The RHS Chelsea Flower Show traditionally heralds the official arrival of Spring! We took a moment to talk to award-winning garden designer Freddie Strickland.
Freddie, who studied garden design in Cornwall, was named RHS Young Garden Designer of the Year in 2021, winning Gold for his ‘On Tropic’ show garden at Tatton Park. His innovative design addressed low impact gardening and the effect of climate change on UK gardens – something he kindly explained in more detail in our recent conversation.
As a born and bred Londoner, what led you to Cornwall to study horticulture?
I initially moved to Cornwall to study fine art at university – I think I always felt slightly disconnected from London so the move to a rural, coastal area was very natural for me. At that point I knew nothing about gardening, and it wasn’t until I had my own garden that I wanted to learn more about it. I therefore ended up, post degree, enrolling on a 2-year Garden Landscape course at the Eden Project.
The Eden Project, with its biome in the middle of the countryside, was a ground-breaking installation. Does it apply its forward-thinking ideas to its Garden Landscape course?
The Eden Project really is a huge contrast to the more formal landscaped gardens of the many historic houses found in Cornwall. It is most definitely the next level in terms of experimental horticulture. The team places a big emphasis on sustainability and environmentally friendly practices – this includes reusing water and composting all tourist generated food waste to bring it back to the soil. As a result, we explored these practices on a daily basis and they became an inherent part of the course.
You have said that you are inspired by the gardens of Cornwall – what is so special about the ones in the Southwest?
The proximity to the coast means that the gardens of this area have had to adapt to the constant salt winds and sea spray, creating an equilibrium between the environment and horticulture. The gardens have been designed to provide shelter for the plants from these elements – this, combined with the warmer climate, results in immersive, verdant lush spaces where the most tender species thrive. I also love the abundance of tree ferns which were used as ballast in ships coming from New Zealand – the plants continued to grow on the ships, eventually ending up self-propagating far from home.
As we see milder winters and warmer summers due to climate change, do you think we will have to adapt our gardens in order for them to thrive?
We are certainly seeing more tropical plants in gardens. My ‘On Tropic’ garden was created in the North of England – something which wouldn’t have been necessarily feasible previously. I think we need to work with the new temperatures and acknowledge that both the right plant and right place is ever changing. We are probably going to see more Mediterranean planting schemes, especially in the south, as plants such as olive trees are naturally more drought resistant. We are now seeing fruit on olive trees in London, and it wouldn’t surprise me if olive oil ends up being produced there in the not-too-distant future.
How important are gardens in childhood and beyond?
My grandparents were fabulous gardeners, and I can see now that they definitely inspired me in some way with my career choice. I spent time helping them maintain their garden and I truly believe that spending time with people in gardens, whether at home or in a park, is something to be cherished. Being in a garden or green space helps us be in tune with the seasons in an increasingly disconnected world. When plants go to bed at night, our own metabolism slows down – we need this connection and consistency.
What do you consider your greatest achievement to date?
I’m very grateful to be in an industry which I found against the odds. Most people discover horticulture later in life, so I am just so happy to have found it when I did.
How do you bring sustainability into your designs and how can we do the same in our own garden spaces?
Always try to think about the soil and wildlife – consider plants that help the soil retain water and increase the canopy for cooling and shading. I always try and think how a garden can be more sustainable, encouraging biodiversity and wildlife. This could be through leaving an area of meadow or planting more trees. In my designs, I am increasingly incorporating less grass and more planting – balancing spaces for people and wildlife is always in my mind. Water preservation is a key consideration – how can I slow down and capture water? This could be through adding a pond or a water butt or creating a rain garden. I also believe anyone can use reclaimed materials whether it be on a balcony or in a big garden. I veer towards natural materials such as timber and quarried stone, avoiding concrete, and try to source it locally where possible. Always remember though, if you are gardening you are already doing brilliantly, but always try and make sustainable choices where possible.