed global projects (see below.) The two experts’s latest collaboration, Planting: A New Perspective, has been billed by the British press as “a groundbreaking moment in horticulture.”

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Noel Kingsbury also shares this revolutionary perspective on perennial planting through a four week online horticulture course which runs monthly.

Michael King

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Michael King, an Englishman living in Amsterdam, is another unequivocal king of perennial planting, having coined the term, ‘perennial meadows.’ And don’t be deceived–this style of planting does not necessarily have to be in grandiose sized spaces. It’s more of a concept.

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The Lurie Garden, Chicago. Photo: Robin Plaskoff Horton, Urban Gardens.

The Lurie Garden in downtown Chicago is a good example. This small park is nothing more than a roof garden above an underground car park. The idea is to make an emotional connection with the once extensive grass prairies of mid-America by growing wide drifts of native Panicum grasses and flowering perennials such as Agastache, Eryngium, and Echinacea. However, the intention is not to recreate a prairie, only to recreate the feeling of one.  It’s a little known fact that Michael is also a tulip expert. One of the top experts in the world on planting with grasses, he too co-author a book with Piet Oudolf, Gardening With Grasses. King is the first person in the world to run an online course on planting with grasses.

Tony Heywood and Alison Condie

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Based in Paddington, London, Tony Heywood and Alison Condie describe their work as ‘horticultural installation art.’ I love this kind of stuff, because like it or not, it challenges our perceptions of gardens and extends our concept of “normal.”

We need people like Tony and Alison to enable design to evolve. Their area of interest principally concerns new ways of engaging with and representing landscape and nature. The combination of Heywood’s background in horticulture and anthropology, and Condie’s experience in botany and zoology, has resulted in the formulation of a unique series of art works which are often hard to classify.

Their practice crosses many genres including land art, sculpture, horticulture, painting, video and performance. In their final realization, individual works often synthesize elements from all of these disciplines. Their works have been shown both nationally and internationally and vary in scale from large-scale public commissions covering many acres to smaller gallery-based work including even micro landscapes in petri dishes.

Lucian Giubbilei

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I met Lucian Giubbilei a couple of years ago. Giubbilei’s contemporary classic style has influenced the design of urban gardens all over the world, especially in cities of the western world. His disciplined clean lines and use of minimal color results in a distinctively stylish, somewhat European look.

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His lighting is incredible. The positioning of trees and the planting amongst the hard landscaping are all designed around light and shade. Interestingly, he was recently looking at a project in Morocco where he was interested in moving on from his minimalist and monochromatic style. Look out for color from Luciano in the future. However his style evolves, I guarantee it will be beautiful.

John Brookes MBE

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Landscape architect, John Brookes, is one of the top designers of the 20th Century. He really understands the meaning of garden rooms. In 2004,  John was awarded an MBE (The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for garden design and horticulture services, as well as the Award of Distinction by the American Association of Professional Landscape Designers.  John is also a successful and prolific author. His iconic book The Room Outside, first published in the 60s, changed the way landscape architects everywhere approached design.

In addition to The Room Outside, John has written 24 best selling books and countless newspaper and magazine articles. He lectures on garden design in UK and overseas and also runs a design school in Argentina.

John offers three online garden design courses, giving students ranging from beginners to acclaimed designers a once in a lifetime opportunity to have their designs touched by the hands of a landscape design pioneer.  There is one course specifically tailored to urban gardening design enthusiasts from across the globe who are designing smaller gardens.

Piet Oudolf

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Piet Oudolf is the most famous planting designer in the world today. He lives in Holland, but his work spans the globe to include The New York High Line, Chicago Lurie Garden in Millennium Park, and Oudolf is developing Queen Elizabeth II Park on the London Olympics site. It doesn’t get much more high profile than that.

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But more importantly for urban gardeners, is how this translates to our day to day garden designs and plantings. And it does. Oudolf is continuously driven by an intense and nurturing concern for the future of gardening. Some of the planting styles inspired by Oudolf like the “new perennial planting movement” or “new wave naturalism,” are a new way of thinking about planting, whatever the size or urban aspect of the garden.

Nigel Dunnett

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Nigel Dunnett has a strong horticulture and ecology background. His most well known designs have been the Royal Bank of Canada at the London Wetland Center, gardens for The Chelsea Flower Show, and of course, London Olympic Park. Nigel describes his garden design philosophy like this: “A lot of the work I do is planting within a design context. How you experience that and how you go through it and interact with the process can be a very emotional thing. The philosophy beyond that, of course, is about sustainability and about minimizing water, fertilizers, and maintenance. Planting should also be done to enhance biodiversity, supporting pollinating insects and such. So in the end, it is the dynamic combination between the aesthetics and the natural processes.”

All photos supplied by the designers unless otherwise noted.

  • Sara Katz

    Excellent list of designers, but how could you forget Patrick Blanc?

  • Elspeth Briscoe

    Absolutely valid point. Our vertical friend. In fact we should contact Patrick about doing a course on vertical planting at MyGardenSchool. He’s definitely a trend setter.

  • Ashu G

    Piet Oudolf is outstanding..amazing work.

  • http://www.familyinteriors.com/design-ideas/ San Diego Home Designer

    Wow! Everything is just so beautiful. But I personally prefer Lucian Giubbilei’s style. Do you know where I can see his other designs? Would love to see his works.

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