Landform; A diverse tool for landscape architects

Using Landform to create both the dramatic and the subtle

Following our recent visit to our amphitheatre project a year on from its installation, we wanted to take a moment to talk about landform in our design work.

Technically the definition of landform is “a natural feature of the landscape” and in a broader sense, encompasses a whole range of features from oceans and valleys to mountains and plains.

Landform in a design sense usually comes in the shape of earthworks and these have been used since ancient times with varying functions from creation of spaces for worship to burial grounds to defence structures. Many ancient landforms are of huge historical significance and have the power to both inspire and perplex us; one example being Silbury Hill in Wiltshire which is the largest man-made mound in Europe but whose purpose still eludes us.

Over time the use of earthworks within the landscape has evolved to become an essential tool of designers and landscape architects like Capability Brown and more recently Charles Jencks who both used the earth to sculpt many of their iconic landscapes. Today landform is used within design for many functions from boundaries and borders to sculptures and art forms.

Many of our schemes here at Studio 31 incorporate some form of landform, often taking inspiration from the surrounding landscape. One of our project sites borders an estuary and is protected from the tidal water by a large bank of soil acting as a sea wall. Our design reflects this dominant feature, using earthworks to both frame the breath-taking views whilst simultaneously protecting the site from the coastal winds which prevail upon it. This is a site of particular ecological sensitivity so the use of landform here has further benefits in maintaining a continuous wildlife corridor.

Other sites draw inspiration from the natural topography of the site. Many clients at first feel it is necessary to spend much of their budget levelling difficult sites but we look for ways to work with the natural landscape to create landform that works with levels rather than omits them. An example of this would be our terraced garden project which uses levels to complement a basement structure within the building whilst still showcasing the surrounding landscape.

In other cases, we have used landform as a sculptural element, creating entertaining spaces like our grass amphitheatre or more recently a moulded curve which will form the back drop for an impressive sculpture.


Landform remains a diverse tool at the fingertips of landscape architects with its effects within the landscape both dramatic and subtle, formal and informal, grand and humble. With health ever present at the forefront of our design work, it also allows us to retain the use of local and natural materials within a landscape scheme, creating impressive sites which are healthier for not only our clients but also the native flora and fauna which inhabit them.


Oldlands. A slower, simpler vision for landscape

Unguided exploration and red underwing moths

For us inspiration comes in many forms. It might be world acclaimed design practices or small community organisations. It might be a chance meeting with another like-minded professional or even the words of a primary school child. Whatever form it takes, our commitment is to leave ourselves open to find and admire the greatness in other people’s visions for landscape and the world around us. To be able to draw from that and to always yearn for more knowledge and understanding is the foundation of our work as landscape architects.

A few weeks ago, we had the privilege of staying at Oldlands. A family-run estate that captured not only our imaginations but also our hearts. The team at Oldlands put nature at the centre of everything they do. There are many places that claim to do this but it is the simplicity of Oldlands’ approach that is the triumph. Wayfinding takes on a different life here; there are no boardwalks or enforced circulation routes, instead unguided exploration and adventure are encouraged. There is a subtle feeling that if you were to be guided, you might miss something and in doing so, miss some of the valuable experience too. You are left to discover intriguing corrugated sheets that lift to reveal a toad or slow worm. Compasses and treasure maps replace the modern art of geocaching and home grown produce is offered in the form of a captivating honesty shop. A shop in which I’ll confess unashamedly to being frozen like a wide-eyed child in a sweet shop.

Piqued immediately by the wonders on our doorstep, we willingly agreed to a nature walk by third generation custodian Sam Bosanquet. He comes from a long line of naturalists and ecologists and his enthusiasm for the natural world can only be quantified by seeing him put a sweep net over his face to (successfully and without harm) retrieve a parasitoid wasp from within it.  He showed us swan mussels and otter faeces, a cobra lily and most magnificent of all, a red underwing moth.


