A freelance garden designer from Tenerife in the Canary Islands, Jorge Rodriguez-Martin has also lived in Glasgow, Barcelona and now London. His work was recently published in Exteriores, a Spanish landscape design magazine and he is currently preparing for an upcoming collaboration with London Cityscapes. If you’re in South Kensington, stop by The Chelsea Gardener, where Jorge manages the outdoor department, and say hello. He’s always interested in sharing ideas and impressions.
Jorge’s appreciation of art extends beyond the outdoors to include a fascination with the play of light and shadows within the colourful brushstrokes of impressionist paintings and he enjoys an afternoon browsing around Tate Modern or Saatchi Gallery.
For London Art Spot, he gives us some expert advice on how to make our tiny London gardening spaces pretty, tells us how a visit to the inside of a client’s home helps him come up with ideas on how to create their perfect outdoor space and shares his ideas on how he would design his own ideal garden.
LLO: Let’s start with a bit of background. Where are you from originally, how long have you been in London and what brought you here?
JR: I was born in Spain, more specifically Tenerife in the Canary Islands, which is an amazing place, beyond the well-known, packed holiday destination.
I moved to London in April 2011 after accepting a job offer and I am enjoying it quite a lot. I lived in Scotland before but London has always been in the back of my mind as a place I wanted to experience. So when the opportunity came along I didn’t think much and packed everything.
LLO: Tell us a bit about your background as a garden designer. Why did you choose garden design as a career path and how have you gotten to where you are today?
JR: I was studying Agronomy and have always had a fascination for art and design. Within my field I developed a huge interest in garden design and soon after I finished my degree in Scotland I knew this was what I wanted to do. I did some garden and amateur interior design before that.
Then I moved to Barcelona where I worked as a garden designer for a small company which is where I really learnt by dealing with real projects, clients, suppliers and so on.
It is very interesting experiencing different aproaches to design depending on the country. Garden design and gardening is cultural in the UK in a way that is rarely found in other places. Therefore I think is an esential part of my career experiencing it here.
LLO: Lots of us in London only have teeny tiny garden spaces to work with or in many cases, only window sills. What are the best plants to grow in London? Any advice on making our small city spaces look nice?
JR: It doesn’t matter if you have a huge garden or a window sill. If someone has the interest and passion for plants there is always a way around it. There is no need for a big investment either, just some imagination. And of course if you need it, get the advise from the right person.
A good outdoor space could be designed with top range materials and plants but can also be made out of recycled objects and reclaimed materials, or both. Just put your heart in it and the result will evolve with time. My advice is simply “take care of it and keep it simple”.
If we are talking about plants, then it is a matter of choosing the right ones for the conditions of your space. Many of them have a meaning as well. The whole space must tell you a story of whoever lives there. This is most important.
LLO: If someone approaches you with a nice big garden space and wants to use your design skills, what’s the first step? How does an idea become a finished product and in which aspects are you involved?
JR: I think there is not such design without communication between my client and myself. The garden designer must be the tool for the clients to accomplish the space they want. They might not know how is it going to look in the end but they have an idea of the use they are going to make of it, what they like and dislike. And at that stage I feel confident for designing the layout, choosing plants, materials and come up with a final space. The budget of course is a key point that would define many of the decisions.
There are a few key steps between meeting the client and the finished garden. First of all the concept plan, a draft showing the space and some plants or elements. Once the client agrees, the design process is just a matter of putting it all together into sketches, elevations, 3D presentations or other tools in order to show it to the client. From this stage onwards we talk about quotation, fees, contractors and as many elements the garden will take depending on its complexity.
I am used to working from scratch to the final product but the fun is really in the designing process. The agreement could be only designing the garden or include the managing, depending on each individual case.
LLO: As a garden designer, which accomplishment are you most proud of to date and why?
JR: There are two gardens I am really proud of. The first one was a design for a good friend, simple and functional. He has a very nice house and the garden just made sense from the start.
The second one was a really complex one in La Costa Brava; a small space at the back of an old house. The client wanted a lot of things for such a small place and it took almost seven months to acomplish. She was incredibly demanding and wanted to be involved in every small detail.
In both cases they were very happy at the end and a client ended up becoming a friend.
LLO: If you could re-design any one of London’s public spaces, where would you choose to work and why? What would it look like when you were finished?
JR: There is a particular area that really disturbs me and that is the space between St Pancras and Kings Cross. I don’t really know what the plan is for the future but this huge open space doesn’t make any sense to me and thousands of people walk from one building to the other every day. I think it lacks trees, nice paving and interesting artwork. If I could put my hands on it, I would certainly have lots of fun.
LLO: Who and/or what most influences your design?
JR: Many things at the same time. It could be a painting I have seen or even memories of a particular place. I am very meticulous and once I meet the client I get inspiration from the interior of the house – either messy or super tidy, the materials, furniture, etc. I like seeing the way the clients live indoors so I can carry on from there. Then I find inspiration from books, architecture or whatever is on my mind around that time.
LLO: If you were designing your own future garden, which flowers, plants and other elements would you choose to incorporate?
JR: My own ideal garden would have water, an “alberca” which is a Spanish word for the open deposit of water in old country houses. You can swim in it or just contemplate the reflection of the plants in the water. As I am thinking of this garden it is not in London but in a hot country were avocados and oranges grow. I like tropical plants and natural materials and walking barefoot from the pavement onto the grass and into the water.
It would probably have a sculpture or some kind of focal point. But most of all it would have movement and from the moment you stepped into it, you would feel like exploring around.
LLO: Tell us about the coolest garden space you’ve seen in London. Where was it and why was it awesome?
JR: I particularly like the sub-tropical gardens in Battersea Park. It is not very cool but a nice bit of the park full of history and the fingerprints of those Victorians with a passion for plant collecting and exploring.
I also like the space outside Tate Modern. It’s very cleverly planted with white bark birch trees which I think is simple and inspiring.
But the coolest one is still to be discovered for me.
LLO: Which other London-based artists/designers do you most admire and why?
JR: Luciano Giubbilei at the moment. His work is minimalistic but very clever and mostly distinctive. You can recognize his work as you recognize a painting by Botero and that inspires me. His gardens are like paintings with an annoying sense of perfection.
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