Studio Update: Planting Mature Trees

Planting Mature Trees

We’ve had an exciting couple of weeks here at Studio 31; competition deadlines, co-ordinating builds and some adventurous conceptual design work in full swing!

Among all the (happy) chaos, we wanted to come up for air to talk about one of our favourite things; trees. Big trees.

On one particular day last week, two of our team were out on two very different sites, in two different counties with two very different sets of weather but both taking delivery of some evergreen, mature, native trees. Up in Suffolk, it was -3 degrees with snow storms whilst in balmy Hertfordshire there was blue skies and the perfect sunny winters day (not sure who got the raw end of the deal there).

At one site thirteen 3 metre Pinus sylvestris (Scots Pine) were delivered to one of our commercial clients to be used as part of a unique entrance way. At the other residential project eighteen 7 metre Ilex aquifolium (Common Holly) were being delivered as part of a screening programme. These were mature trees weighing in excess of a tonne and requiring specialist equipment and expertise in both transporting and planting. These types of installations are where our network of professional partnerships with high quality suppliers and contractors really come into their own and allow the trees the best start to begin to thrive in their new homes.

Planting Mature Trees Planting Mature Trees

Whilst the debate rages on in landscape and ecology realms about the benefits of native versus non-native (in terms of biodiversity), on these schemes native trees were the right choice. At both sites, the respective trees are building on the existing ecology and habitats by echoing the local flora and surrounding woodlands and with both species being evergreen, they will have the advantage of fulfilling their roles all year round. As with all our schemes, we look to provide planting which carefully considers the needs of the site, the client’s brief and it’s ecological and environmental impact. Planting big, beautiful native trees is an easy win for us as it fulfils all our objectives with ease.


The fifth in our monthly professionals series; James Mors, Associate Director, Clear Architects

 James Mors; Associate Director, Clear Architects

There are many definitions of the term ‘Landscape but one of the simplest is ‘anything that is not a building’ and as such ‘landscape’ is a term that extends from the wilds of mountains and moorlands to the confines of private gardens, public parks and the spaces between buildings. It is, in a sense, an all-encompassing term and as such this blog aims to begin to help people think about the diversity of the landscape profession and those professionals within it.

This month’s interview is with James Mors, Associate Director of the innovative and inspired Clear Architects which may lead you to thinking ‘what has an architect got to do with a blog about landscape professionals?’ If the definition of landscape is ‘anything that is not a building’, then the answer to that question is…a very great deal indeed.

A huge amount of the work professionals across the landscape industries do is to look at the connection between architecture and landscape. And as such architects and landscape professionals are, and will continue to be, inextricably linked.

James came to work at Clear Architects after having started his professional career in commercial focused architecture. Here he gained a core understanding of commercial projects under design and build contracts but over time, also a desire to connect more closely with the end user. The move to Clear, offered him just that and it’s apparent immediately that James sees the value and indeed privilege in being trusted to “design [clients] dream homes and spaces they never realised could be a reality”. His passion, in his own words, is “in designing and creating unprecedented spaces”

When you learn a little more about James, you come to understand that his affinity with architecture extends well beyond design alone. Perhaps stemming from a childhood love of building and creating things “a table, chair or scaled model”, James has as much interest in building as he does with design and describes his role in the construction of projects with equal levels of fervour as the design work itself.

No surprise then, that Clear architects was a perfect fit for James;

Clear Architects have never aspired to create designs that are never intended to be built and push relentlessly to ensure projects are constructed to the highest quality. The practice is all about the detail and ensuring our clients aspirations are exceeded. 

Too often architects are criticised for inspired conceptual design work with no consideration of how that architecture may practically be built. Both Clear Architects and James himself, break the mould in this respect. It is obvious that for James, the design and functional aspects of architecture go hand in hand.

My taste is minimalist.  I believe the key to good design is to not over-complicate details and design in general.  There are simple factors that should alwaysbe considered; orientation, topography of the land, site location; A project must always consider the core values of the site.  Simple lines and well-arranged spaces that are practical and function for the end use.

