Who Is Really Influential in Gardens?

Andrew Fisher Tomlin
Enzine @rticles

A couple of recent articles in the popular press have attempted to list the most influential people in gardens. It’s always an interesting read to see these lists when you are on the inside of an industry that is pretty good at publicity and spin, and when you can see which way the wind is really blowing.

It’s true that the likes of the CEOs of Homebase and B&Q, Mr Titchmarsh and the RHS’s own boss hold great influence but the real work that will change the way we think about gardens and landscapes in the future is being done on the ground, by their staff who are forming strategic decisions that are signed off by the people at the top. On a recent trade mission to Italy I was deeply impressed by buyers from some of the big supermarket chains who were forming public opinion through their purchases. Their own personal belief in environmental sustainability and an understanding of the customer has led to big investments in European horticulture, gardens and design. They were impressed by my budget for a single tree, I was impressed by the strength of their conviction and the support of nurseries in tough commercial conditions.

The other thing about these lists is that I also love the way that journalists think that journalists are the most influential people. As an owner of several garden businesses we see grass-roots opinion that completely bypasses their idealized ideas and the year in year out repetition of articles. The leader of a local allotment group or garden society, or the garden project helping to rehabilitate marginalized members of our society have more influence than the garden writer in the weekend magazine.

There are of course exceptions and I admire journalists like Matthew Appleby of Horticulture Week who are prepared to question the ridiculous in garden writing. And there are writers like Mark Diacono who appear to be single handedly transforming our idea about future food production. Of course that’s not fair as there are many people out there promoting new ideas such as the need to reassess how we feed our growing population through domestic gardening. Where people like Robert Hart led we now have practicing writers like Martin Crawford promoting forest gardening. For me these journalists and writers are the real influential heroes, not the self styled critics. They are at the coalface practicing what they preach and promoting future gardening.

Design is no different in many ways and there is undoubtedly a long list of people influencing how we look at our personal and public spaces. In the UK we are lucky enough to have the showcases like the Chelsea Flower Show and ideas are spread through all types of media. But for real future forecasting, to see what will really be happening in the next few years I feel we need to look not to those designers who have been at Chelsea year in year out but the new garden designers whose careers are really just taking off. Designers like Hugo Bugg, Tom Harfleet and Jamie Dunstan are coming forward with the really new ideas at these shows and are often influenced themselves by new technology and methods of sourcing. The established designers creating the big show gardens are often years behind these new guys in their understanding of what we need to do to ensure future garden prosperity. Admittedly its only when these ideas filter through to the ‘names’ that they gain widespread coverage but I’d be hard pressed to find one original ideas from these guys that hadn’t already been experimented with by an up and coming designer in their own garden, a willing client’s garden or on a small show exhibit. For really great ideas sure look at the big show gardens but turn around and take note of the smaller exhibits behind you.

So these big names, yes they are influential, but lets not forget the people out there making a huge difference through their actions, with no publicist, no back slapping, just an ability to see the future and generate ideas that will someday change the way we garden.

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