I am a personal fan of one of the UK’s leading garden designers, Philip Nixon. He masters the art of combining modern design features with “fiercely perfect” plant management.
He has regularly presented show gardens at the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show where connoisseurs gather annually to criticize and examine every leaf and flower presented. It is not a place to demonstrate shallow talent. One of his show gardens integrated photography in a very inspiring way.
I was delighted when Philip agreed to answer a few question that help us understand how one reaches that degree of fluid excellence and elegance.
Can you tell us about your background?
I studied Economics at University, which lead me a career in banking although it did not take me long to realize I should have gone with my real desire to study Architecture so I jumped ship and went back to school. From a very early age I have also been a maker of things and being a designer and maker is what I am best at and what I enjoy most. By the time I had decided to change my career I had developed an obsessive interest in plants and gardens so Landscape design was the perfect way to combine all that interests me.
Why did you decide to train at Inchbald specifically?
I did a lot of research into schools and the careers of designers I admired. I wanted the most rigorous and in depth course as possible. It sounds obvious but to be successful at something you need to take it seriously. The Inchbald took things seriously and worked their students very hard. I thrived in that environment and graduated top of my class.
(Note for readers: the school now also has online courses as well as short one, which I followed and enjoyed…)
You have been a leading designer in the UK for a while. What changes and trends strike you with regard to clients’ expectations?
Clients are much more demanding now and really have a far better idea of what they want than I experienced in my early years in this business. It has made our job much more interesting and rewarding. Good projects come form good clients who are interested, involved and happy to collaborate.
Thanks to innovative technologies designers enjoy many new options for cooking, living and entertaining or even working outdoors. What technologies have recently caught your attention?
The integration of interior and exterior space is not new any more but now almost take as a given. We see many new products for outdoor lighting and heating that take their cue from interior design. Free-standing fireplaces with a contemporary design are very popular as they have great impact without the complications of built-in fireplaces.
You have integrated photography in a very successful garden, can you share the idea and technical challenges?
This stems from my desire to explore the interior/exterior theme. It was actually quite a simple process (albeit done by a specialist company) of printing images using a laminating process and then using light-boxes to create great effects. They were really effective at night whist still having impact during the day. We chose black and white images so the colors would not fight with the plants. We worked with the photographer Patrick Lichfield (now sadly deceased) which was a great experience in itself. He was a lovely man.
Would you like to share a few names you think deserve to be better known?
One of the joys of my job is to work with people who are skilled and passionate about what they do. Andrew Ewing has done some great water features for us. His work is exquisite and he works to a precision that we need for our designs to work. But beyond that I also love the collaboration with interior designers and architects such as Found Associates in London, Rafael de Cardenas at Architecture at Large in New York.
Do you work internationally and specially in the States?
We do work internationally and I particularly enjoy working in the USA. In recent years we have been working on projects in New York, Geneva, Gothenburg, Moscow, and in France as well as projects in London and the UK. We go where the work takes us and it is a fascinating process. Each project whether in the UK or overseas is a learning process and that keeps our ideas fresh and dynamic.