They had to come up with something special for the old Frameyard, a rundown kitchen garden. Work from around 15 designers ranged from wild and rambling beds to clipped and formal hedging.
Angela Newman, a 32-year-old former barrister, won a prize for best work for a design that included geometrical elements and sculptural pointed-arch-like focal points. She spent two days a week for a year at the college in Chelsea Harbour.
Work experience meanwhile included stints with top designer Andy Sturgeon and placements at Great Dixter garden and Pioneer Nurseries where she honed her plant skills and understanding of everything from propagation to potting-on.
Leonie Cornelius, based in west Ireland, won student of the year in the college’s open-learning diploma in garden design. The distance-learning course can take from a few months to 10 years and Cornelius now runs Blume Design House.
Course director Annie Guilfoyle said: "Some say it’s not a good time to embark on a career but most of the designers and contractors I know are busy.
"In some ways the best time to start work is in a recession. If you can survive a downturn you will be able to survive when times are good.
"Starting in a boom can make you complacent because you don’t have to hustle for work so much.
"A lot of these guys on the course are career changers, have their heads screwed on and are realistic about getting work."
Carlene Crowe who teaches the open-learning diploma said: "If you have confidence and energy, there’s nothing stopping you becoming a garden designer."