right plant right place

Right Plant, Right Place

Welcome to our five part blog series; Right Design, right place.

You’ve all heard the phrase ‘right plant, right place’ well this applies to all sorts of design aspects so, in a play on words we thought we would pick some key design aspects and write a series of short blogs exploring their use in our design work. Starting with of course;

Right plant, right place.

We all have our preferences when it comes to plants. We all know the style of garden we would like and whether it’s a foxglove or a fern that we are most drawn to. What we are beginning to understand about this now is that our affinity with plants stems from our childhood. We are much more likely to crave and enjoy now, environments which brought us pleasure as a child and this includes the natural world. Increasing research is beginning to emerge about the link between memory of nature as children and our connection to it as adults, so it follows perhaps that our plant choices too could begin there. Certainly, much of the health work we do here at Studio 31 stems around this idea that greater engagement with a space and improvements to wellbeing are often seen when a person is more familiar with the plants, materials and environments therein.

Plants need many things to flourish; a combination of the right soil, light, temperature, moisture and pH as well as things like shelter and of course the right context and character of a place. There was a trend back in the 1970s to bring in new soil to change the environment people wanted to grow in and thus hopefully create optimal conditions for your favourite species. Developing science into soils over the intervening years has seen that long term it is unlikely that this strategy will yield the results you hoped for. Our experience has found that, in fact, it is possible to achieve the look (and better) that you hoped for by choosing plants which suit the environment rather than changing the environment to suit the plant.

An example of this is the dry garden that Beth Chatto is now renowned for. The conditions of this garden (which was once a car park) were such that nothing else would grow and the low rainfall meant she had to adapt her original strategy to planting. By embracing the conditions she was presented with, she created one of the most interesting and unique gardens in the UK and is held as both an industry exemplar and extraordinary plantswoman by peers and academics alike.

Often people feel that it is their poor skill at gardening or just a particular plant that “they can’t get on with” but that age-old adage “if you ask a fish to climb a tree…” comes to mind. It isn’t you and it isn’t the plants, it’s the environment. A good designer will know this and will have the horticultural knowledge to specify plants that will not only achieve the look and feel you desire but will also flourish and complement the architecture and wider setting.

The diversity of the natural world is such that you can almost always find a plant to suit the end goal and what you might find is that if you let it, your garden (and your designer) might surprise you.



Photo credit Andrei Slobtsov

Could freelance landscape architects help build collaboration in the industry?

Creating a collaborative future in the landscape industries?

As a practice, Studio 31 is built on the strength of our relationships. These might be with clients, architects, suppliers or contractors, all essential in the smooth running of our practice and achieving the best outcomes for our projects. So too though are the relationships we hold with other landscape professionals and this got us to thinking about the shape, form and provenance of these relationships.

When we set up Studio 31, like anyone setting up a business, it was a risk. We had a vision, we believed in that vision and we knew the skill sets of the core team here were strong but no matter the strength of your component parts there is always that worry about your first project coming in.

Around this time, another local landscape architecture practice offered us some freelance work. We tentatively accepted this and the fruits of that alliance were many. For them, they could employ reliable and experienced landscape architects to work on their projects. They could meet the demands of a busy time in their project calendar whilst not having to take the financial risk taking on a new member of staff. For us it gave the opportunity to subsidise the income of our fledgling business whilst developing greater specialist skills and knowledge in an area of landscape architecture our business wasn’t focussed on. Fortunately for us, our business took flight quickly and our freelance work came to a mutual end but long term (and perhaps more importantly), we had also nurtured a new professional relationship.

Why are we telling you this? Well as a now established practice, we have taken this experience forward and now give other freelance designers a similar opportunity. As an example, we currently have a part-time freelance designer whose experience and expertise complements those skills we have in house and he can draw from our practice focus on health and sustainability whilst he sets up his own innovative new practice.

There is much scepticism in relation to employing freelance designers; the risk of being able to find a good one, cynicism around the rationale for their freelance work and concern regarding short notice periods and protection of work. Our experience though has been a positive one. Sure, there are contracts in place and the necessary documentation but there is also mutual trust and respect. There is the sharing of knowledge and experience. The opportunity to gain a new perspective on our practice vision and build mutually beneficial relationships.

