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.

Spring Update

Spring Office Update: Planning Permission, Student Exhibitions and Office Allotments.

A Spring Office Update for Studio 31 

The beasts from the east have, for a moment, relented and with the clocks having changed, we have decided it is officially Spring (whether or not the weather this weekend agrees). Here are just a few of the things we are working on, that are really reinforcing why we love what we do.

We are preparing to submit for planning permission on some particularly breath-taking projects at the moment. This means we can’t say too much but they include a brand-new hospice and a contemporary residential project with a difference.

The hospice will provide much needed services for people living with a life limiting illnesses and the landscape element is an essential part of their holistic approach to care. The gardens and wider landscape areas will be driven by existing and emerging research linking landscape to health and this approach aims to promote wellbeing as well as aesthetic value.

The landscape design for the contemporary residential project makes the most of the countryside views stretching all the way to the shard in central London. It has more than a few exciting features, not least a remarkable subterranean swimming pool and this is one we can’t wait to share with you.

The students at Writtle University College are hunkering down in preparation for their final year exhibition under the watchful tutorship of one of our directors Edward. It’s looking to be an exhibition worth visiting so if you’re looking to recruit a new designer or just want to see what the landscape designers of the future are producing, why not pop along from 17th to 20th May.

We are busily planning our stand for the Grand Designs Exhibiton in May this year. Watch this space for exciting news on this including how to book a free consultation with us.

Equally importantly, we have been busy at the office allotment and so determined are we to get something growing after the late winter snow, we have decided to plant our spring potatoes a little later than planned. With the weather reducing our green fingers to just “forcing the rhubarb” and propagating office plants, it’s feeling urgent that we take our gardening efforts to the allotment before we go from studio to jungle.

Wishing one and all a great Easter weekend and do watch for more updates as we lead into April.

Terraced Garden Design Essex

Project Update: Planning Permission Granted

Great News for our Terraced Garden Design Project

Planning permission has been granted for this extensive property renovation in Essex. Working in collaboration with Clear Architects,  we have been commissioned to design a landscape which complements their bold, contemporary design whilst still maintaining the existing character of the site. The combination of complex topography and interesting architectural features such as subterranean swimming pool have made for an exceptional design canvas and we look forward to seeing the landscape come to life in the next stages of the project.

For more information and photos, see our portfolio page here.





Kent Landscape Architecture

Project Update: Planning Permission Granted for Kent Landscape Architecture Project

Good News for our Kent Landscape Architecture Project

Planning permission has been granted for our very exciting Kent Landscape Architecture Project. It’s a true gem of a scheme balancing sensitive ecology with hospitality and once again disproving the misconception that all development is environmentally destructive. In this case it actually works to reconnect human and nature. This is one of those projects that really highlights why we love what we do, so we thought we would share a sneak peek of one corner of the landscape design.

For more information and photos, see our portfolio page here.




Sustainable Building Material

Sustainable Landscape Building Materials: Bamboo.

A curious exploration of this sustainable building material 

Towards the end of 2017 we began to explore some sustainable building materials that are beginning to emerge across both landscape architecture and architecture. This included, recycled bed springs, rope, traditional timber and the ever-increasing popularity of bamboo.

As we step into 2018 we are once again struck by the potential of Bamboo as a building material and here are some reasons why…

Bamboo is natural. It sounds obvious but we are well aware with the current plastics crisis in both landfill and our oceans that man-made compositions almost always harbour much greater environmental impacts than naturally derived materials.

It is fast growing. It can be more than 30 years before hardwood can be utilised as a building material where bamboo can be cut after 3-5 years and more than this, will then regrow again and again.

It’s strong. Some tests have even shown that it’s compressive strength is stronger than concrete. This would presumably vary from species to species (and there are more than 1000 species of bamboo across the world) but never-the-less, it’s impressive.

Colour. The traditional “blond” bamboo itself varies in colour and shade from yellow to brown and there are methods being developed to dye and colour this. But perhaps more excitingly there are also some species of slower-growing bamboo which provide alternative colouration from dark brown to jet black. There are various theories as to why this colouration occurs including genetic mutation which puts the darker bamboo at an advantage in terms of light absorption but whatever the theory, it’s a lesser known cousin of blonde that could transform bamboo use across the built environment.


There will always be critics and I suspect many of bamboo’s criticisms will be in relation to its raw, rough and “imperfect” form. For this reason, I imagine that its use across architecture will be a harder sell than across landscape architecture. Never-the-less in a contemporary world of clean lines and minimalist garden design, bamboo isn’t the obvious choice.

