2020 – what a year!

It has been the strangest of years, and I thought it would be a good time to reflect. Not on lessons learned (there are plenty of people better able to do that than me) but on a year of exciting projects, great designs, new beginnings, and the ongoing daily inspirations of working in the wonderful world of Landscaping. In a year when many people have turned to their gardens and the natural world for solace, we have been fortunate indeed to be able to continue working (for the most part), and to share some of our passion with a new audience.

I thought I would share our 2020 year and some garden related inspirations month by month…

January at CGLA – what could possibly go wrong?

Beautiful skies of fire over the office at the start of the year – surely a good sign?

January Inspiration: Irises

In the dead of winter, choosing irises from “Iris Cayeux” to order for next year is a real treat- just pick colours you like and give them a go…

These were my choices – Torero,  Midnight Treat, and Hot Spiced Wine (I ordered 50!)

February at CGLA: work continues apace

Plenty of ongoing projects working hard in design, build and maintenance. The garden below is almost finished and the new planting arrives and is laid out in planting positions.

….and a month or so later this has settled well…

February Inspiration: Paths

In February it is all still wet and we are looking for dry lines to get out into our gardens. The garden above features strong lines with dry paths to the rear of the garden as sculptural framing to the lawn spaces. Below is a nearly finished garden we designed last year, which does this another way, using a simple sinuous “desire line” path. Much less intrusive than the more geometric shapes, but still providing a dry line to the studio and something attractive winding through a small orchard- this gives a sense of purpose to a small plot at the rear of a larger garden. A mown path could do a similar job visually, but doesn’t give the dry access if the studio is to be used in winter.

March at CGLA: working from home

Thank goodness for Zoom, team viewer and a host of other technical wizardry! Designers rapidly decamped with their workstations and the office was left pretty much empty.

Most of us put together somewhat ad hoc home offices…(the guitars are a bit of a distraction I will admit, although I have one in the office too so no change there)

Behind the scenes at CGLA: Cleaning!

Danny Price who leads our Project Management team took on the deep clean of the office- and not just in a supervisory role! I think he had been itching to sort some of those display areas for years…..

March Inspiration: bulbs!

This was a family entry to a village show that just managed to proceed in Ashburton (well done to Simon and Jude). So many people have come to enjoy their gardens this year- growing your own plants, flowers, bulbs and vegetables is something most of us can do, even with small plots, window boxes, or pots. A really easy start is to browse the bulb catalogues online and just try those you like the look of- they are relatively cheap and you can put in loads. Bulbs come up year after year and provide great splashes of colour. The best spring bulbs are coming out over the next few months so take photos of ones you like- identify them (email us if you need help!) and make a note to order as they come available later in the year. You can still get Summer bulbs in Spring so order a few to try….

April at CGLA – it’s all about design!

Most of the landscaping team were on furlough, but the design team were in full swing working from home. Many of our clients suddenly found themselves with rather more time to look at their gardens so we were very busy!

We began to get used to working from home- strange for those of us used to a more hurley burley style office environment. Our first client design reviews were carried out on zoom- largely successfully although it is always a learning process!

Landscaping all-but stopped, however the combination of a lovely Client, a great Main Contractor and a large private site allowed distancing to be maintained. This work therefore continued throughout the lockdowns. Supplies were very tricky and unpredictable and work was sometimes slower than we all wanted…  but the results are spectacular. Here we created wonderful cropped stone cladding to soften and add texture to large walls…

April (behind the scenes) at CGLA – website and branding

Our marketing team also did a great job of bringing the new branding and website live despite the challenges- I think working for a team of very opinionated but super-busy designers drove our lovely marketing consutant to the edge of reason….(but she’s still with us, thank you Jo!)

April Inspiration: furniture – a spot of brightness!

Like many people, I found great solace in my garden, and was lucky enough to have a small space I had redesigned last year…this became a complete haven for me. Some lovely bright outdoor furniture (suggested by one of our Design Directors, Vicki Davis) has been a real eye-opener, as I think I would have always opted for something more restrained. This is a great example of having someone else look at your space and give you ideas you wouldn’t have thought of- however much experience you have!

The difference it makes when there is little else lively around is amazing. An alternative is to repaint older furniture-this may be a bit of a labour of love but is really well worth the effort (as this example done by my sister-in-law as a lockdown project)

May at CGLA

Our lovely maintenance team went back to work thanks to the support and patience of all our clients

Their gardens are really showing the fruits of the work done last winter and the brief hiatus in visits was pretty swiftly caught up

May Inspiration: shrubs

Returning to an old client who wanted a planting perk up, we were delighted to find that the previously bare garden has now filled out as we planned. The shrub beds are providing depth, colour and texture throughout the year. We can provide some lists of good ones to start with, or a whole planting plan to suit…or just visit some good RHS gardens (either in person or virtually) and pick 3 you like and try those. Don’t be too phased about what will or will not grow and how- just pick something described as hardy (so it wont die outside) and see what happens. Most common shrubs are common for a reason and will grow well in most places!

June at CGLA – back to work (pretty much full swing)…

With much of the team back to work, and new designers joining us we had plenty of work to do. A number of clients kindly sent us photos or invited us back to look at projects completed last year- this is one of my favourites featuring lovely structural “roof form” trees a sculptural fire bowl and elegant furniture.