Because of our connections with freelance work old and new, we have built lasting relationships with landscape professionals and we are able to both draw on each other’s knowledge and experience and also, at times, share work between us. We have been involved in receiving work that is outside the remit of other practices, passing on work which is not within the vision of ours and joint tenders to win projects which would benefit from collaborative innovation. Hopefully too, we have helped support other professionals in their future career and been a catalyst in some imaginative and important visions for the future.

With the president of the landscape institute launching the #chooselandscape campaign earlier in the year, we wonder about the value of freelance work in encouraging people into the landscape architecture profession. Freelance opportunities have the potential to allow people to develop skills across the many varied disciplines of the sector and work alongside the passions and enthusiasms of a diverse range of practices. This route for some people allows them to not only develop a diverse skill set but also discover the area of landscape architecture which most appeals as a career pathway. At the same time, practices themselves can build relationships long term with other professionals who will go on to find careers in many different areas of the landscape industry from LA practices large and small to roles within private organisations and public bodies. Many of these practitioners are highly skilled and have substantial experience both here in the UK and internationally.

Of course, no freelance design team will ever compete with the many advantages of a core and close knit permanent team who have a shared vision and emotional investment in that practices’ future. However, with the economy ever uncertain, perhaps a move to collaboration rather than competition between landscape architecture practices could lead to a new kind of environment. An environment where practices can help and nurture each other through times of both abundance and hardship. An environment where creative and cooperative CPD programmes could be developed and best practice shared. An environment which supports people to take the next step in their career and an environment which values collaboration and makes that a part of the future direction of the landscape industries.


The third in our monthly professionals series; Aaron Meadows, Darsham Nurseries

 Aaron Meadows; Nursery Manager

The third in our Professional Series Blog features the aptly named Aaron Meadows, Nursery Manager at Darsham Nurseries in Suffolk.

Like many of the people we have spoken to as part of this series, Aaron’s affinity with nature started at a young age working as a Groundsman’s Assistant at Cockfield Hall through his teens. His experience at this country estate gave him the opportunity to work with the British countryside in its rawest and most traditional forms.

Following school Aaron began a career in Butchery but the “contrast of working in stainless steel walled rooms and walk-in freezers to the open space and natural sounds and smells of the outdoors” pushed Aaron to return to a role that connected him with nature.

In a brave move away from the security of his butchery career, Aaron took a role working part-time, self-employed as a gardener at the newly opened Darsham Nurseries in Suffolk. This was to prove a risk worth taking as he quickly became an integral, full-time member of staff and more recently transitioned to Nursery Manager.

For those who haven’t visited Darsham Nurseries, it is a quite extraordinary place. David Keleel who co-owns the much admired business cites it as a “nursery first and foremost” but those who have visited recognise that it is so much more than that. The attention to detail here is more akin to a garden that one would pay to visit, with plants grown and displayed in a way that makes it a joy to just wander the rows of them.

Aaron cites his time at Darsham as “a rare opportunity to see and contribute to a business starting from scratch”. Darsham nurseries started life as a few plants sold from tables but now has a thriving client base who travel from miles around to admire (and purchase) Darsham’s home grown plants and produce. Darsham has a kitchen garden which, like everything else there, is an aesthetic marvel but more so boasts a wonderful array of vegetables which form the basis for the seasonal menu at their acclaimed café. To top it all off there is also a shop more akin to a treasure trove selling a selection of gifts, products and home ware with the same “quality, functionality and simple aesthetic that informs the whole nursery”.

The thing that is striking about Darsham is not only the attention to detail but the focus on local, seasonal and home grown; an approach to running a British business that is fast becoming a rare one.  It’s clear when you meet Aaron that his morals, ethics and values are very much in line with this ethos (and ours here at Studio 31) and yet for all his remarkable qualities Aaron is one of the most humble people, I have had the pleasure to meet. He credits Darsham with being “fundamental in building his knowledge of gardening, plants, landscaping, and running a nursery” and states his favourite parts of the job simply as;

“working with a diverse group of people with different ideas and experience in horticulture; that fascinates me. Advising customers on their unique gardens and gathering inspiration from their gardening experiences. Also …working outside every day, means I get to experience all weathers and seasons, plant cycles and the wildlife associated with them.”

