Dream project eludes top designer

Sarah Eberle reveals dream of repeating past success with exotic planting 'but on a grand scale'.

Eberle: spoke at the Society of Garden Designers Spring Conference
Eberle: spoke at the Society of Garden Designers Spring Conference

Despite winning eight Gold Medals and best in show at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2007 for her "600 Days on Mars" garden, Sarah Eberle says she has not yet found her dream project.

Speaking at the Society of Garden Designers Spring Conference (24-27 April), Eberle revealed her dream of repeating past successes with abundant exotic planting "but on a grand scale".

She shared how much she is influenced by architecture and travel, from Gaudi's buildings in Barcelona to the deserts of Lanzarote, the volcanoes of Sicily and the vast open landscapes and strange flora of New Zealand.

"What nature does is totally sublime," she told the conference, a word she also used to describe Gaudi's use of light, which she called inspiring. She said she tries to bring his "simple bravado" into her work.

Exotic "was about a frisson" as well as "a passing sensation of excitement" and "a shot of emotion". She added: "That for me is what makes a good garden great."

Eberle originally trained as a landscape architect but after benefitting from a free-form secondary education she found the discipline of the profession difficult and disliked the diktat that native plants must always be used.

"I thought am I a good girl or do I let the wild me out? Over 35 years the latter has won. I don't set out to shock," she said, but added that it is vital to push the boundaries of comfort - both hers and her clients'.

"Ultimately I see design as problem solving but I strongly believe there's always more than one solution," she said.

She explained that in Gibbons Rent - joint winner of the 2013 Society of Garden Designers designing for community space award - she transformed a slightly scary south London back alley into a garden that people have made into their own by keeping hold of the sense of urban grit. The choice of exotics in industrial concrete and galvanised metal planters was key, she added.

"Gibbons Rent is one of the most exciting things I've ever done. It was the balance of the luxurious and the grit of the urban environment."

She said one of the most important things to remember is to learn from your mistakes and to make new ones, adding: "A person who makes no mistakes has never lived life to the full."

Fellowship Garden designer Ruth Chivers

Gloucestershire-based garden designer, lecturer and writer Ruth Chivers was awarded a fellowship at the Society of Garden Designers (SGD) Spring Conference, chaired by John Wyer of Bowles & Wyer.

SGD chair Juliet Sargeant said: "I can't think of anybody I'd be more delighted to give this to." Sargeant thanked Chivers and Sarah Massey for their work on the event, which featured designers Dan Hinkley, James Wong and Made Wijaya as well as sponsors Andrew Barringer of Harrod Horticultural and John Edmiston of Tropical Britain.

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