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”

literary landscape

The Gibberd Garden; A literary landscape

Landscape meets literature

Those who follow us will know, we have long been fascinated with natures connection to the arts and a couple of weeks ago one of our directors engaged two of her passions for the natural world and the written word through an event at the Gibberd Garden in Essex. Here is what she learned.

Landscape has long been synonymous with the arts, inspiring some of the greatest paintings, sculptures and literature of all time. It is the canvas for our design work and the context of our designs and as such it is a true responsibility to shape it for future generations.

Art for me comes in the shape of language, both reading it and writing it (though I confess to be a novice at both) and I am not the first, nor will I be the last to combine literature with the natural world.

I have visited many places which were either the inspiration for or the writing place of many works of literature. From Virginia Woolf’s Sissinghurst garden to the Bloomsbury’s sets Grantchester Orchard. From the Yorkshire Moors which inspired Emily Brontë’s Wuthering heights to the compelling landscapes of the lake district which inspired many of Beatrix Potters classic tales but I had not, until now, associated the Gibberd Garden with works of literary genius.

The Gibberd Garden is an unusual place. Designed by Sir Frederick Gibberd, it is very much a personal garden and in some ways one which contrasted Gibberd’s work as a master planner and leading post-war architect. His profession required meticulous planning and attention to detail, consideration of how one space would work with the next and continuity across a city.

“Harlow was one of the first and most successful of the new town projects, being both relatively uncontroversial and unusually unified and architecturally distinguished in its physical plan”. (Aldridge, 1996: 32)

His work was unusual in its day because he designed it as a whole and saw ‘connection’ as an integral part of the success of the future town. He looked at connection both in relation to the interaction of the architecture but also the landscape; how the landscape moved between the buildings and how the town related to the surrounding countryside.

His love of landscape is echoed in his garden but replacing the practical and functional rationales driving his work as a master planner, he intended his garden to be a work of art. He viewed his garden, perhaps all gardens, as places of transience. Ephemeral and subject to constant change; apparently once stating that if his garden stayed the same beyond his years, he would be most aggrieved.

From a design perspective, the garden doesn’t stick to conventional design principles and yet what it has in abundance is character, personality and joy. It has been affectionately described as ‘landscape theatre’ and for me this captures its essence. The garden was never intended to be a homage to supercilious design but a reflection of the humour and charisma of one man and his affection for the landscape.

As such, this garden is a wonderous place of inspiration for a writer. It is filled with surprises, eccentricities, history, heritage and stories; the sculptures, each a piece of history themselves and a part of both Gibberd’s and the garden’s stories.

Feeling in myself an echo of the playful nature of Sir Frederick, instinct wove me down the garden to happen upon a fort, drawbridge and peter pan-esque ‘keep out’ sign. Overlooking this mischievous scene was a swing hung from an accumbent branch of a mature beech tree which intuitively became the starting point of my literary adventure.

My literary wanderings that day spanned giant’s pipes, rambunctious sweet shops and macabre ghost stories. All inspired by the vivacious landscape and its remarkable treasures. My prose however and that of my companions was animated only on the page. Our work as landscape architects carries a different weight. Whether we are inspired by the vast landscapes of Brown and Repton or the gentle musings of an individual client, our designs affect the landscape. They enhance it or scar it, evolve it or change it for the future and sometimes forever. There is a great responsibility in that. What we do as landscape architects, as designers, is akin to art. We are inspired by the landscape and use it as our medium, our ink and our inspiration. The landscapes we create have the power to conserve, preserve, facilitate and improve. And a garden like Gibberd’s reminds us of the many delicate and overlapping functions and forms woven into our roles as landscape architects and of the emotive power of the landscape to empower, revive and to inspire.

Literary Landscape

An anthology of some of the prose inspired by the Gibberd Garden will be curated later this year and will be on sale in their shop in the next few months.


The role of design in walkability of cities

Walkability and health.

It is recommended that for good health we walk 10,000 steps per day (Tudor-Locke and Bassett, 2004). However, since the 1970s the number of people walking has steadily declined both in frequency and duration. It is now estimated that the average time people spend walking per day is just ten minutes; at an average pace this is closer to 1000 steps and not enough to demonstrate measurable health benefits (unless of course we connect with nature in that time). A fifth of adults only walk for 20 minutes once per year (or less) and a sixth of children never walk for this long (DoT, 2013). A stark contrast to what would have been the walking habits of their parents and grandparents as children.