Sam spoke eloquently of the family’s desire to restore the land slowly and with integrity. His plan to turn many of the fields back to ecology rich wildflower meadows is, like most things here, a slow one. He collects seeds from flowers found on the estate and sews only these, remaining as true as it is possible to be to the local ecosystem. This endeavour is in partnership with the Gwent wildlife trust who have their head office onsite and who manage some of the land here.  In true Oldlands style, the inhabitants of the wildlife trust were also only too happy to engage in unhurried conversation about wildlife conservation, the wonders of the natural world and spaniel ownership whilst we hijacked their outdoor coffee breaks.

Some might say that the ethos at Oldlands is to leave the landscape alone but they wouldn’t quite be right. The landscape here is managed, changing and evolving. It is the ‘how’ that is different. The choices are considered, the pace is slow and the changes happen simply and with integrity. I have said it many times before that if we do not connect to the land, we have no incentive to protect it, we have little understanding of the impact of it on our health or wellbeing and no perception of all the wonders it possesses.

Many places give over slow living as their ethos but few truly achieve it. The team at Oldlands have done just that. Things are slower here, simpler and more mindful. It’s a difficult thing to describe but it’s like they put the world on pause and have created a space where you can truly appreciate each moment, each sight, sound and smell.  Oldlands encourages connection; to flora, fauna, food and to each other. The lessons it has taught me have lasted well beyond my few days there and have further changed and developed my understanding and interaction with the landscape and the natural world. This in turn will make both our practice and our designs richer and more considered.

Driving away, I’ll admit to a lump in my throat and I think the source of that was this; What Oldlands has is absolutely everything you need and what Oldlands makes you realise is that it turns out what you need isn’t very much at all. I thought I already knew that. I actually had absolutely no idea.





(Feature image courtesy of Oldlands)



Autumn. Take time to watch the leaves turn. 

Albert Camus put it perfectly when he said,

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower”.

Bright sunny days painted the colours of fire and crimson meet with crisp winter skies that fill sporadically with murmurations of starlings and arrows of honking geese. Animals are busy underfoot in their preparations for winter and the pumpkins are finally almost ripe for carving. Our allotment haul of pumpkins may be the most impressive yet so colleagues have been forewarned of the abundance of soup headed in their direction (it could be worse than the courgette epidemic they’ve just endured).

This blog isn’t about design, planning permission, literature or research, it’s about Autumn. You can find it all around you, from impressive arboretums to humble street trees, in parks and playgrounds and woodlands. It’s under your feet and carried on the air. It is pumpkins and apples, falling seeds, migrating birds, fungi, crafts and campfires.

It happens every year but nature still never fails to amaze me in its ability to capture my attention and my imagination. I can’t help it when specifying a deciduous tree, that for me it isn’t thinking ahead to the blossom of spring that makes my heart sing most, it’s the colours of autumn that this addition will bring to a space.

All the seasons have their virtues but for me it is Autumn that has my heart. So, if you can make space to connect with nature this week, go and crunch the leaves, marvel at the colours and feel the early chill of the air on your skin because as Elizabeth Lawrence said; 

“Even if something is left undone, everyone must take time to sit still and watch the leaves turn”

Easton Walled Gard

Alone in The Easton Walled Gardens

A garden that tells a story of history, heritage and its future.

Creeping in through the tall heavy gate that guards the entrance, I’ll admit to feeling a little like Frances Hodgson Burnett’s heroine Mary discovering her Secret Garden for the first time. It isn’t revealed immediately; the garden comes to you in the shape of deep textural borders facing tall formal hedges which open to expansive views; a life size aerial map of the acres that the walls encase. Here, your feet are easily diverted by covert openings which reveal themselves surreptitiously from the corner of your eye. Like Alice and her rabbit hole, stepping curiously through one such opening, you are never quite certain where you will arrive, but it promises to be a fortuitous adventure.

