The Society of Garden Designers Awards 2021: the winners

The best in the business showcase true horticultural innovation, and a particularly show stopping design takes the Grand Award

Picture of SGD 2021 award winning garden by Sara Jane Rothwell
(Image credit: Marianne Majerus)

The results are in for this year's Society of Garden Designers Awards, showcasing true innovation and garden design excellence from all the entries. But like all competition there can only be one winner. 

Earlier this year, the judges visited the entries before coming together to pick an overall winner ahead of the awards show last night in London.

The 14 categories, included everything from international residential design to healing, community gardens, with one of them taking home the grand award – the overall winner from the main six categories. The judges' award was also chosen from all winners. Then there’s the People’s Choice award sponsored by Homes & Gardens which was the only one put to a public vote.

This year's gardens showed great respect for heritage, site and history. Wellbeing was also an important factor as well as biodiversity in planting and a prudent use of hard landscaping materials.

Chloe Humphreys – winner, International Residential Landscapes & Gardens

An image of the House in the Wild - Falkenberg shortlisted entry for the SGD Awards

(Image credit: Chloe Humphries)

‘We entered this project as I felt it was interesting to illustrate how we can seek to make gardens with everything which is found locally and naturally,' says Chloe Humphreys of her design, The House in the Wild – Falkenberg. 

'We used a hand quarried stone from the hill behind the project and only used plants found in a 5km radius of the site to make the garden. Essentially it challenges "the chocolate box" approach to landscape to date, where non indigenous plants are used often causing many problems such as over water consumption or introducing invasive species.

'It's exciting to prove that an elegant garden can be made with local plants, suited to the climatic and soil conditions and in turn ensuring we continue to host local biodiversity even with the garden setting. For this project, which sits adjacent to the Masai Mara nature reserve, this approach was essential from an ecological perspective.’

The judges felt that Chloe’s design was ‘a perfect example of a garden hewn from the landscape, demonstrating clever planting and beautiful hard landscaping that make it look and feel completely at home in its surroundings. The curves of the buildings and paving bring the whole design together to create an extraordinary garden.’

Reardon Smith Landscape LLP – winner, International or UK Communal Landscapes & Gardens

An image of Christchurch Gardens, Victoria, London, designed by Edward Freeman shortlisted entry for the SGD Awards

(Image credit: Jill Mead)

Christchurch Gardens, created by principal designer Edward Freeman MSGD, was winner of the International or UK Communal Landscapes & Gardens. ‘The history of this unique green space is what makes the project special, which stretches back to the 13th Century and it is a former burial ground of the church adjacent to Westminster Abbey. Several notable figures are buried on the site including Ignatius Sancho (the first black Briton to vote). The opportunity to tell the story of the site and the people that have helped to form it was a fascinating prospect.

One of the greatest successes of the project is the balancing of the past with the present. Located within a conservation area the site is surrounded by a variety of architectural styles from red-brick Victorian mansion blocks, brown granite post-modern towers, to the white patterned facades of contemporary buildings. The design balances this varied vernacular with a curated material palette reflective of the colours and materiality of its surroundings, to complement the setting and allow the new planting to become the focus.

The design incorporates subtle design hints and storytelling that acknowledges its historical links to Christ Church and the burial ground, with improvements to its layout to provide a restful neighbourhood green space to aid health and wellbeing, especially relevant during Covid-19. Key improvements include; a planting design that promotes biodiversity and supports pollinators, new habitat incidentals, improved signage and a new history panel, and the introduction of SuDS treatments.’

The judges commented: ‘A really successful public space created in difficult surroundings; the design appears simple but the designer has overcome tricky challenges to create a sense of ease and to design  a space that can be used for a whole range of different activities. Lovely, subtle attention to detail in hard and soft landscaping. We need more of these spaces and a continued vision to turn difficult sites into truly accessible and truly public spaces.’

Ann Marie Powell Gardens – winner,  International or UK Commercial Landscapes & Gardens

Sopwell House Cottonmill Spa Garden, by Ann Marie Powell

(Image credit: Ann-Marie Powell)

‘I wanted to create a commercial contemporary, classic garden which was detail and experience driven, exemplary in its attention to detail, where our natural inspirations still shone through to exude character, warmth and soul,' said principal designer Ann Marie Powell MSGD on her project Sopwell House Cottonmill Spa Gardens.

'It was a challenging site – small, with level changes and root protection zones to consider amongst so many other practical build elements - I believe we made the space expansive and uplifting - a spa garden to step off the world, relax and unwind. Also, we designed every element in the landscape, from water wall to rill, boundary, lighting, bridging details to furniture. I am extremely proud of what myself and my team achieved.’

The judges had this to say: ‘It's not often that the reality matches up to the seductive beauty of a CGI. A really good allocation of areas in a small space, the designer has effectively incorporated a whole host of elements into the garden using a lovely selection of evergreens and a range of carefully-selected hard materials which lead the visitor in and out of the glamorous space with ease.’

