Designers told to improve skills in fight to survive the recession

Networking, skills and marketing highlighted as vital for garden designers ahead of conferences.

Living walls: key design feature
Living walls: key design feature

Garden designers and contractors must network, learn new skills and ramp up their marketing to survive the recession, say experts hosting two major conferences.

Palmstead Nurseries' Nick Coslett, organising a soft-landscaping conference on 27 September, said: "Survival of the fittest means adapting, learning and adjusting to changing markets. If you stay in the same mould you won't necessarily survive."

Profit margins at Palmstead have been squeezed a bit in the past year but turnover and sales are comparable with the previous year, he said. Though the market is "treading water", some housebuilders are doing well.

The conference at Ashford will include talks by Kew arboretum head Tony Kirkham, landscape designer Sarah Eberle and Gross.Max landscape architect Eelco Hooftman, all of whom will touch on trees, other plants, aesthetics and aftercare.

Amanda Patton, vice chair of the Society of Garden Designers, which is hosting a conference on 10 November, added: "Everybody is feeling the pinch, making it even more crucial to keep relevant and keep learning."

Speakers will include Patrick Blanc and American Andrea Cochran. Like Coslett, Patton said the event is a chance to hone continuing professional development needs and to network.

"Many designers work alone and getting together is one way of establishing contacts that may lead to work. Even more important is to keep fresh and inspired. It's very easy to get lost in your own little world.

"I've been self employed for 24 years and through a few recessions, but none as long as this. There is money out there but it's harder to find. You need to as creative at running your business as designing your landscapes."

Septuagenarian garden designer John Brookes, who will talk on some of his 1,000 designs, said: "You can no longer afford to have all eggs in one basket, so design, teach, travel, write. Even a lecture at the local WI may lead to a small commission."

Olympic insight: Garden design course

Olympic design luminaries Sarah Price and Nigel Dunnett are set to share the secrets of their formidable success on a one-day course.

The garden designers, who worked together on planting used in landscapes around the Olympic venues, are teaming up for a course entitled Art & Nature - New Directions in Planting Design.

Those on the course, which takes place at West Dean College near Chichester, West Sussex, on 20 October will hear the designers' approaches to and philosophies of planting design.

Price and Dunnett will both talk about how they worked together on the most exciting, largest new urban park in the country, which formed a backdrop to the Olympic Games.

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