A Passion For Plants
Award-winning garden designer Roger Platts shares the secrets of great gardens and reveals how his love of flowers bloomed…
My introduction to growing was not in horticulture but on a hill farm in Derbyshire. By the age of 11 I had experienced many of the tasks encountered on a small farm in the 60s. With chickens and pigs of my own, I was encouraged to sell to farm visitors, friends and relations, and to keep records of the transactions. The life was quite tough in many ways for those struggling to carve out a living, but idyllic for a youngster who appreciated the natural surroundings
We had few trees as they blew over before they really got established and winters were harsh, but there was a small copse, endless dry stone walls and masses of wild flowers, wildlife and, above all, wide, open skies.
The open air, healthy crops growing in fertile soil and an interest in farm machinery were my world at that time, so a move to the family’s new venture, a hotel in the middle of a Devon village with an average size garden, came as quite a shock at the age of 12. From then on, gardening became important and I immersed myself in growing a range of plants, which I sold to visitors at the hotel.
Against this background, my passion for growing and selling plants is based. Years later, after formal training and experience in the nursery industry in England and abroad, my interest in the design element flourished and now a major part of my time and energy is spent creating spaces for others to enjoy.
I wince when I see plants struggling in adverse conditions of soil or climate, or planted in unnatural combinations. For example, a Hosta and Lavender look dreadful planted together and each will not tolerate the conditions ideal for the other. It’s about as good as custard with baked beans.
With this in mind, it’s probably surprising that when I start to plan a garden, I consciously ignore the plants and concentrate entirely on the space, considering the balance and scale of the setting and the practical aspects.
Most of my work is in rural areas, mainly of traditional style, which is my natural preference. However, I do appreciate contemporary design and for me, whatever the style, it should be practical and sustainable.
Setting the planting scheme on site is always a huge thrill, especially knowing that the result will flourish year after year.
I am rather impatient, though, so I also yearn for some instant gratification. I think this is what led me to participate at flower shows in the early 90s, and after that, I was a Chelsea addict. After my first Gold Medal at Hampton Court in 1993, I continued with several more at Chelsea, culminating in ‘Garden Open’ to celebrate 75 years of The National Garden Scheme, which won ‘Chelsea Best Show Garden’ in 2002.
I didn’t create the show gardens for the medals, as anyone with the bug for creating gardens knows the buzz felt when each stage of the process is completed. It is the creation of a living unit which continues to develop long after it is completed that gives me such satisfaction. With show gardens, the benefit is shortlived, but providing inspiration to huge numbers of gardeners is a real privilege.
I am very fortunate to indulge in growing and using plants for my living. Everyone should have the experience of growing plants. At any level, it is fabulous therapy.