It is difficult to describe the Easton Walled Gardens, they are, in parts, both flourishing and still developing but beyond the plant life or design, this place has a feeling. It is a feeling certainly amplified by the privilege of wandering these 12 acres in complete solitude and though no secret is made of the garden’s proximity to the A1, even that cannot diminish it. Perhaps Ursula Chomeley the garden’s owner, designer and curator describes it best;

“Despite the presence of modern life – the A1 rumbles along behind a belt of trees – this garden feels ancient, settled and full of atmosphere”

What this garden lacks and perhaps this is the route of its charm, is pretence. It is the product of its chequered history, both proud and humble. A once grand hall, Sir Henry Cholmeley bought the manor of Easton in 1592 and it was both a prominent and fashionable home but during the second world war, “it became home to units of the Royal Artillery and of the 2nd Battalion. During their stay, it suffered considerable damage and in 1951 the Hall (home to the Cholmeley family for 400 years) was demolished, never having been lived in as a family home again”.

The garden echoes this polar heritage with an unusual blend of formal lawns and topiary flanked by swathes of wildflower meadow and naturalistic planting. The borders and natural areas are a haven of wildlife; full with fat bumble bees and small white (Pieris rapae) butterflies. The River Witham too flows through the gardens, spring fed at this stage and not over managed so wildlife again is at home in its banks; native crayfish and trout have brought with them kingfishers and more recently, overwintering egrets.

Easton Walled Gardens

There are doors and gateways half opened which sneak up on you, dividing your desire to keep to your chosen path or divert lest you may uncover some other secret. Though the gardens are full of wonders, a yew avenue, immature orchards and mature trees, the greatest charm of all for me was the kitchen garden. One of the simplest reminders of the link between our lives and the natural world, I am always drawn to a kitchen garden. More than this though, where else would you find such a treasure that affords pleasure to all five senses? The impressive allotment at Easton does this in abundance. From amidst the vegetables, I found a narrow staircase adjacent to the potting shed (whose handmade decoupage sign darn near had me chopping up magazines to recreate it). The staircase led nowhere in particular but instead allowed you to rise over the shed roofline. It seemed intended to help guests admire the intricate lawn maze behind the building, but my gaze was drawn only across the kitchen garden. Lines of cabbages (astoundingly not devoured by caterpillars), lettuce, corn and leeks. Row on row of local produce which just like the rest of the garden here spans the ages; from cooks’ larder to war effort to natural supermarket for the Easton tearoom.

Easton Walled Gardens

Sometimes we walk in nature, tread paths through hills, fens or woodlands, usually open spaces that connect us with a wider wilderness. Rarely though, do we explore gardens in the same way, with the same spirit of adventure or childlike curiosity. Easton walled gardens not only allows you to do this, it asks you to do it. Too often, we walk around a space silent and critical of its design virtues or deficits, but this garden asks for more of an individual. It is ancient and contemporary, juvenile and established, The Easton Walled Gardens are a storybook, charting the history of this place, this landscape and this family; go without expectation and read what they have to say.


Easton Walled Gardens

Easton Walled Gardens


Penton Park

A family home and award-winning wedding venue.

Studio 31 were recently commissioned to design the landscape surrounding the wonderful Penton Park Country House and the magic of this place is so special we wanted to share a little of it with you.

The family who run Penton Park describe the house as a family home first and foremost and this probably defines all that this exceptional place is; warm, joyful and welcoming. Despite Penton having been in the family for generations, they continue to view themselves only as custodians of this home and see it as their responsibility to restore and conserve Penton for the future.

What makes Penton such a joy to design is it’s many faces. It is not only a family home but a quite spectacular and award-winning wedding venue, home to James’ Place which offers a unique environment for members of the disabled community to spend time, the occasional film or photography set location and most recently home to Penton Park Brewery; a microbrewery whose secret ingredient is the pure unspoilt drinking water running under the grounds of Penton Park itself.

