Andrew Fisher Tomlin… Q&A

Andrew Fisher Tomlin is both horticulturalist and garden designer working extensively across Europe and the Caribbean from offices in London, Bequia SVG, Nicosia and Paris. He is a Director of the London College of Garden Design, an international show garden judge and advises the gardening industry on garden design trends and future garden fashions.

What major trends in gardens are you seeing’
We are seeing a renewed focus on health and home. The slow gardening movement has developed from the slow food movement where we’re going back to basics, growing our own food and taking time to watch plants grow. These people are planting smaller trees rather than having the instant gratification of a large mature tree. Then there’s what we call fast living that is all about living a faster life, with all the gadgets and help to achieve this including keeping us healthy. In the garden fast living translates into very social spaces with sound systems, lightning and even home cinema.
What recent trends in spending patterns are you seeing’
With the current recession location is proving very important. We’re seeing that in the areas least affected by redundancies that garden maintenance and garden design are holding up well whereas in other regions garden designers in particular are suffering from a lack of available projects.
One of the most notable trends of recent years has been in retired people spending the inheritance on more extreme experiences such as long distance travel. Indeed it’s these people who are bringing back new ideas for their gardens from their travels, often starting specialist plant collections. This is a welcome trend for an industry that has been hit hard by the down-turn in the housing market, the decrease in home refurbishments and the general tightening of belts brought on by the credit crunch. But with investments hit by low interest rates even this sector is cutting back on their garden spend.
Is the credit crunch affecting garden design’
Generally potential clients are being much more careful with their money but we have seen many cases where if money is to be spent then the garden is a priority ahead of building extensions or a new car, particularly when families are staying home and holidaying this summer. Indeed, this is a trend that has helped an up-turn in the fortunes of many garden centres as people invest a small amount in their gardens rather than making large changes.
What areas of the industry are leading or growing’
Horticulture has often been the last industry into a recession and the last one out but we’re still seeing buoyant business in small improvements such as refurbishing individual borders and particularly in vegetable gardens. There are lots of opportunities even in higher maintenance gardening and businesses need to be adaptable to that.
What other changes have you seen of late in hard and soft materials’
The new legislation introduced in 2008 has meant that a lot more thought has had to go into the design of front gardens. How we use hard and soft landscaping materials in order to meet legislative requirements and address environmental issues is now vital to successfully delivering well-designed spaces. This has been great for promoting front gardens for their use other than car parking. Schemes such as front garden allotments where residents are supported with instructions and plants to start them off show that growing your own is more than just growing tomatoes’.
Environmental change is something that both customer and supplier have had to address over the past five years, what future trends are you seeing’
We forecast the emergence of low energy gardens in the future. Creating new gardens more often than not creates a negative carbon footprint but we’re starting to address this in what we use and what we plant in gardens. The sourcing of products including using locally grown plants and local materials are making a comeback. And when we design gardens we are already designing planting for climate change and accommodation water capture into our designs. In the long term it’s not beyond our imaginations to have wind generators in every garden within the next ten years.
What other trends do you see developing in the way we garden’
Despite the changes we’ve seen in the last ten years, the real revolution is just around the corner. There are lots of technologies, in materials in particular, which will change what we do. We’re already embracing computer controls and solar energy within our gardens but we know that in the future we will use materials that generate positive energy for our homes, that reduce the pollution in our cities and will make our gardening easier. We’re getting better at embracing recycled materials and old materials used in new ways such as accoya and beech for building.
What effect will the changing climate have’
I find it interesting that our customers are aware of global warming and often ask for plants that will cope with hot weather. But their minds are focused on Mediterranean planting, when rising temperatures are already showing an increase in rainfall. I’ve put more drainage under lawns in the last 24 months than I did in the previous 24 years. Waterwise thinking must become the norm so that we capture water for when we really need it and design planting schemes that can cope with the extremes of wetter and dryer seasons.
What have you done in your business to adapt to change’
We are thinking smarter about how we do business. Over many years we have built up an international customer base that used to mean I’d be on a plane every fortnight. But we now think globally and act locally. With local staff supporting our customers and using technology to communicate with staff and customers our flight miles have reduced by almost 80% in 2 years. That helps both our profit margin and our environmental targets.

Andrew Fisher Tomlin will be speaking at the forthcoming free to attend Palmstead Soft landscaping Events on 23/24 September.

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