What’s clear about that response is that despite his expertise, he still has a thirst for learning and he hasn’t lost any of his deep rooted passion for the outdoors. He also really grasps the strong connection between people and the natural world;

“A friend and colleague, Jevan Watkins-Jones has put this in great perspective for me in his Alternative Yellow Book, ‘People, Plants, and Their Roots’.  In this, Jevan interviews elderly people from the village of Dunmow, asking them about their memories of gardening and plants.  The strength of these people’s memories really emphasised to me the connection people have to plants and nature.”

Aaron spoke passionately about the diverse definition of a garden and the need for us to be considerate in our design to create a balance of aesthetic and natural benefits. He spoke about design “following the seasons through the cycle of plants, appreciating the beauty of all aspects of plants… whether that be buds, stems, hips, leaves, structure, and movement”

Away from work, Aaron is still wholly absorbed in nature and talks of his woodworking with equal measure of passion;

“I see real beauty in bringing out the character, highlighting the story of the wood, from saw lines where it was first cut to scratches and dents that it received along the way.  Saving materials that would otherwise be thrown away, and turning them into something functional and attractive is very rewarding.”

Darsham Nurseries is beginning to be reviewed across all the major media outlets, featuring more than once on the Guardian’s radar and is quickly becoming a major player in the world of bespoke garden nurseries. And whilst one cannot dismiss the extraordinary vision and perseverance of it’s co-owner David Keleel, one can’t help but just give a little nod to its humble but exceptional Nursery Manager, Aaron as well.

Landscape Artchitecture

The first in our monthly professionals series; Our new director.

Alex Jobber; Landscape Architect

Welcome to the first in our new series of monthly blog posts focused on industry professionals. We have so many great connections in industry and here’s our chance to get a few of them to share some insider information with you. And what better starting point than Studio 31’s brand new director, Landscape architect; Alex Jobber.

It’s pretty much in the job description that our director’s love for the landscape has to come from the heart and Alex is no different. During our conversation, he recalled a childhood memory of growing radishes that he had (oddly) won in a game of pass the parcel;

 “I vividly remember pulling up the deep-red, root vegetables like serendipitous jewels from a small bare patch of ground underneath a gnarled apple tree that used to stand outside my family home”

His childhood love for nature developed into family weekend camping trips, den building, tree climbing and eventually (perhaps inevitably) paid work in a nursery aged just 14. The feel of soil under his finger tips cemented the idea that this was the industry for him and since those heady teenage days he has been privileged to work across most realms of the industry. He still retains his love of nature and nowadays has a more considerate view of “how precarious and fragile it can be”.

His early studies in Horticulture and Garden Design led him to uncover the term “Landscape Architecture” and the more he learned about this new world, the more engrossed he became. He spoke of a love of the “theory of how we perceive and connect with our environment” and it’s fair to say, he became firmly sold on this career path. He traded in his degree in Garden Design and started working towards becoming a Landscape Architect.

Alex’s professional experience has given him a wealth of knowledge across the whole industry, not least from his years of service in a senior role within the RHS and he feeds this generously into Studio 31. He has already taken on the role of office plant encyclopaedia and the spark to his creative design work adds another dimension to the design team here.

His explanation of the profession and his role within it really captures the spirit of both the Landscape Architecture and of him;

“…as landscape architects we don’t just work with soil and plants; a large part of the vocation is the built environment, public spaces, streets, cities, villages and towns. The structure of these places is so deeply rooted in our history. I really love just wandering around cities, seeing how they have grown from a simple settlement and how people use these public spaces. Culture is so deeply connected with place and understanding that as a designer is so important”

It’s probably clear to see why Studio 31 chose Alex but we asked him why he chose us as the next step in his career and his answer speaks for itself…

“I’d never really considered myself as someone that would be involved in their own business but after years of working hard in various organisations, the opportunity to contribute to and guide the strategic direction of a company really appealed to me, particularly from an ethical and environmental point of view. I want to be proud of my contribution to the world and want it to be a positive impact. Studio 31’s ethos felt totally aligned to my own personal ethics in regards to the environment and design. Creating spaces that really work, on multiple levels takes time, heart and soul and that’s something that isn’t always encouraged in larger companies. Becoming a director at Studio 31 gave me the opportunity to surround myself with like minded people who bring a diverse knowledge base and the prospect of our new future excites me”

Well Alex, we will let you in on a secret. It excites us too. Here’s to an exciting future together.

Welcome to the team.