It follows then that James considers the execution of a building to extend beyond the role the architect alone and he describes his professional relationships as “paramount to creating excellent architecture”

Excellent design/construction can only be realised through collaborative working

[Clear Architects] surrounds itself with likeminded individuals and professionals, as there is an appreciation that creating buildings to the highest quality does not lay solely with the architect, it is a combination of many professionals.

In this vein, James considers the connection of landscape and architecture to be essential.

Some of our best concepts have been developed and inspired from the landscape/context that the building sits in.  I believe that the landscape architect should be part of the design team from the outset, bouncing ideas with the architect to ensure the landscaping is not an afterthought.

James’ expertise in the translation of good design into practical construction is certainly an asset here. He describes the importance of the involvement of landscape in the early stages of design and a necessity to remain open to adjustments in the design of the architecture to better connect building and landscape. In essence, James’ approach is to try to create one design which flows from architecture to landscape architecture and he advocates the value of this method to the architecture itself, to the landscape and ultimately to the client. It is a truly holistic approach to architecture that produces some quite remarkable results and makes it both a pleasure and a joy for Studio 31 to work alongside James (and Clear) on some truly astonishing projects.

Contemporary Garden Design Essex

Project Update: A Contemporary Garden Design in Essex

The Importance of Design Collaboration

We are in the midst of the detailed design stages for our contemporary garden design project in Essex. With the conceptual design phase for the landscape complete, work on the building is due to commence in the coming weeks with the landscape construction to follow later next year.

This project really highlights the importance and advantage to the client of a collaboration between an architect and landscape architect in the initial design stages. The benefits of this early strong working relationship can be many fold; not least to ensure that the quality and level of detail evident the design for the architecture is continued and congruous within the landscape but also for practical and cost-effective reasons.

On this site, design work for the landscape at this early stage has meant the opportunity to plant mature hedging around the boundary of the site in advance of the architectural build commencing. One of the main concerns with the site for this project was the imposing boundary of the neighbouring property. Planting mature hedging at this stage is a cost-effective way to mitigate against this problem. The 18-month construction period gives the plants time for growth and to establish further, thus allows for slightly smaller initial plants to be used.

A good collaboration between architect and landscape architect will develop cost-effective solutions such as this in order to provide the best possible overall delivery of the design in the most efficient way.

Of course, there are disadvantages to planting pre-construction as plants can be sensitive to the impact of heavy machinery and can be liable to damage during construction phases. With this in mind, it is also important to have a good working relationship with the main contractor. Good contractors will be well used to putting in place protection for sensitive landscapes (such as trees with preservation orders) so clear communication here should easily mean provision can be made.

With this site, the hedging is located well away from the main construction area and can be easily fenced from the building work, therefore any impact to the plants can be avoided.

The design itself is an exciting one, providing a seamless link between the building and the wider landscape through using the continuation of themes from Clear Architects’ contemporary building design into the garden. An example of this, is a linear cascading water feature which breaches the two levels of the terrace. We are excited to see the building begin to come to life and the landscape with it over the coming months and are working closely with our colleagues at Clear to ensure the results are something astounding.

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

Horticultural Science

Horticultural Science and Research at RHS Wisley

Education, Science and Learning

This weekend we took a trip to visit flagship RHS site Wisley in Surrey to get a closer look at Wisley’s portion of the RHS 160 million pound development. Wisley is one of the UK’s best loved gardens, welcoming over 1 million visitors per year and is well known for being a great day out for garden enthusiasts, families and professionals alike. What it’s less well known for though is its history and credentials in horticultural science that’s what this expansive new development is hoping to put right.

Wisley has been home to RHS Science since 1903 and RHS School of Horticulture since 1907 where a team of botanists, scientists and horticulturists have, to date, compiled some of the most important horticultural collections in the UK, if not the world. Their database alone houses 325,000 plant names and they have cultivated over 80,000 plant specimens in the RHS Herbarium. The existing grade II listed garden was originally designed to be a “living laboratory for experimentation and education in horticulture” and to this day provides a foundation on which scientific research there tackles globally important issues.