Many factors have perhaps contributed to this reduction in walking. Movement out of cities could be one, with statistics showing that residents of London walk 292 miles per year but rural people just 122 miles (Pretty et al, 2017). Within cities themselves, there are other factors though, not least the increase in use of technology both as a leisure activity and a form of social interaction.

We all know walking is good for us. Just some of the known benefits are increased mental health, decreased blood pressure and reduced obesity levels (thus a reduction of the associated medical conditions). The benefits of walking are not linked to health alone though. When we look at information regarding walkability of cities, we learn that in areas where walkability is better, house prices are higher, GDP is higher, the streets are safer, and people are happier. So why do we not walk more and could it be that design has a part to play?

In a world where there is increasing pressure on design practices to be “innovative” and remain “ahead of the trend”, there has, historically been a tendency to design only for modern life and convenience. But with the movement of health and well-being up the government agenda, there is increasingly more and more consideration for how we can not only facilitate people to walk but also connect with nature and green space in cities.

Daniele Quercia, founder of Happy Maps, supports the theory that convenience doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with health stating “being more efficient doesn’t necessarily make us happier”. He was responsible for designing an app with an algorithm to change the way that people navigate cities; Instead of simply looking for the fastest route from A to B his app found “the shortest route with the most emotional gain”. Discovering, through his work that architectural and natural features were significant factors in the benefit of the route. This emotional benefit of nature fits with the increasing theory linked to green exercise and the abundance of emerging theory relating to urban trees.

Science cites the benefit of trees to our cities as many and varied at both an economic and environmental level. And these benefits translate down to walkability scales too; urban trees provide shade, shelter and aesthetic benefits. They make navigating our cities on foot more practical, more appealing, healthier and a happier experience.

In terms of design considerations, there are practical implications of walkability too. Where design is focussed on easing the pressure of vehicular travel, pavements can often be narrow and poorly maintained meaning navigating by foot is difficult. To combat this, there is an increasing trend to specifying “shared-space” which advocates the design of streets so that vehicles and pedestrians move together across it with mutual consideration. This is, in theory, a good idea and has been successfully implemented in many cities across Europe but as with all new solutions can present its own design challenges. One concern for example, is with regard to accessibility; especially amongst people who are blind or partially sighted and who, without the use of pavements may feel at greater risk of isolation.

It is of course important that designers of today design for the modern world but with such a responsibility on our shoulders, should we also be designing for the modern and increasing health demands of people living in cities? If we, as designers can make a city more walkable, then we remove (at least some of) the barriers between a city-dweller and walking, thus make walking more desirable and more likely. There then comes with that the host of environmental, economic and health benefits that are scientifically linked to walking. National scale initiatives such as the national park city campaign are providing opportunity to push ideas like walkability in cities higher on the design agenda. The spaces between buildings could be designed not just to help move people between buildings but between green spaces and as part of a wider network of routes designed for walking, connecting and health.




DoT (2013) National Travel Survey. London: Department of Transport.

Pretty, J., Rogerson, M. and Barton, Jo. (2017) Green Mind Theory: How Brain-Body-Behaviour Links into Natural and Social Environments for Healthy Habits. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 14: 706

Tudor-Locke C, Bassett DR (2004) How many steps per day are enough? Sports Med 34:1-8


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.



Our monthly professionals series; Benjamin Brace, Horticultural Projects Manager, RHS

 Benjamin Brace, Horticultural Projects Manager at the Royal Horticultural Society

One of the great privileges of a career in the Landscape Industry is the number of likeminded professionals you get to meet. People who inspire, advise and innovate. That in itself is a rare and wonderful thing but every now and again you get to call one of those people a friend and our guest this month for our professionals’ blog is just that. Horticulturist, Landscape Architect and RHS Projects Manager, Benjamin Brace.

We’ve been fortunate to know Ben for over a decade and writing this blog has been a really great honour to get to tap into the drivers and inspirations of one of the most passionate landscape professionals we know.