Gavin McWilliam & Andrew Wilson – winners,  Large Residential Landscapes & Gardens

Longwood, designed by Gavin McWilliam

(Image credit: Marianne Majerus)

For Gavin and Andrew the design of Longwood was a great experience. ‘The garden is special because it is the second commission from our client. There is a sense of reassurance in such a relationship and an affirmation of confidence in our work and our approach. The garden also demanded a simplified approach, in part in response to the mid-century architecture of the original house abut also in terms of spatial character.’

Gavin went on to say: ‘The interaction between the new swimming pool building by Jane Duncan Architects and the main focal area of the garden terrace alongside was also rewarding – with the huge pool house windows pulled back the space as a whole became more interactive.

'The extensive areas of meadow and ornamental meadow planting were a treat to design, again with a client knowing how our approach might work. Sourcing and selecting the table pruned Liquidambar specimens in such quantity was also fascinating as a process.’

According to the judges this was ‘a quiet, relaxing space where all elements blended beautifully. A good balance of soft and hard landscaping very well put together.’

Alice Ferguson and Jamie Innes – winners, Big ideas, Small Budget, Garden Jewel, and the People’s Choice Award

Harley Mews designed by Alice Ferguson and Jamie Innes

(Image credit: Alice Ferguson and Jamie Innes)

This design duo had two award winning gardens in this year's awards. Harley Mews took home the prize for Big Ideas, Small Budget. 'This garden provided an opportunity to explore a playful and enjoyable dialogue between movement and pause, focused view lines and moments of expansion,’ said Alice Ferguson.

This conversation was enjoyed through both the design form and realised in material features. The first use of the garden is as the front path and entrance to the property, the second is a tranquil courtyard. Exploring the conversation and balance between these two key and different paced elements brought the garden to life and created a unique space.

The path vista draws you into the space, but is then punctuated by Shou Sugi Ban post features and the Shou Sugi Ban feature panel. At this moment of punctuation a dynamic sweeping path opens the garden up and you are drawn into the main courtyard space. This moment of breath and expansion are then contrasted and balanced by the inviting continued focused vista to a welcoming enclose at the front door.'

Secondly their project, Freemantle was announced as the winner for the Garden Jewel award and the People’s Choice Award.

'A lot of our projects have a greater emphasis on some of the functional aspects of creating a garden. Include a lawn and space for the kids to play, low maintenance etc. In this case, the client's brief was very focused on creating an immersive green space and a beautiful picture when looking out the windows,' says Alice.

'Inspiration was taken from the Japanese garden tradition (temple gardens and ideas of balanced asymmetry, green lushness). The client is very much into plants and sort us out to create the design because of my background as a horticulturist at Kew Gardens. We embellished the planting with a greater diversity of plants than you would normally see in a Japanese garden. I think the combination of a Japanese garden aesthetic with a slightly more British approach to the planting has created a really striking garden.' 

The Garden Club London – winners, Small Residential Landscapes & Gardens

Borough City Sanctuary, designed by Tony Woods

(Image credit: Marianne Majerus)

Tony Woods MSDG and his team topped this category with their Borough City Sanctuary. 'This is a really special garden hidden away in the heart of London’s Borough Market. The main section of the garden has a listed wall wrapping around it and I worked with as much of the original detail as possible to preserve the special atmosphere that the garden has.

'My client let me plan the space in a way that worked with the best of the sun for example having the seating area in a space that would not usually work. The layout is sewn together with a tapestry of contemporary block planting and preservation and re-training of the gardens existing old fashioned Roses and feature shrubs. All of this is surrounded by the contrast of city skyscrapers and construction sites.'

The judges feelings on why this garden was a winner were clear: 'A truly-secret garden creating a sanctuary in the middle of a busy, noisy area of London. Layers of green are cleverly-used to link the garden to the different floors of the house and to the location beyond. Clever nooks and seating areas have been created without the space feeling cramped. Beautiful planting leads you on a scented journey to different areas and existing materials and plants have been rescued and celebrated rather than being removed and replaced.'

Kristina Clode – winner, Design for the Environment and the Judges’ Award

Sedlescombe Primary School Sensory Garden, designed by Kristina Klode

(Image credit: Abigail Rex)

'Sedlescombe School Sensory Garden is a wrap around plant experience, a place for the children and their teachers to be immersed in colourful plants of different heights, textures and smells,' says Kristina. 'Sited in a south-facing hollow of ground, the plants envelop the space creating a unique, tranquil setting in contrast to the bustling playground beyond. In this gravel garden plants are the wow factor, giving drama, vibrance and character all year round, all with minimal maintenance and no watering.

'As a project it is special to me as both of my children got to school there; they were involved in building the garden alongside me, as were all the children at the school and many of their parents and teachers – it was a true community effort.'