The design and restoration of the building has been a painstaking process with the family’s attention to detail second to none. The most captivating thing about this house though, isn’t just the spectacular setting they have created but the way that the house flexes to each of its functions. There are secret stairways and unexpected doorways (utilising what would once have been the servants areas) which mean that the family are able to use the house at the same time as a wedding or function and a guest would never know they are there. They want to create the same with the landscape. They need a dynamic and intelligent landscape that creates spaces for the family to relax in whilst also complementing the architecture and sympathetically restored interior. Far from feeling restricted in their own home, they want the house to carry out its duel functions as a business and family home in tandem and for the children to feel free to run, play and enjoy the house as they would any other day. This is a wonderful design challenge to think in a new way about the connections and corridors between the landscape spaces. It is, of course, common for country houses to have hidden or concealed back areas or walkways historically for gardeners or staff to use but it is less common to make those spaces as beautiful and intriguing as the openly seen spaces. This landscape needs to create privacy and openness, intimacy and grandeur all at the same time.

Country Estate Hampshire

The formal areas need to be dynamic enough to cater for the needs of an adventurous toddler as well as sophisticated enough to host a bride and groom. They need to be inclusive, functional, beautiful and reflect both the heritage of the building but also the contemporary diversity of its functions.

With the family’s history and heritage wrapped up in the walls of this building, its restoration truly brings new meaning to “a labour of love”. The love of three generations working together has built Penton Park to where it is today, and we could not be more thrilled to be a small part of the next step of its journey.



For more information on this project, visit our portfolio or watch this space for design updates.

Photos courtesy of the team at Penton Park.


Natural World

Why ambivalence about the natural world needs resolution

How our day to day lives are intrinsically linked to the health of the natural world.

Since the dawn of time, nature has formed the basis for life on earth. The natural cycles of the earth are so perfectly balanced that one species’ waste product is another’s resource and so life on earth has been maintained in equilibrium for thousands of years. It’s no secret that human intervention has upset this balance and that we use far more and at a far greater pace than the earth is able to replace. It’s also no secret that as a species we are becoming more and more disconnected from nature and spending less and less time in its company. I spend time wondering then, if these two things are related; That many people have little or no awareness of the intrinsic link between our day to day technology driven lives and nature itself.  It’s easy to consider people’s lack of environmental action as driven by malice or malevolence but have we considered that it could be the product of unfamiliarity and ignorance?

This a blog, not for the environmentally conscientious but for the ambivalent. For those people who (perhaps fairly) ask the question “In this modern world, full of technology and convenience, how am I connected to nature?” The answers are many, these points are only few, but this blog is to help people consider how our existence as a species is tied inextricably to nature and how, put simply, ambivalence about its conservation needs resolution.


Perhaps the most obvious. All our food comes from nature or our manipulation of it. From large and small-scale farming to growing fruit and vegetables on our own allotments to foraging our forests and coast lines. Nature provides us with one resource we quite simply cannot live without; food.


If you’ve ever lived in a country like Australia or Africa or seen, on the news, the plight of the many millions of people in the world living in drought, then you have seen the devastating effects of water shortage. We can only live an average of three days without water and where do we get our water? Nature.


Natural capital can be defined as the world’s stocks of natural assets which include geology, soil, air, water and all living things. It is from this natural capital that humans derive a wide range of services, often called ecosystem services, which make human life possible.

The most obvious ecosystem services include the food we eat, the water we drink and the plant materials we use for fuel, building materials and medicines. There are also many less visible ecosystem services such as the climate regulation and natural flood defences provided by forests, the billions of tonnes of carbon stored by peatlands, or the pollination of crops by insects (NCF, 2018).

In 2014 the journal of Global Environmental Change revealed that the total value of the World’s ecosystem services amounted to twice as much as global aggregate GDP – as much as $124.8 trillion per year.


