Then and now: 7 ways garden design has evolved over the last 40 years –


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Just like our homes, our gardens have evolved over time, influenced by trends and changing lifestyles, and in the last 40 years the changes have been significant.As the Society of Garden Designers (SGD) celebrates its 40th anniversary, 10 leading garden designers and members of the SGD reveal the different trends they have seen over the past four decades.


The biggest change to garden design has been a greater understanding of how and what our gardens have to offer. 'When I began designing 30 years ago people viewed their gardens simply as a place to be "gardened",' says James Scott MSGD. Over time, that perception has completely changed, he says, with gardens increasingly being seen as an extension of the home, which can be 'styled' in the same way as any interior room. Juliet Sargeant FSGD says 'garden design has grown up', explaining that it's become far more sophisticated and now incorporates a wonderful variety of materials, features and plants that weren't even considered 20 years ago.According to Andy Sturgeon FSGD, key to this has been a gradual move towards the contemporary style of garden we know today, with minimal use of materials and a more naturalistic, wild and informal approach.'We have developed a new Modernism in style,' Andrew Wilson FSGD says in agreement, 'with a move to bold colour and simplified palettes.'

House Beautiful/Mark Scott


With the average house and garden getting smaller year on year since the early 80s, garden design has inevitably had to adapt.'Clients expect a great deal from a small space,' says Andrew Duff MSGD, vice chair of the Society of Garden Designers. 'In a large garden you can create journeys, both visual and physical, but this has become more difficult as gardens have become smaller.'James Scott has noticed a trend towards zoned areas as a way of meeting the different needs of a household, while Jo Thompson MSGD has developed a multi-functional approach to her designs. 'A buttercup-filled meadow is a view, a seat is a piece of art, a rill is a wine cooler, a weeping birch is a shady picnic spot,' she says.

Garden by Jo Thompson MSGD / Rachel Warne ©


More than any other aspect of a garden, plants are followers of fashion if we look at the traditional herbaceous borders of the 1980s and 1990s, to the New Perennial Movement of the late 20th century, and the unstructured wildlife-friendly aesthetic popular today. As Sarah Eberle FSGD says: 'You can date a garden by the plants that have been used.'Andy Sturgeon, who designed his first garden in 1983, adds: 'When I started out, shrubs were the backbone of everything anyone did. Perennials were a sideshow. Today wildflower meadows, new perennial planting and grasses have taken centre stage.'Cleve West MSGD described grasses as a 'novelty' when he first started designing. 'Today, I can't imagine not using them,' he says. Andrew Duff has seen a change in the way plants are being laid out – there's greater use of mass planting and a trend for leaving seed heads as a way of adding interest in the colder months.But do all plants go out of fashion? 'The English Country Garden style of roses, lavender and traditional borders of softer flower colours, is still very popular,' says Debbie Roberts MSGD. For Juliet Sargeant, she's especially delighted to see hydrangeas back in fashion and enjoying a revival after 25 years in the shadows.

Garden by Acres Wild


If the 50s were all about ornamentation and decoration in the garden, the 80s paved the way for the concept of recreation in our outdoor spaces. Since then, the popularity of recreational garden features has continued to soar.'Long gone is the built-in brick BBQ, the terracotta urn placed on its side amongst pebbles dribbling water and the gazebo in the corner of the garden,' says Robin Templar-Williams FSGD, who began designing gardens in 1986.Instead, due in part to a warmer climate, we are seeing the rise of the outdoor kitchen, says Sarah Eberle.The garden as an entertainment space has developed in line with the growing popularity of a multi-functional outdoor space, says James Scott. 'Outdoor seating areas have really caught people’s imagination in recent years, with features like the fire pit extending the use of the garden later into the evening and into the colder months.'Juliet Sargeant agrees: 'The simple garden fire for burning twigs became a fire pit for sitting around, and is now a fireplace, complete with outdoor sofa and stereo system.'

Garden by Cleve West MSGD

A renewed focus on climate change has meant more people are now aiming to create sustainable gardens with minimal harm to the environment, from considering garden planting as more than purely ornamental and as part of a habitat, to attracting wildlife and encouraging biodiversity.'A greater understanding of biodiversity has definitely made people re-evaluate their priorities in recent years, with many more people aware of the issues when it comes to designing their gardens,' says Cleve West. Andrew Duff says there has been a 'greater respect for sustainability and environmental issues' with a return to a more natural way of designing, demonstrated by the careful choice and appropriate use of plants and planting compositions.Jo Thompson, whose designs have always focused on sustainability, climate change and biodiversity, has noticed a significant change too. 'Whilst clients used to sometimes greet these concepts blankly, it is now at the heart of every initial conversation I have,' she explains.

Garden by Cleve West MSGD

The role gardens play in protecting the environment has also led to a shift in the type of materials being used. 'With sustainability at the forefront of our minds now, high quality, environmentally-friendly products such as porcelain and composite decking have been game-changing,' says Andy Sturgeon. 'York stone seemed to be everywhere in the late 90s,' says Andrew Wilson. Now, the provenance of garden materials is becoming increasingly important with many more people thinking about where materials come from and only using those that are locally sourced. 'We use more indigenous stone than ever before,' adds James Scott.Sarah Eberle, who began designing gardens 40 years ago, says she has reduced her use of hard landscaping altogether favouring a softer, more ecological approach instead.

Garden by Acres Wild

Gardens still need to be beautiful places to escape to, so perhaps the most significant change in recent decades has been our attitude to garden design itself. No longer considered the preserve of the wealthy, over the past 40 years, more and more people have begun to understand the importance of good design and how this ultimately leads to a better garden.'When I started out people literally didn’t know what a garden designer was,' says Andy Sturgeon, who credits Terence Conran and IKEA for teaching people the value of good design. 'Now everyone knows what we do and understands the benefits it can bring. Today, the attitude and vision of clients has allowed us to design some amazing gardens that were unimaginable years ago.'Debbie Roberts agrees: 'Over the last 40 years, garden design has entered the popular consciousness. In the 1980s it was very niche but soon, a well-designed garden will be as important as a well-designed kitchen.'

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Olivia Heath
Executive Digital Editor, House Beautiful UK
Olivia Heath is the Executive Digital Editor at House Beautiful UK uncovering tomorrow's biggest home trends, all whilst delivering stylish room inspiration, small space solutions, easy garden ideas and house tours of the hottest properties on the market.

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