'Don't be too influenced by fashion in gardens...' classic design advice from George Carter

George Carter is a renowned designer and prolific historian of classic 17th century gardens. George specialises in the structure planting and architectural design for both modern and historical buildings and grounds. The Lady was delighted to be invited to talk to him recently about his inspiration for his work and get some advice for our keen gardeners.

Keep your eye on The Lady as George will be offering his Winter Garden Top Tips soon... 

What inspired your love of Garden Design?

I have been working full time as a Garden Designer since 1988 but was gardening for myself well before then.

I've always been inspired by the history of gardening and in particularly by the formal gardens of Holland and Italy in the 16th and 17th centuries - before the British landscape movement of the 18th century.

Frequent visits to Italy are what give me continuing inspiration - the great Renaissance and Baroque gardens all over Italy are a constant delight however crumbling they are.

What / who inspired your most recent book? (Setting the Scene - A  Masterclass in Garden Design)

My new book is inspired by the writings of Humphry Repton and his writings on garden design. Repton wrote in a way that adapts well to modern conditions and is full of great ideas - especially on how the eye perceives a garden or landscape. 

What 3 key pieces of advice would you give to those starting out in a garden design career?

  • Garden design is like any other branch of design - it needs a wide range of skills that can really only be learnt by practical experience. Having your own garden or someone else's to experiment in is very useful.
  • Don't be too influenced by fashion in gardens, even though we can all change our mind about plants we like when certain plants are "re-discovered", the basic aesthetic rules are pretty timeless and can withstand changes in taste.
  • Don't ignore garden history - all the best ideas have already been had, and history is a wonderful resource to be ransacked for inspiration. This applies to the relatively recent as well as to the distant past. The gardens of early Modernist houses of the 1920s and 1930s are as different as possible from current Modernist thinking and are as unknown and as rich in inspiring ideas as, for instance, Baroque gardens.

Do you have a favourite garden / space and why?

My favourite gardens are simple, all green and mainly formal - the best I have seen in England, designed by the late Countess of Salisbury, is Cranborne Manor. It is a delightful mixture of formality and controlled wilderness with a muted colour palette. The charming house is at the centre of it all and everything relates to the axes of the house. 

In Italy my favourite garden would be the Villa Lante at Bagnaia, North of Rome. It is not large but is incredibly rich in detail and makes very clever use of a sloping site - the garden is the centrepiece, and in fact the villa consists of two separate casinos through which the garden runs - making unusually the garden, rather than the house, the centrepiece of the whole composition. The waterworks are very cleverly managed and designed to cool the visitor in the summer heat. There is a perfect balance of planting and architecture and a similar balance between wilderness and formality: formal gardens benefit from the balancing contrast of wildness to act as a counterpoint.

Below images Silverstone Farm (left) and Somerleyton (right)

What is your favourite time of year and why?

My favourite time of year is spring. I am an exponent of the all-green garden, and spring is the time when greens are at their freshest and most varied. It’s also the time when the garden comes to life, but before the geometry of winter tidiness becomes blurred by too much random growth. I also admire the jewel-like quality of spring bulbs, particularly tulips, reminding us, as they do, of the time in the 17th century when they could be more valuable than gold.

George's garden fact:

‘The oldest plants I possess are four large standard orange trees that I bought in 1972 - at 46 years old they are quite young compared with the ones at Versailles that are several hundred years old.’


George Carter’s new book ‘Setting the Scene - A Masterclass in Garden Design’ is published by Pimpernel Press and will be reviewed in our Christmas round-up (2018) 


Are you interested in a career in gardening or looking for a potential candidate for your own grounds or gardens?

Go to our jobs pages here to find out more or call our recruitment team on 020 38579945