Throughout history, humans have used plants to treat all kinds of illness and disease. To this day a huge proportion of our modern medicines are derived originally from plants. Just two examples are Aspirin where the key ingredient comes from Willow Bark and Morphine which is derived from the Opium Poppy. Rather than a move to greater use of synthetic drugs, there is actually an increasing demand for medicines derived from more natural and environmentally friendly sources. There is a hope that increasing research into this area can develop new drugs that have more effectiveness and fewer side effects than most modern drugs. Here’s a paper worth reading on the subject.

Nature gives us the power to heal, to treat, to prolong life and to reduce suffering through modern medicine.

Wider health

There is a quickly growing body of evidence demonstrating the links between nature and health (this is our specialist area here at Studio 31). There’s evidence to suggest that we heal more quickly, get sick less and have improved mental health by being in regular contact with nature. Moreover, nature facilitates some of the most common ways of exercising; walking, hiking, running and cycling to name but a few. When we design for health we facilitate people to be able to interact with nature and therefore contribute to improved health, concentration, happiness and fitness.


You’ve probably heard the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods. He argues that all of us, especially children, are spending more time indoors, which makes us feel alienated from nature and perhaps more vulnerable to negative moods or reduced attention span (Louv, 2009) The emergence of natural play spaces, den building, forest schools and garden classrooms are just some of the strategies being used to combat this disassociation with nature and help our children to thrive physically, socially, academically and emotionally.


Almost everything we do, eat, wear or touch in our day to day lives either currently does or once had a connection to the natural world. Nature meets almost all of our basic needs; food, water, shelter, health, and happiness and whether you love or loathe its company, the truth is, our very existence depends on the health and survival of the natural world.

Perhaps then, with the growth in education about the natural world sparked by programmes like the Blue Planet and gaining momentum through industrious individuals and organisations, we can begin to transform ambivalence into action and doubt into hope.





NCF (2018) Accessed 21st June 2018.

Louv (2009) Accessed 21st June 2018



The value of connection

What we’ve learned from our time at Grand Designs Live.

I think most professionals like to think their practices, offices or studios are built on connection so I suppose in that sense, Studio 31 is like most others. We pride ourselves on building strong relationships with clients but this past week at Grand Designs Live has really put that into perspective.

It has truly been a inspiring experience to share a small part of people’s (largely very personal) projects and to be able to advise, excite or support them on the next part of their journey in making that project happen.

We’ve talked landscapes large and small, contemporary and traditional, muted and colourful. We’ve mused over plants, lighting, drainage and planning permission and we’ve had more than a few laughs along the way. It sounds cliché but the biggest thing we have taken from Grand Designs Live is to have met some really wonderful people. People who were kind enough to share with us photos of their gardens, homes and visions for making that the place that they want to spend their futures.

We run our practice with two main drivers; research-led design which promotes health and wellbeing and a sustainable ethos. This exhibition really has cemented for us the idea that being true to your values and aspirations, really does carve its path for you. People already know the value of nature, the value of their outdoor space and the importance of their own private part of the landscape. Our approach to design simply makes that space the most valuable space it can be for that individual or family.

And it’s not just clients either. As our first exhibition, we were surprised by the number of professional connections we have made. The ease of those conversations and the warmth with which our studio has been received has again been emboldening. We have met so many likeminded professionals from architects building extraordinary homes to suppliers going that extra mile to create sustainable products which reflect the quality and ingenuity of our designs. We’ve built partnerships with professionals who range from veterans of the industry to small independents who are making their way in the world of grand designs but all who share our values and our vision. We’ve met new colleagues who we can give the opportunities we were once given and others from whose wisdom we can draw but in either case, mutual partnerships that will hopefully create collaborative, cooperative and all together better solutions for the clients we aspire to work with.

So, thank you to all those who we have connected with these past nine days and to all those who have shared our vision to create beautiful gardens and turn more remarkable corners of the landscape into extensions of the home.


