I established my garden design company, Sakura Garden Design Limited, in July 2014 after having graduated in April 2014 from the KLC Open Learning Diploma Garden Design and I would like to share with you my experiences, from being a student, all the way through to establishing and running a garden design business. From the outset, my goal was always to become a garden designer; I didn’t just want a qualification. Having researched several colleges, I decided on KLC because of the way the course is structured towards gaining entry into the industry.
My career history to date was based in the City of London, in finance. But like so many other people, my passion lay elsewhere. As far back as I can remember, I wanted to design gardens. I would read the Financial Times on the train in the morning going up to London, but sketch designs on the way home (when I wasn’t frequenting City bars, that is - wine can be such a distraction!)
When you first enrol on a distance learning course, it’s all very new and exciting. There are many things to buy; such as an architect’s drawing board, rendering pencils and pens, various radiograph (or architects) pens, scale rulers, books and such like (I now have quite a sizeable library of design and plant books to draw inspiration from). The course workbook supplied by the college is very thorough and detailed. They suggest that you read through the whole course first and then start on Module 1 (there are 6 in total).
I intended to go straight onto Vectorworks Landmark (the industry standard software for Garden and Landscape designers), but KLC insisted that I do everything by hand to start off with, as I had no knowledge at the time of Vectorworks and would therefore have had to learn that at the same time. Initially I was a little put out by this, but now I fully understand the reasoning behind this decision. I was trained in technical drawing at school to quite a high level but attended a KLC short course to brush up on my skills. I found that drawing by hand really opens your mind. Also, I can now do both so if I wanted, I could hand draw or use Vectorworks Landmark, depending on the client or the work involved.
Outline of the course
The first module of the course covers the design process, mood boards, site survey and analysis, the clients brief and plans, elevations and sections. I would say that this is the foundation of the course and it is relevant to every garden designer.
The second module tackles inking and lettering, functional layout plans, garden history (which is in every module apart from the last), plant science and form, texture and colour.
The third module goes onto axonometric drawings, rendering, the planting plan, dealing with difficult sites, garden lighting, construction and how to cost a project (a very important stage that I feel a lot of other colleges miss out).
Section four covers making scale models, more construction and garden lighting and how to present verbally to clients (again very important when you have established your own business). Module five finishes construction and researches contemporary gardens (of which you have to choose a contemporary designer and present a profile). For part of this module, you also had to submit a conceptual show garden for an RHS show.
For my show garden I chose the title ‘Absent Palette’ (you are provided with a list of titles or you can choose one of your own). The marking tutor said that ‘it was a marvellous concept, carried through with aplomb.” She also said that the judges would think it “well worth inclusion in a show. It is simple, elegant and intelligently expressed. Your concept board is quite brilliant”. At the time of completing this module, I had entered the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show jointly with a fellow garden designer. We applied for the conceptual section but due to time constraints, failed to get in. However, I shall be coming back to this and re-entering at another time.
Module six is split into three parts and is totally dedicated to professional practice. This section is really important to anybody who wishes to enter the industry as a practising garden designer. Over the course, my grades ranged from a straight A to a B-. Overall, my pass received a Merit award and gave me the knowledge to proceed with my chosen career path. I am also now able to use the letters ‘KLC OL Dip’ after my name.
So, how was the course? Well, it certainly focuses your mind and gives you the knowledge to enter the industry of garden design. For me personally, I really enjoyed the course. I would say that it can be hard work. You have to be extremely self-disciplined on an open learning diploma. It is easier in my opinion (on the discipline side) to attend a college each week. It can be so easy to get distracted and sometimes, life gets in the way. There are always excuses that can be made for not doing the work. It therefore is up to you to commit to your course. I set myself a minimum of 16 hours per week, which includes time to study, research, visit gardens and exhibitions and quite importantly, to enjoy plants and design.
The best ‘tip’ that I can give to people is to join the Society of Garden Designers as soon as you are a student designer. Not only do you receive a monthly publication which is specific to the industry (Garden Design Journal), but you can draw on the experience and knowledge of practicing garden designers by attending a local cluster group. I currently attend 2 different groups, one of which (North Essex) I jointly run with a fellow designer. We have many award winning garden designers in both groups, along with design and build specialists and Landscape Architects. I have been able to obtain help and advice on every subject from drainage and lighting, through to trade suppliers and exhibitions. They exchange views on which supplier is good or bad (and the reasons behind those views) together with giving design development courses on a wide range of design and landscape issues.
Whilst finishing my course, I completed my first full garden design. This was part of a large garden in North Essex that the owners just did not enjoy, but which was their main focal point from the house. It was dark (due to a very large Sycamore tree in the middle) and also had a concrete bunker that was surrounded by very shabby Laurels. The garden is now on my website and is used constantly by its owners. To me, that is what a garden should be for. They are to be enjoyed. Gardens are for living.
Throughout my career, I have always tried to be as professional as possible. When I began my garden design business, I had my website professionally designed and constructed. My company logo, business cards, stationary etc., were all professionally designed. I purchased my design software on a lease/purchase agreement which is 100% tax deductible and frees up your capital. It’s all about the detail. Do not try to cut corners and always aim as high as possible.