The new development at Wisley aims to open the laboratory to the public for the first time in over 100 years and aims to be both a step back in time to explore how scientists pioneered horticultural research and also a classroom for the future, lifting the lid on the latest scientific advances in botany and horticulture.

As part of the development, there will also be seven new gardens, some of the most interesting of which surrounding The Centre of Horticulture, Science and Learning. The three gardens here will focus on mental health and wellbeing, gardens as ecosystem services and also a brand-new kitchen garden teaching people about our connection to the natural world through the food we eat. Each garden having a unique educational focus like this, really grounds the theory in practice, thus making it more tangible and palatable for its visitors.

The great part about this development is that there is this keen focus on learning. The RHS is aiming to encourage future generations to “embrace all aspects of horticulture and understand its value and importance”. This is something vital  in a world where technological and scientific advances are so often perceived as synonymous with indoor pursuits.

For so long now, science and research has been something conducted behind closed doors, only put on display once the reports are written and results are validated. The work at Wisley is attempting to turn all that on its head and quite literally open its doors to the public in a bid to help engage and educate all of us. And in relation to this new idea of transparency, they’ve already started as they mean to go on with a ground level viewing platform of the building work as it occurs. An absolutely genius idea, though, we probably spent a little too long watching the diggers.

Horticultural Science

Wisley have long-since had a mission to “Enrich everyone’s life through plants and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place” and from next Summer we will begin to see how they are fulfilling that objective. Great work Wisley, here at Studio 31, we look forward to seeing the work unfurl.

Senior Ecologist

The fourth in our monthly professionals series; Kay Hinchsliffe, OHES Environmental

 Kay Hinchsliffe; Senior Ecologist

This month we were privileged to share the company of Kay Hinchsliffe, Senior Ecologist at renowned ecological specialists OHES Environmental. Unusually, I’ll leave the opening gambit to Kay, whose eloquence (though I tried, believe me), can’t be bettered…

“A childhood spent in the countryside pond dipping, dung hunting and woodlice collecting has inevitably led me to this career path – which is apparent in hindsight, but not necessarily throughout the journey. As a young adult and after a little travelling and soul searching, determined that I would single-handedly save the world, I completed a degree in Environmental Sciences. Here, I had some inspirational tutors who gave me the belief that everyone can make a difference in their own way to the environment – whether that be simply turning off a light or changing internationally policy.”

Kay has never stood still in her career, beginning life as an academic Research AgroEcologist and then Ecology Consultant before achieving her species licences and professional accreditations and taking up her current specialist role.

It’s evident the moment you begin to talk to Kay that she has a deep-seated love for the natural world and thrives on the diversity of her work which takes her from bat box consultancy at central London hotels, to knee deep sampling fish populations in rural Wales. She’s even designed mitigation to reduce the interplay between badgers and fighter jets on a MoD airfield but her favourite part of all is…

“working in remote sites, where you are reminded how small you are (and indeed your role is) in the grand context of the landscape and the natural environment”

It all sounds rather like a dream job so we asked her what the downsides were…

“Without a doubt, the physically hardest part of the job is the 2am alarm which precedes a dawn bat survey. There is no feeling quite like jumping out of bed, straight into your waterproofs with bat detector in hand, followed by standing in the dark for a few hours in the hope of catching a glimpse of illusive bats returning to their day roost as the sun rises…And the gratification of knowing that once you have found that roost, the bats within it, and indeed their surrounding habitat, will be protected and their longevity within that landscape maintained…”




Kay’s views on landscape and the environment are insightful, articulate and represent the much needed shift in attitudes that will serve to preserve this world for future generations

“We are all connected, whether by choice or not, to the landscape and our environment. Indeed, we all passively impact upon it and reciprocally the changes in the environment impact the way we live our lives now and in the future. Our connection with the environment is innate and deep rooted. I consider that we are custodians to this wonderful earth and it is our duty to work with the environment to facilitate the inevitable growth and development of humankind whilst reducing our adverse impacts and ensuring we pass on an ecologically diverse legacy to future generations.”

A big part of landscape architecture and indeed architecture can be working with ecologists to mitigate against environmental and ecological damage so we asked Kay what her views were on working with professionals in the landscape design industry.