Grand Designs

Re-used, Re-cycled and Sustainable; Our Stand at Grand Designs

Come and Join Us at Grand Designs  

In just a few days, we are off to Grand Designs Live at the Excel in London. As a studio, our values are simple; inventive design, client centred processes and a practice with a conscience. So, what we want with our stand at grand designs is to retain the heart in what we do; no small task in only a 3 x 4 space.

What better way then, than to take our studio (or a corner of it) to grand designs. This idea works for us on many levels; it represents the transparency we have in our process by giving a sneak peek into our studio and working life as a design team and more than this, it reflects our sustainable ethos.

Our stand reuses materials and furniture directly from our studio meaning we are not buying new or creating waste; all our furniture will have a life beyond our exhibition stand and where we do need to build or buy we are using recycled, sustainable and/or recyclable material. Our marketing materials will be printed on recycled paper with sustainable printing processes meaning we are considering the impact of not just our business but the suppliers we use too. Even our water and coffee cups are reusable and because no healthy working environment is complete without some greenery, our office plants are enjoying a well-earned “holiday” to the show.

We also recognise that for many of our clients, family can be one of the central reasons to embark on a project. If you are bringing your children with you to the show and you want to have a chat with us about your garden or landscape scheme, there will even be some diggers (albeit toy ones) to entertain the miniature self-builders whilst we catch up about your project.

And if all that doesn’t persuade you to come join us at Grand Designs Live, we want to see you there so much that we are currently running a competition on Instagram to win a night in a 4* London hotel and 2 tickets to grand designs on Saturday 12th May. To enter head to our Instagram and other social media platforms or click here.

We look forward to seeing you there and as a thank you for joining us head to stand G2 close to the entrance of the Grand Gardens section of the show for a free consultation or if you’d like to book a specific time to see us, head to our Ask the Expert page here. We would love to hear more about your project.

Natural Swimming Pools

Natural Swimming Pools

Natural Swimming Pools: simple, sustainable and good for you. 

Over the past few months here at Studio 31, we have seen an increasing trend towards specification of natural pools in our residential projects, so we thought we would take the opportunity to tell you a bit about them.

Natural pools are not a new concept. Consider for example the onsen’s of Japan and the hot springs of Scandinavia. We will concede that these are more associated with bathing than swimming but none the less illustrate human’s affinity with naturally occurring water. Varieties of natural swimming pools became popular in Austria in the 1980s and over the intervening decades have been used on quite a wide-ranging scale as part of both private and public realm schemes across Europe.


Natural pools can be designed in a whole variety of styles, shapes and sizes. They can have a plant filtration system which is ideal for cooler climates like the UK or, for those who prefer a more traditional pool look, a gravel filtration system can be used. Fewer people swim during the winter months than the summer so a natural pool means that when you are not using it for its primary function, you aren’t left looking at a pool cover but instead an unusual and interesting natural feature in the landscape. Natural pools are so diverse in design, that they can be carefully integrated into most schemes and to meet most clients needs .

Cost Effectiveness and Maintenance

Contrary to popular belief, these pools have a very similar installation cost to a traditional swimming pool. More than this though, they actually serve to save you money in the long-term maintenance of them. Traditional swimming pools require regular Ph checks and chlorine addition to keep them clean and safe to use. Natural pools let nature do the hard work for you and their maintenance costs (in both time and monetary terms) are substantially lower than their traditional counterparts.


Natural pools increase biodiversity, use less energy and eliminate the need for use of chemicals. Don’t worry though, you won’t be swimming among weeds or tadpoles, all the plant and associated animal life tends to stay in the separate section of the pool designed for plants and they filter the water from there.

Our design team are busy working on several current projects incorporating natural pools, all at various stages of design and build. They are not only a joy to design but have the potential to positively impact wellbeing through not only the health benefits of exercise but also the associated wellbeing benefits of being immersed (in this case literally) in nature.

For more information on designing a natural pool, get in touch or do feel free to follow the progress of our natural pool projects as they come to life.

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.