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Professional Garden Design Tips: an Interview with Lisa Cox

Posted by Bridgman on

If you've ever been envious of someone else's garden you're just like me. I can't help myself, I just love looking at gardens when I walk around. Some (lucky) people seem to have a gift for planning or designing awesome gardens from scratch. Listen to them! Garden design tips are always useful; read them, share them and bookmark them to come back to at a later date.

Always wondered how Professional Garden Designers were working? Want to know how to get the most from your garden? Browsing the web in search of inspiration and garden design tips? Look no more, you'll find all what you need in this post.

Meet Garden Designer Lisa Cox

Now, to help you think about how you can improve your own garden, here are professional advice and suggestions from the Garden Designer Lisa Cox. And as a bonus, she sent us some pictures of one of her projects to share with you, an example that can inspire you.

For those who don't know her yet, let's just introduce her in a few words. Based in Surrey (South West London), Lisa predominantly works in the South East of England but has completed projects as far afield as La Rochelle in France. She is really passionate about working closely with her clients to create gardens that they feel truly connected to. Lisa has been practicing for 6 years, following a long career as an HR professional in The City so she brings her professional background to the proceedings along with a built-in spatial awareness that allows her to create beautiful gardens that feel right and sit comfortably within their surroundings.

Without further ado, now the introductions are out of the way, let's start the interview with Lisa Cox.


Bridgman: Lisa, as a Garden Designer, what is your dream garden like? Lisa Cox: Personally I love quintessential English Country gardens which have some formality and elegance, but that are a little bit soft around the edges. For example, I love the textures and look of reclaimed materials and, although I generally like things to be neat and tidy, I do like the garden to have a natural look about it…as if by magic it just happened that way!

When you start a new project, what is the first thing you do? The first part of my briefing process is to ask my clients to put together a mood board of the things that inspire and motivate them. It’s much easier to articulate in pictures what they like in terms of textures, style and things and often the finished board is a surprise to them too. I’ve been trained to use colour psychology to help me to really understand what my clients are passionate about and this mood board exercise really does enable me to get a clear picture of how the garden design should progress.

Where do you get inspiration from? And how do you organise your ideas? I get inspiration from so many things, but often in places that I least expect it. I’m a keen photographer so I like to get out as often as I can to take photos. It always amazes me how differently you see things when you look through the lens of a camera. I like buildings, architecture and textures and it’s these elements that I tend to be drawn to, whether that’s in gardens or just generally out and about. I also love rugged landscapes.

The Flower Shows are also places I get inspiration – Chelsea of course is the main show of the year so the show garden budgets are bigger and allow the designers to push the design boundaries more. But of course I visit gardens when I can and there’s always something that turns my head.

My ideas are never very formally organised so often when I’m inspired by something I’ll just store it away until the right project comes along.


Professional Garden Design Tips

What advice could you give to people wanting to redesign their garden but:

- Can’t find a style that suits them? A garden should be designed specifically for the person who owns it and in relation to the building that’s attached to it. There are garden styles that can be drawn upon for inspiration, but I can guarantee that there will be elements from more than one style that ignites a passion.

The mood board process will really help to establish how the styles can mix and work together and the finished picture is usually very clear.

- Think their garden is too small? There’s no such thing as too small! Whatever space you have, it will be possible to create some sort of space that feels like a garden.

The trick with small spaces is to plan, plan, plan, as every square inch needs to be utilised to its full potential. If you want to include something then make sure you have all the measurements so that you can be sure you can work it into the design in a coherent way.

- Don’t want to spend too much time maintaining it? All gardens have a certain element of maintenance, but it is possible to create a garden that doesn’t need to be tended all the time. I’m not actually a particularly keen gardener but I do like to get out there when I’m in the mood. Mostly, however I want to be out there enjoying it!

So I spend, probably, 4 days a year looking after it and the rest of time sitting in it. The trick is to choose the right plant for the right place and to give them the space to breathe. Flowering shrubs are a good alternative because they may need pruning every now and again, but mostly just do their thing. Perennials of course will come back each year, but you need to choose things that don’t need to be deadheaded often such as Geraniums – ‘Rozanne’ is a brilliant variety that flowers from end of May until the first frosts.

- Live in an area with a harsh climate (either cold or warm)? This can actually make life easier because it will limit the plants you can use. It’s important to really know your site and choose the right plants for the right place. You can also easily change the environment, especially in hot climates as you create some shade. For windy sites, you can plant a “shelter belt” which is basically a series of barriers (hedges of shrubs) which will break the force of the wind. Fences and other vertical structures are a disaster in these situations – you’ll be continually putting them back up!


Discover one of her projects

Let's now focus on a specific project of yours, a one you loved working on. Tell us more about it!

What was the main challenge about this project? Last year I worked with a client who had a steeply sloped garden. When I arrived it was really overgrown and they’d forgotten just how much space they had. But most of all the slope made it not very usable! The budget was quite tight for the scope of the project so I wanted to work with the slope rather than building lots of expensive retaining walls.

Why do you particularly like this project? This is one of the gardens I am most proud of because we worked with the slope of the garden to create some defined spaces that each have a different purpose. The area of decking at the highest point not only invites you to step outside, but also provides and an attractive place to sit. It catches the evening sun so a great place for evening entertaining. I love the fact that this garden is structured in a formal geometric way, but by using natural timber and self-binding gravel, the whole things is softened. The planting eventually will be very full with a cottagey and informal feel to it. The images below will take you through the project from start to finish…


Before/After: how amazing!

The garden before redesign It was overgrown and very much unloved – so much so that my clients had forgotten just much space they had! The obvious feature was the mature willow tree which is very much at the heart of the new design.


The Design I always try to put some hand sketches together with the first concept design as I think it really helps the garden come to life for my clients at the most creative stage of the design process.

During construction

Very quickly we cleared the site and it revealed just how much space there was. Gardens normally look a lot worse before they get better, but I think in this case the clearance phase actually made it more appealing!

The finished garden I hope you’ll agree that the garden has been brought back to life. I can’t wait to see how it looks this summer when the planting has had time to mature a bit and really fill out. These images were taken after just a couple of months.

There are few things to add too such as the tree seat around the willow tree, but I don’t think its absence really impacts how it looks and feels right now.  

I really want to thank Lisa Cox for answering my questions. She's not only a great garden designer but runs an inspirational blog too. I hope you enjoyed this post. If you have any further questions please comment on this post or contact Lisa directly through her website or social media profiles.

Do you know of any other great garden designers that you would like to see interviewed? Let us know in the comments below!

Pictures Credits: Lisa Cox


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