I would argue though that the imperfections, the knobbles and nodules are where it’s beauty lies. Landscape by its very definition is natural, raw, unformed. No two plants, trees or lawns will ever be exactly the same despite our best efforts to prune, train and manipulate them into place. What bamboo offers us therefore isn’t a chance to shape it into a material that works for us but a chance to create something new.

We already know bamboo has applications across fencing, flooring, sculpture and almost every other aspect of landscape build. However, I would argue if we try to train it to conform to our convention rules, we will in the long term, inevitably fail.  But…if we explore it curiously, embracing it, in all its peculiarity, it may very well offer us a whole new approach to design innovation. One that functionally and aesthetically pushes the boundaries of conventional design and at the same time happens to be sustainable. So sustainable in fact, that Neil Thomas from Atelier One Structural engineers even boldly described it as “the most sustainable natural building material on earth”.






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The second in our monthly professionals series; Carl McClean, Tree Research Ltd

 Carl McClean; Project Manager

This month we are meeting Carl McClean, Project Manager for Tree Research Ltd.

Carl started out life in the landscape industry aged just 16 and whilst working for a landscaping company at home in Ireland, he was well and truly bitten by the industry bug. He went on to study Landscape and Amenity Management and in the subsequently decade has worked in roles across the industry doing everything from training horticultural apprentices on community gardening schemes to managing a multi-million pound redevelopment project as Park Manager for North Tyneside Council. Under Carl’s direction the Park went on to gain successive Green Flag Awards and as if that wasn’t enough, he then also took on managing a 400 acre country park and outdoor education service.

Carl is someone who wants to bring about change and I suppose it was therefore inevitable that having been instrumental in creating an award winning Park and Education service, he was going to hand the reins to someone else whilst he sought out his next challenge.

Carl relocated over 300 miles to find his next role and now works for Tree Research Ltd, an innovative and unparalleled company renowned for sourcing, supplying, planting and aftercare of mature trees and topiary.

True to form, Carl boasts a role where saying “it can’t be done” is rarely an option. He works alongside Charlie Noton and a team of specialists whose knowledge and expertise of trees mean that they can successfully complete projects that other companies simply can’t.

To give you an idea of the kind of work Tree Research do, Carl recently completed a project which entailed manually handling 8 large beech topiary (each around 750kg each) within a walled garden. The lack of access for machinery meant there was no room for error and just to add a little extra pressure, the garden was also open for NGS the following weekend. In a few weeks time Carl will be crane lifting 17 trees over an exclusive property in Bath and the following week landscaping a front garden with a 200 year old Cedar tree in Cardiff. In his words:

“My role is pretty varied – and I like it that way”

Trees play such a big part in the landscape and as such within landscape architecture and it’s clear Carl has an intrinsic understanding of this connection;

“The ability to plan a project from the start and see a tree established immediately is a real thrill. A lot of people have reservations about moving large trees but this sort of practice has been carried out for centuries. Humans have an ability to sculpt the landscape and create beautiful places that work alongside nature. It may not be referred to as fully ‘natural’, but neither is Stone Hedge, or Machhu Pichu, all forms of life change their environment. As long as it is carried out in a sensitive manner then it can be a wonderful thing.”

Carl’s connection to the natural world is more than just a day job, it’s a part of his soul. He is considered in his approach to nature and has an innate understanding of the sensitivities and vulnerabilities of our natural world but with an extraordinary attention to detail and knowledge of the landscape industry.

Here at Studio 31, it’s no secret we have an inherent love of trees and they are a key part of so many of our projects from private tree houses to our country estate work and so the opportunity to interview Carl was a personal treat for us. When we choose consultants or professionals to work with, we look at more than just their job title or credentials, we are looking for their broader understanding of our vision for the project and the client’s aspirations too. We are looking for an attention to detail and ethos similar to our own and Carl certainly embodies that. It’s clear that he doesn’t see his job as just moving trees but thinks of it in terms of design and the broader impact and contribution of that tree or trees to the landscape. He seems to understand the importance of design from a conservation and regeneration perspective as well as for personal and aesthetic pleasure and that broader understanding clearly feeds into the success of his work at Tree Research Ltd.

We will leave the last word on trees to him:

“I can’t image not working in this industry. I have an affinity with the outdoors and a genuine love of being involved in the creation of landscape; not just for visuals, but for people to experience. There is so much that we can’t really write down in terms of the effect different trees have on us as humans – their different characteristics – texture, stature, presence, movement…all of these connect emotionally to those who will allow themselves to experience it.”

There’s not really much more to say than that is there?

