James and I met through YPHA (Young Person's Horticultural Association) and I had to get him on here as he has some exciting plans this year. It's been great to read about his preparation for his show garden at RHS Tatton Park and his change from football plant destroyer to now a curator of amazing gardens! Follow him on @gardendesignerjames for more updates- one to watch!
Hello, I'm James Smith or @gardendesignerjames if you follow my instagram, I am 24 years old and I am a Garden Designer and horticulturist.
Tell us a bit about you and when did you start gardening, and why?
As mentioned above I am a Landscape Designer and Horticulturalist. Unlike most people in this industry I wasn’t into gardening at a young age, yes my dad happens to be a horticulturist, but growing up I wasn't gardening, I was in fact ruining the garden by playing football. Even many years after I stopped playing football in the garden I do not think the lawn has recovered yet!
It wasn’t until I was in year 11, my last year of school, when I was deciding on what to do as my next step. I was never going to go to sixth form, but I was in the garden and then it hit me. I want to do horticulture. It was during the first term at college, in a garden design module, where I picked it almost instantly and decided there and then that I wanted to be a garden designer.
Since then I have graduated from Moulton College with a diploma in Horticulture, graduated from Writtle College in Landscape and Garden Design. Since then I have worked in the industry, being awarded the ProLandscaper 30 under 30: The Next Generation Award in 2019 and to 2021 where I have been selected as a finalist in the Young Designers Competition at RHS Tatton Park.
Which gardeners inspire you and why?
Any gardener can inspire me. Whether it is someone like Joe Swift or Monty Don or someone who has shared their garden on social media. As a designer, people like Piet Oudolf, Noel Kingsbury, Andy Sturgeon and Tom Stuart-Smith whose designs and planting plans are simply beautiful.
What’s the most ambitious gardening project you’ve completed or have planned?
This one is easy! This has got to be my entry in the Young Designers competition and RHS Tatton Park Flower Show with 'ITS OKAY NOT TO BE OKAY'! which is being built by Topoforma Landscape. It has been my dream to have a garden that I designed built at a show garden since I started my horticulture course in 2012! It has been the most exciting and stressful time but I honestly cannot wait to show everyone the completed garden in July!
What is your favourite thing to grow?
In my glasshouse at home I like to grow anything and everything! From french lavender to turnips. Between you and me, I don't even like turnips so I don't know what I am going to do with them! The best, or should I say the most successful thing I have grown in my glasshouse might have to be the Rudbeckia ‘Marmalade’ or Lagurus ovatus that I am growing this year. A little tip is to start growing at the right time, which I may have done last year, and not sow the whole seed packet at once...ooops!
Anything new you want to try in the next growing season?
I would like to grow more varieties of grass and perennials to see which ones will be more successful! Would love to be able to have a garden full of plants that I have grown from seed myself!
Where is your favourite garden in the world, and why?
Now that is a good question, I honestly do not think that I could pin it down to just one garden. One of my favourite things in this industry to do, is going around the different gardens in the UK and seeing what each of them has to offer. I think it also depends on each person's perspectives on what a garden is.
I love the gardens at Cambridge Botanics, RHS Wisley and Kew Gardens but my favourite landscape has to be either Stowe in Buckinghamshire or Bradgate Park in Leicestershire. The way that Stowe had been designed over many years by different people, the way that different vistas are formed as well as the stunning trees that call Stowe home. The other, Bradgate Park, is just one where I spent many days/weekends there as a child playing football or learning to ride my bike. Being surrounded by a winding river, again stunning trees and deer really completes this landscape.
What do you wish you’d known earlier about gardening?
To be honest, there isn’t anything that I wish I had known earlier. One of the exciting things about my journey so far and in life is the learning and the discoveries along the way.
What advice would you give someone new to gardening?
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
When not gardening, what do you like doing?
When I am not doing my day job, which is taking up most of my life right now, I am either adding to my vastly expanding vinyl record or football shirt collection. Some people may say do I need any more and the answer is always yes! Or I am outside running anything between 5-10km a day. I also really enjoy doing illustrations and developing my hand drawing skills as nowadays all of my graphics are done on the computer!