The budget was perhaps the most impressive thing of all. 'Everyone volunteered their time for free, which enabled almost all the tiny £5,000 budget to be spent on materials alone. I designed the garden, quantified, sourced and ordered all the materials, recruited volunteers and arranged, participated in and managed all the work days to build the garden. I planted the garden together with the children – every child at the school planted a plant, plus I continue maintain the garden for free. I'm very proud of the garden, it took a lot of effort to make it a reality, but we created a piece of magic for the children, teachers and wildlife to enjoy every day.' 

The panel also selected this design as the winner of the Judges' Award. Saying: 'An absolutely delightful garden providing an exceptional learning environment to teach children about the environment. A charming, well orchestrated and inspirational project, it is a great model for other schools. '

Sheila Jack – winner, Fresh Designer Landscapes & Gardens

The Meadow Garden, designed by Sheila Jack

(Image credit: Lisa Linder)

New kid on the block Sheila Jack was the winner of the Fresh Designer award with her design The Meadow Garden. 'Although it was one of my very first projects after retraining as a garden designer, I felt that it demonstrated my overall approach to all of my work. It shows how, with careful consideration and attention to detail, a small, urban, rather neglected plot partially covered by rubble left behind from the construction work, with both privacy and boundary issues could be transformed into an elegant retreat with precision-cut concrete and meadow chic planting.'

For the judges, the garden was 'a really interesting use of a small space which stands out for its simplicity. A simple, bold idea followed through to implementation.'

Tabitha Rigden & Helen Saunders – winners, Paper Landscape Design

Murmuration Garden for Rehabilitation, designed by Tabitha Rigden and Helen Saunders

(Image credit: Tabitha Rigden and Helen Saunders)

For their Murmuration Garden for Rehabilitation design Helen and Tabitha said: 'This was the first time we had been asked to design a garden for people with such a wide range of needs and disabilities, and it is unique in our portfolio. We were proud of the fact that it delivered the complex brief without compromising on aesthetics, and it demonstrates how well thought out design can provide a lifeline to those who need it.'

The design aims to really give the patients of the centre something they didn't have before. 'The previous space was not easily accessible to anyone with mobility issues, nor easily navigable for wheelchair users. As well as addressing this issue, our design provides an attractive outdoor space for patients, staff and visitors alike, with a sense of tranquillity and seclusion achieved by screening the neighbouring houses. The new garden allows patients the opportunity to reconnect with nature by using gardening as a form of therapy.' 

Joe Swift Healing, Learning or Community Landscapes & Gardens – winner, Horatio's Garden Stoke Mandeville

Horatios Garden Stoke Mandeville, designed by Joe Swift

(Image credit: Mark Lord)

Horatio's Garden Stoke Mandeville, designed by Joe Swift was an absolutely phenomenal space demonstrating exceptional quality of deign and execution. 'This is the most important garden I’ve designed during my 35 years in the garden design business.' Said Joe.

'It’s a garden that has the power to significantly improve the lives of those who have suffered traumatic life changing injuries. It has been a huge team effort. That’s why I entered it into the awards. I feel I’ve used all my experience and skill accrued over my career as a landscaper, gardener, garden designer and communicator to design a space that meets the needs of the patients.

'It gives them a space to escape the (understandably) sterile interior of a hospital, connect with nature, enjoy the outdoors, and recuperate. The feedback is that it is hugely beneficial to those who have suffered traumatic life changing events and somewhere they feel themselves rather than being one of the hospitals many patients. Some patients also use the space to sow seed and grow plants so access to all the mental health benefits associated with gardening too.'

Sara Jane Rothwell, winner, Medium Residential Landscapes & Gardens, Planting Design and the Grand Award

Cholmeley Crescent, designed by Sara Jane Rothwell

(Image credit: Marianne Majerus)

The only garden to take home three awards this year was Cholmeley Crescent designed by Sara Jane Rothwell. As well as winning in the Medium Residential Landscapes & Gardens and Planting Design categories it was voted by the judges as the Grand Award winner of this year's awards. 

'This is probably the project that I am most proud of in my career, it was a challenging site, but with delightful clients,' said Sara Jane. For her the most interesting aspect of the design was: 'dealing with the steep levels and watching the layers and theatrical view unfold'. The clients use every inch of the garden, in all weathers. Particularly the upper section which was previously derelict.

The judges felt that this design was 'elegant, accomplished and very exciting. A truly impressive garden demonstrating a carefully considered juxtaposition between hard and soft landscaping. The designer has created some very usable spaces on a difficult site with beautiful planting.'

Ahead of the awards Sara Jane said that winning would mean she could retire happily. Given the exquisiteness of her winning design, we hope not!

Teresa Conway
Deputy Gardens Editor

Teresa was part of a team that launched Easy Gardens magazine two years ago and edited it for some time. Teresa has been a Gardens Editor at Homes & Gardens, Country Homes & Interiors and Living Etc magazine since 2020 and has developed close working relationships with top garden designers, and has been exposed to an array of rich garden content and expertise.