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.

A child of the Landscape

Child’s Play

A Child of the Landscape

I consider my kids to be lucky. We spend the vast majority of our time as a family outside. They get to interact with the landscape in all kinds of remarkable ways and pretty much permanently have their necks arched to the sky shouting “bird” or “tree” in their chirpy toddler voices. Seeing their wide eyed faces and boisterous bodies running through forests, crunching on leaves, throwing pine cones and generally covered head to toe in dirt, has led me to want to touch on the importance of the interaction between our children and the landscape.

As landscape architects, it is a common perception that we only really design for children when the project dictates it; playgrounds, schools, nurseries and other similar child focused environments. But should we be designing for children in everything we do?

Outdoor play is linked with the physical, emotional and psycho-social development of children. It has been linked with confidence building, the development of both fine and gross motor skills as well as muscle-strength, coordination and enhancement of ability to learn.

More than this, interaction with the landscape gives children from an early age, the chance to understand the importance of the natural environment to our world. My son only yesterday pointed out the wind blowing in his hair which prompted me to spend 10 minutes trying to explain the environmental importance of the wind to my son’s two year old brain. From the quizzical and confused look on his face, I’m fairly confident he had no idea what I was talking about but nevertheless, just being outside had got him asking questions. Interaction of children with nature leads to discovery, to greater understanding and to learning.

Children interact with landscape in a way that is unique to them. They run their fingers along hedgerows, peer into ponds and roll on their bellies down hills. Landscapes to children are there for interaction not observation and they reap the benefits of this tactile approach.

If we really think about it, most of our projects here at Studio 31 will come into contact with children in some form throughout their life cycle. A residential garden might double as a family play area, a commercial project might be located on the way to school, a health care centre might provide treatment for children or their parents and relatives. We are given the brief for schemes by adults but when we design them, it is not only those adults who will benefit from them. There are plenty of architects like Matt Architecture who already try to inject just a little inner child into some of their schemes and I wonder if this ethos could apply even more so for the world of Landscape Architecture. Perhaps our designs should not only fulfil the adult brief but go further to consider both the interaction of our children with them and perhaps even the inner child in all of us.


Garden. A definition

What is a Garden?

Work demands made it impossible for us to go to the RHS Hampton Court flower show last week but following the award winners on BBC sparked a lively debate in the office that we felt compelled to share.

The conceptual gardens at Hampton court this year comprised a vibrant selection of weird and wonderful ideas including; a garden elevated above a clear water tank making an effort to explain the science behind soil (which, as a science geek at heart, I loved) and a plot of accessorised Himalayan Birch trees representing the molecular structure of a solid object. These conceptual ideas transformed into garden designs harked back to Chelsea’s best in show only a few weeks ago where James Basson’s gold winning garden was inspired by a disused quarry. There wasn’t a rosebud or foxglove in sight and if the daily mail headline was anything to go by, it’s fair to say he divided opinion. So, in our small Essex office, we pondered (or rather argued), if these are award winning “gardens” then what actually is a garden?

We know this isn’t a new debate. It was in fact one of the first questions asked many moons ago on one of our Director’s degree course but the debate got so heated, that at one stage we actually looked up the Oxford Dictionary definition “a piece of ground adjoining a house, in which grass flowers or shrubs may be grown” And at that point, we all agreed that we disagreed with this one, which in itself was interesting. Does a garden have to adjoin a house? Does it have to be a piece of ground? Does it have to grow grass, flowers or shrubs?

We all have our opinions of what a garden is and the definitions are as broad and encompassing as the gardens themselves are diverse. Is a window box a garden? Does a garden have to have plants? Could it be entirely hard landscaping? Do you need to be able to sit in it? Walk through it? Or perhaps just admire it? What about terrariums? Greenhouses? A jungle of indoor plants?

Critics are saying that designers are taking the “conceptual” element of design too far and supporters are hitting back that good design should spark debate and push conventional boundaries. I suppose this is especially pertinent in competition settings like the RHS flower shows.

From a portfolio perspective, we have to admit that if you look even solely at our current projects, there is such variety there. They range from the traditional country estate, to health centres, tree houses, roof terraces and the contemporary modern home.

Our conclusion…the rather wonderful thing about a garden is it defies definition. It can’t be restricted by the confines of a dictionary or a placed neatly into a labelled box (no pun intended). A garden is a feeling, a dynamic, vibrant and ephemeral concept all of its own.

So, is a rather beautiful pomegranate tree and some meadow plants suspended above a glass box, a garden? Perhaps the question should be; why isn’t it a garden?