June Inspiration: sculptural elements

Sculpture can take many forms -the example below is “Dancer” by Carol Peace, seen at Waterperry Gardens. Sculpture can feel inaccessible but almost anything can be used- a piece of wood scavenged from the woods, found objects, a lovely pot or a piece of farm machinery- trawling junk shops for something to place in the garden can be great fun, or we can help you create something bespoke and fitting into an overall theme for your garden.

July at CGLA – trees

Well one of our big themes for this year has been trees- selecting and planting them for many clients right up until the last knockings of the year (with the sizes getting larger and larger!). Here are some larger trees going in by crane in central London.

July Inspiration: trees

On the theme of trees, either as a matter of enjoyable mindfulness or in seeking options for your own garden, just enjoy the trees around you. I find myself taking photos of trees I like the shape of, trees that grow in extraordinary positions, and trees that are simply beautiful! We can source trees in a massive range of sizes and varieties- topiary or natural forms, flowering or fruiting..

August at CGLA – it’s still all about the design!

Landscape Architecture is a key part of our design offering, and this continued throughout this year. A number of new Architects became collaborators which is a huge achievement given the difficulties of remote working. Hand sketching is still a core part of the early stages of many designs, as well as the later beautiful CAD plans.

August Inspiration: colour and scent

Cutting flowers from my own garden remains one of my favourite things to do. Making sure I have plants to cover as much of the year as possible is part of my goal in planting my gardens…Picking a really nice vase and filling it is a deep source of joy! You may be surprised by what you can do with what you find in the garden- fill an egg cup or a tiny vase- it may not last long but the pleasure in the process is amazing.

September at CGLA – it’s been a long year…

Carl decided to cook bacon sandwiches for anyone who visited the office – whilst our teams are still largely working remotely, the maintenance team need to pop in to collect tools and vans, and some of the rest of the team take turns to visit- this was a very welcome initiative!

September Inspiration: personal stories

Many people have enjoyed their own fruit and veg, and allotments have boomed this year. There are also many inspiring stories of people making the best of their lockdown time. My inspiration has to be my mum who at 93 was still on her hands and knees weeding during the summer, as well as enjoying the fruits of her labours!

October at CGLA – return to the flood garden

I was asked to visit a delightful client from a few years back, with a garden on the flood plain in Henley. When we arrived the “garden” was completely barren (see the image in the snow from the early part of the construction work) so it is with great pleasure that we are now plotting the next developments in what has become a private and well stocked and landscaped garden. This features a raised walkway and parking space to allow access during flooding (where the water comes up to 1m above the lawn)

October Inspiration: tropical retreat!

My inspiration for this month came from the photos sent to me by a friend who I have visted before at this time of year, on Tresco in the Scillies- whilst we cannot visit at present we can nonetheless enjoy the spectacular Abbey Gardens in photos.

Just seeing the sheer range here is wonderful- the fabulous blue echiums that grow like weeds in the scillies will grow here on the mainland although they wont overwinter outside- simply growing as annuals is still worth it in my view.

November at CGLA – projects still frantic…

I am often asked if the winter is a quiet time for us at CGLA- far from it. Many of our projects work throughout the year, it just gets harder to fit everything into the daylight hours. One thing that is a little easier is testing lighting…

Below is a lighting check at our local project that has run throughout the lockdowns. We are so grateful to everyone who has helped make this a project to be proud of (including our long-suffering clients). It has driven our project managers almost over the edge attempting to keep supplies coming into site, and our suppliers similarly have been doing their utmost in very trying times.

November Inspiration: meet at Kew Gardens

You may have gathered that trees are a big theme for us, and no better place to take inspiration than Kew Gardens. We took the opportunity to have a Directors meeting whilst walking around Kew since we cant sit in a room together- we found it a delight and a pleasure, as well as making some good decisions in a relaxed environment. The tree below is one of a grove of fabulous zelkovas if anyone is interested!

December at CGLA – dominated by trees..

December was our busiest month despite only being a short one. All parts of the business were flat out, with many of us focussed on large project in central London. The challenge was to bring in a huge order of trees from Europe before the vagaries of Brexit hit, which we managed to do thanks to completely heroic efforts from all concerned. Vicki and Phil needed to assess what is possible on a large and busy site, the designers needed to get a complex design together at breakneck speed, our suppliers needed to race around European nurseries taking photos for us (because we couldn’t hop on a plane this time) and the project managers needed to find a way to bring in 15 artics of trees, offload them, and store them safely until needed on site! I can report that this was safely done- the last delivery coming in on Christmas Eve!

December Inspiration: trees are our friends..

Trees have been both an inspiration and a massive part of our work this year. Whether living growing trees which form the majority of our inspiration, or those grown for our pleasure as Christmas trees- we love them all!

The one below was a delight (in Old Amersham) and thanks to the Amersham Band for braving the cold to play us all distanced carols! My thanks to all of our team, our clients and our suppliers for helping us to survive this most challenging of years. May next year treat us all well.

CGLA are an award winning team of Garden Designers, Landscape Architects, Landscapers and Garden Maintenance Operatives working in Buckinghamshire, London and the South East, as well as on prestigious design projects across the UK and abroad. We are currently working in Oman, Jersey and France, and welcome enquires for design, landscaping or garden maintenance. Contact us here