This year, the Society of Garden Designers celebrates its 40th anniversary. To mark the occasion, we asked twelve of their long-standing members to share their thoughts on the changing taste in garden design over the last four decades.  We quizzed them on how we used our gardens now, how styles in planting design had developed and what they felt were the most requested of all the garden features to emerge in recent years.
We drafted their answers into a ready written press story that we shared with the consumer media. The resulting press coverage including a double-page feature in the Telegraph and articles in The English GardenLiving etc, House Beautiful and Homes & Gardens among others, with further press coverage expected in the coming weeks.
It was fascinating to hear their thoughts and to share some of their anecdotes with the press.  Here is the story.



The way we view and use our gardens has changed dramatically over the past year.  Confined to our homes, gardens have had to transform themselves into multi-functional spaces providing a place for us to work, play and socialise as well as take care of our emotional and physical well-being.

But gardens have always evolved with the times.  Like our homes, how we design them, what we do in them and what we decorate them with has been influenced by prevailing fashions and changing lifestyles for decades.  This year, as the Society of Garden Designers (SGD) celebrates its 40th anniversary, ten leading designers and members of the SGD, reveal the different tastes and trends they have seen over the past four, since the Society was founded.


A greater understanding of the potential our gardens have to offer has had a profound effect on how garden design has changed over the last 40 years.

“When I began designing 30 years ago” says James Scott MSGD “people viewed their gardens simply as a place to be ‘gardened’”.  Over time, that perception has completely changed, he says, with gardens increasingly being seen as an extension to the house and offering the opportunity to be ‘styled’ in the same way you might style a room.

As a result, “garden design has grown up” says Juliet Sargeant FSGD, adding that they have become far more sophisticated and now incorporate a wonderful variety of materials, features and plants that weren’t even considered 20 years ago.

Key to these, according to Andy Sturgeon FSGD, 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. Andrew Wilson FSGD agrees: “We have developed a new Modernism in style”, he says, “with a move to bold colour and simplified palettes.”


Plants, more than any other aspect of a garden, are followers of fashion.  From 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, “you can date a garden by the plants that have been used” says Sarah Eberle FSGD.

“When I started out, shrubs were the backbone of everything anyone did. Perennials were a sideshow” says Andy Sturgeon, who designed his first garden in 1983. “Today wildflower meadows, new perennial planting and grasses have taken centre stage.”

“Grasses were a novelty when I started designing” agrees Cleve West MSGD. “Today, I can’t imagine not using them”, while Andrew Wilson adds that the concept of the ornamental meadow and the New Perennial Movement have all conspired to deliver a perennial dominated planting palette replacing the woody shrubs of old.  Andrew Duff MSGD, vice chair of the Society of Garden Designers, has also seen a change in the way plants are being laid out, with a greater use of mass planting and a trend for leaving seed heads as a way of adding interest in the colder months.

Some plants, of course, never 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, while other trends come and go.  Juliet Sargeant says she is delighted to see hydrangeas back in fashion, enjoying a revival after twenty-five years in the shadows.


Unsurprisingly, a burgeoning appreciation of the role gardens play in protecting the environment, has led to a shift in the type of materials being used too.

“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 locally sourced materials. “We use more indigenous stone than ever before” says James Scott and “far less Chinese or Indian stone” that needs shipping around the world.  Sarah Eberle has gone one step further. Since she began designing gardens 40 years ago, she says she has reduced her use of hard landscaping altogether favouring a softer, more ecological approach instead.


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. “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 more 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.


If the 50s were all about ornamentation and decoration in the garden, the 80s was the decade that 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.

More elaborate entertainment areas have also become more and more popular tied in with people’s dreams of a multi-functional garden says James Scott.   “Outdoor seating areas have really caught people’s imagination in recent years, with features like the firepit 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.”


Gardens have not always been as green as they appear but a renewed focus on climate change as we moved into the new millennium, has meant more people are now aiming to create sustainable gardens with minimal harm to the environment.

“A greater understanding of biodiversity has definitely made people re-evaluate their priorities in recent years” says Cleve West, “with many more people aware of the issues when it comes to designing their gardens.”  “We have seen an understandably greater respect for sustainability and environmental issues” agrees Andrew Duff, “with a return to a more natural way of designing demonstrated by the careful choice and appropriate use of plants and planting compositions.”

“People are starting to consider garden planting as more than purely ornamental and as part of a habitat” says Andrew Wilson, while James Scott observes that clients are much more tuned into attracting wildlife to their gardens and encouraging biodiversity.

Jo Thompson, whose designs have always had sustainability, climate change and biodiversity  at their heart, 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.”


Though our tastes in plants and design elements might change over time, we all still want gardens to be a beautiful place to which we can escape.  Perhaps the most significant change in recent decades then, 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.”

“Over the last 40 years, garden design has entered the popular consciousness” agrees Debbie Roberts. “In the 1980s it was very niche but soon, a well-designed garden will be as important as a well-designed kitchen.”


Images from top:  Garden by Robin Templar Williams + Garden by Acres Wild