Be brave with plants and colour, designers advised at Palmstead Nurseries conference

Speakers at Palmstead Nurseries conference tell landscapers to break out of their comfort zone.

Landscapers must break out of their creative comfort zones and not cower before the "ecological Taliban", a host of big-name speakers urged last week.

More than 300 landscape architects and garden designers were told to give their creative instincts more oomph at the Survival of the Fittest conference run by Palmstead Nurseries that focused on survival of recession-hit businesses and plants hit by climate change.

Landscape architect and garden designer Sarah Eberle said her life's ambition is to break as many rules as possible and force herself to use plants she would normally shun, such as orange flowers, a shade she detests.

"The first rule is do not use plants because you like them. They have to do a job in your design and there may be halfa-dozen more than capable of doing the same job," she said.

"Colour is the most dangerous thing in the garden. I'm scared of it and have to force myself to be brave and try things. If you put it in the wrong place it has such an impact - you can create disharmony and it can damage your garden. My biggest client is the setting and a garden must respond to that setting."

Palmstead marketing manager Nick Coslett said Eberle, a former Hillier Landscapes design director, had "wowed" him with her design for last year's RHS Chelsea Flower Show garden, Monaco, that took three years to plan.

"It was superb, won gold and should have won best in show. But it took three years in planning and those aspiring to do a Chelsea garden, take note: prolific planning prevents poor performance."

Eelco Hooftman, a landscape architect at Gross.Max, warned against the current obsession for native species. His favourite landscape, on Ascension Island, was turned from a black volcanic mountain to a green one by Charles Darwin importing plants to create a cloudy ecosystem.

"It's an amazing story about clever landscape architecture and is counter to the idea from the ecological Taliban where you can use only native plants. This is a good example of non-native plants from all over the world making a big difference."

Garden designer James Alexander-Sinclair told the conference that designers have to be braver and move beyond their limited palettes of tried and tested plants. "If you are using the same plants year after year and not experimenting, what are you doing here?" he challenged.

Tempelhof Airport

Gross.Max landscape architect Eelco Hooftman told the conference about a EUR60m project to turn 365ha Tempelhof Airport in Berlin into a "people's park for the 21st century".

The company is working with the University of Sheffield to find the right meadowlands planting.

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