“Good landscape design can benefit the ecology of the natural environment. I regularly work with Landscape Architects at the design stage of build projects where, as part of the wildlife mitigation, and thus planning condition, it is imperative that the site does not have an overall negative impact on the site’s ecology.”

Kay works with landscape architects to help them build solutions into their designs that overall create a net gain for wildlife. It would be easy for her to be viewed by professionals as a OFSTED style inspector, hindering urban development but it’s clear that Kay’s approach is one of collaboration rather than dictatorship and it’s our view that this method of nurturing strong professional relationships provides the best results for the ecology in both the short and long term. She takes the view of educating her clients and partners, thus building in good practices and policies that they can replicate on future projects.

At Studio 31, we consider ourselves conscientious landscape architects and it’s professionals like Kay that support us in improving our designs and methods for the greater good. It’s fair to say that most people we meet across this industry love their roles but with Kay it radiates from her very core and that is quite literally contagious.

Courtyard Garden

Landscape Design for Small Spaces: A Courtyard Garden

London Courtyard Garden

So, you find your dream house; great location, right number of bedrooms, ideal amount of character but there’s a compromise and its outdoor space. Or perhaps gardens just aren’t your thing, a big sprawling mass of weeds isn’t your idea of heaven so you opt for a smaller, hard landscaped courtyard. Either way, the house is the main event and you think your 4 x 4 metre courtyard garden is too small to do anything with. For the size, a bit of decking and a table and chairs is about all it can offer, right?

Wrong. With growing urbanisation and an ever-increasing population, garden sizes are on the decrease and whether you have a London flat or country cottage, courtyard gardens are becoming more and more common place. For this reason, outdoor space, however small, will always be at a premium and well-designed outdoor space will always add value (in more ways than one) to your home.

Just think if that outdoor space, were indoor space. You’d be willing to pay tens if not hundreds of thousands more for the same size and chances are you’d be ensuring that it was as well designed and thought out as the rest of your home. So why not the same for your courtyard garden?

There is many a YouTube video advocating the ingenuity of tiny houses. secret storage, multi-purpose furniture and clever décor giving the illusion of space but there are few of these relating to gardens.  We’ve written blogs before about the exponential value that garden design can add to your home and the chasm of difference between a London flat with no outdoor space and a London flat with some. Houses are no different. The British have a love and affinity with the outdoors and want a private piece of it as part of their home. And that is exactly what good design will offer.

One of our design projects here at Studio 31, due to be built in 2018 is a London courtyard garden for a beautifully renovated Victorian property in the up and coming borough of Walthamstow.

The clients had designed a Scandinavian influenced interior which was elegant even at the finite detail and they wanted an outdoor space which was an extension of this. With bespoke bi-fold doors allowing the two spaces to be connected as one, there was the potential for a truly transformative space when the garden was in use but also in being viewed from the interior.

The design needed to reflect the simplicity of the client’s thoughtful, minimalistic lifestyle so a paired down palette was used to reflect the Scandinavian feel. All the available space was maximised including making a feature from the boundaries to give the illusion of one whole space from interior to exterior. A sunken snug area rejuvenated the courtyard making it both look and feel bigger. Creating multiple levels within the space also gave the feel of outdoor “rooms” and therefore transformed the way the space could be used as well as increased its capacity as an entertaining space. It was important that every aspect of the garden flowed on from the house so even the furniture was bespoke designed to mirror the interior space. The resulting design really gives a sense of one whole space or stepping into additional rooms and really creates a sense of tranquillity in a busy urban lifestyle.

A small roof terrace or courtyard garden doesn’t have to mean you are restricted in terms of what your outdoor space can offer, in fact it can mean the opposite. In the same way as architects are considering to a greater and greater extent their buildings in the context of the wider landscape, Landscape Architects are being compelled to think harder about the bond between building and landscape. Small spaces, push designers to think beyond the norm, to explore spaces differently and make their designs not just innovative but put simply, better.