“For me it all starts with plants…I am the son of a market trader. My parents ran a stall selling plants and cut flowers and I wanted to understand these things that I was selling”

This was, for Ben, to be the beginning of a “hugely meandering and varied professional career”. It began with studying Horticulture at Writtle College and encompassed almost all areas of the landscape industry from work at a plant nursery to working for landscape contractors and garden maintenance. He then went on to train in Landscape Architecture and has subsequently worked for a variety of practices both here in the UK and in Australia expanding his experience across a whole range of specialist areas.

“One of the main reasons I pursued a career in Landscape Architecture was a love of people and public space, and the opportunity to implement positive change”

Ben’s focus on creating positive change is much more than just words, it’s almost a part of his personality and almost certainly fed into his decision to join the RHS last year as their Horticultural Projects Manager. We asked Ben what appealed to him about working for the RHS

“Being a horticulturist first and foremost, what The RHS represents to me is the best of the best. That’s not to say what they do is out of reach, but for me it is the voice of authority in horticulture. It was the place I would always reference whilst studying; the first port of call to check a plant name or a hardiness rating.

One particular charitable aim the RHS shares with me is their commitment to getting more people into horticulture. As a self-confessed plant geek nothing excites me more than introducing someone to horticulture and getting someone who’s never grown anything to try it out. It’s balm for my soul.”

Ben is a big part of the development of RHS Garden Bridgewater, the society’s newest garden (and though we think having your office in the centre of RHS Garden Wisley can’t be bad), it is this that he describes as one of his favourite parts of his role.

“The surrounding community are incredibly engaged with what’s happening, and as such demand for volunteering slots is outstripping supply – we’re booked out until August! I love how this garden is going to be so different from the existing gardens, and once it’s open, it’s going to be such a tremendous resource for the wider community of Salford and Greater Manchester. The garden is littered with historical artefacts, and at almost every turn you are confronted with something that makes you stop in your tracks.”

What’s really interesting about Ben though is that he is the sole Landscape Architect within the RHS and quite possibly, this is what gives him the unique skillset required for his role there.

“I provide a vital link between the curatorial and estate teams – they are in effect my two clients. One is driven by aesthetics and horticulture, and the other by budget and programme, the perfect fit for any Landscape Architect. But that is my day to day job. I am beginning to view this new role, for me and the RHS, as an opportunity to promote a side of Landscape Architecture that some may not appreciate; an appreciation of horticulture and planting design. I’ve known of more than a few occasions where the profession is the butt of a joke when it comes to planting and horticulture, and this is something I’m keen to address.”

And Ben himself is testament to the fact that Landscape Architecture and Horticulture are most certainly not mutually exclusive.

True to his roots, landscape extends well beyond a profession for Ben. We aren’t sure how he finds the time, but outside of work, he is an Ambassador for Landscape with the Landscape Institute, Trustee of environmental charity; The Garden Classroom, co-chair of The Landscape’s Institute’s Bio-security Working Group, Volunteer with Friends of Horsham Park, Local Tree Warden and ‘general foot soldier for London National Park City campaign.

So, what inspires Ben? Who are his influences?

“My influences range tremendously and I am acutely aware of how much of a ball of contradictions I am”

Ben cites one of his early sources of inspiration as Roberto Burle Marx.

“His approach was more akin to land art but what he had was a great sensibility towards plants (he’s got over 50 that bear his name). [He also showed great] concern over the mismanagement of his native Brazilian rainforests.”

Other influences range from garden designer James Basson to academics Nigel Dunnett and James Hitchmough.

“Those who are pushing low input, ecological planting design and broader themes of green infrastructure up the agenda”

And include Landscape Architects such as Ken Smith, J&L Gibbons and Smout & Allen as well as “the formidable Sara Venn of Incredible Edible, Bristol. A true force of nature.”

For us at Studio 31, Ben is unique. The diversity of his background, his influences and his relationships make him quite distinctive in the industry. Never content to stand still, his real strengths are in both building connections and the acquisition of knowledge. Our goal with this series has always been to demonstrate the true diversity of the landscape industry and to attempt to unify many of those aspects. Ben is the personification of this goal and is testament to what can be achieved if all the branches of our landscape tree can work together.



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.