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

Landscape Context

Landscape Indicators and the Context of the Landscape

Custodians of the Landscape

We’ve been talking in the office this week about landscape signifiers and their role within the wider context of landscape architecture. Just a few hundred yards from our office is a red telephone box, commonly held as a symbol of British landscape architecture. Within that telephone box though, is not as you might assume, a retro looking, metal telephone but instead a state of the art yellow defibrillator. Move a few miles west and you’ll find the same red telephone box exterior encasing a rolling art exhibition and further west still another big red box housing a miniature library.

With the rise of technology and the birth of the mobile phone, these beacons of the British landscape have become redundant to their original purpose. However, they hold such cultural significance that instead of removing them, they are being repurposed, re-used and recycled.

When it comes to man-made signifiers things like the red telephone box are obvious. People have a nostalgic affection for them because they say something about the character of the place. They are quintessentially English like the red post box, the London bus or the black cab. They help you orientate yourself in the landscape, they can be part of the infrastructure of a place and create a sense of familiarity. Signifiers however, could be more subtle; they could be ecological and provide us with evidence of the sensitivities or natural significance of a site. Landscape visual impact assessments often look to these signifiers in their many forms to help consider the character of a site and mitigate against any potential detrimental impacts upon it.

In the context of design, only this week Studio 31 designed a space in need of shelter and greater boundary from its wider rural landscape. We could have used a more traditional fencing or hedging method but within the context of this site there were some defining landscape features in the shape of distinctive landforms. Thus we looked to bunding to help shape the periphery of this site. This both fulfilled the client brief and also retained the character of the locale.

As Landscape Architects we act as custodians of the land, we represent its interests and it’s our job to retain the heritage, ecological or cultural significance of the place. That might be a wider social or historical context or it might be singular man made landmarks or iconic natural wonders. Our job is not to work with a blank canvas but instead to preserve, enhance and enrich whilst using the landscape’s existing signposts to show us the way.

Beth Chatto; Garden Design Essex

An Office Outing

Some photos from last week’s office trip to the Beth Chatto Gardens in Essex organised by the Landscape Institute. Afternoon tea and a tour from the head gardener exploring some research based garden design methods including exploring which plants thrive without irrigation. Well worth the trip if you haven’t had chance to visit this hidden gem in North Essex. 


Garden Design Essex


Landscape Architecture London

Growing Underground

The Landscape Architecture of London Food

Growing Underground has been around some years but now more than ever some of its core values seem to be at the forefront of the British food and environmental industries.

The brain child of two men, Growing Underground simply put, is a business which grows about twenty different types of herbs deep under London’s streets. The Clapham based enterprise utilises disused air raid shelters to house a business which “aims to reconnect British consumers with local products”.

Growing plants with no natural light or water sources must surely though have a huge environmental consequence I hear you say?! Not so, Growing Underground prioritise sustainable growing practices and are working towards carbon neutral certification. Their hydroponics (without soil) system uses 70% less water than traditional open field farming and all nutrients are kept within the closed-loop system thus removing any risk of agricultural run-off.

Their snazzy LED light system means they can even adjust the light levels to meet the needs of the individual plant species (maximising growth) and they limit their food miles meaning their produce can be delivered sooner and therefore fresher (often within 4 hours of being picked and packed).

Quoted in the independent as saying

“We’ve got enough food to feed the planet, it’s just all in the wrong place”

…they made that into their business model and are setting an example for not just food businesses but all businesses across the UK.

From a landscape architecture perspective, the architecture of the landscape is constantly evolving to meet the growing demands of population growth and this means an ever present battle between buildings and open space. We’ve all heard of farmers’ land being sold to developers to make room for housing. It makes sense then, that as population density in urban space increases, so open spaces are declining. Farming forms a huge part of rural landscape architecture across the UK and this project argues that along with high-rise farms and the like, there are sustainable solutions to finding alternative places to grow our food.

So next time you fancy some pink stem radish, garlic chives or a pea shoot, spare a thought for an underground corner of Clapham where two men are challenging us to think differently about our food, our farming and possibly even our even our urban landscape.


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

 Aaron Meadows; Nursery Manager

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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