gary foran design To the uninitiated and ill-informed masses, building a career in landscape and garden design involves attending a night course in garden maintenance, watching the odd episode of Ground Force, having tantrums and spending your days pondering challenging wardrobe decisions. While these uninformed hopefuls may appear above the soil for a brief moment in the sun, they soon disappear beneath the weight of the well-rotted manure that blankets the germinating Irish design industry. Thankfully, there are a few emerging Irish designers who have fertilised their imaginations and strengthened their foundations with relevant tutelage, experience and practical application. One such young designer, who has managed to firmly establish himself in the design arena, is Gary Foran. Recently I had the opportunity to talk with Gary about challenges and rewards that a hopeful young designer can expect.

 

B. Do you remember what sparked your interest in landscape and garden design?

G. I can remember the sense of anticipation and excitement I felt the first time I watched a tiny seedling sprout and develop, which I had sown and cared for myself. This experience, which was to be repeated many times, was undoubtedly a spark to light my interest in gardening. I’ve always enjoyed being outdoors too, whether playing or working on projects in the garden, like building secret dens and a tree house with friends and family. This combined with a tendency toward creative endeavours like model making and drawing, have played a significant role in my development as a landscape and garden designer.

 

B. What were the first steps you took to following a career in landscape and garden design?

It wasn’t until I had worked for a while as a graphic designer in the Middle East that I began to take stock of where I was heading career wise. I knew I wanted to retrain, and so began to look at alternative course options that appealed to me which included cookery, alternative medicine and of course landscape and garden design. Looking back, the latter choice was always going to win hands down as it satisfied my innate tendencies toward creative work in an outdoor environment. A few months later I had enrolled on a garden design and construction course in the UK, which was to prove an invaluable learning curve for my future development.

B. Having decided to follow a career in design, how did you go about pursuing it?

G. During my retraining period I decided to pursue additional studies to obtain a dual degree in landscape architecture and ecology. This course gave me further grounding in all aspects of landscape and garden design including, the history, theory, practical design project work, soil and plant science etc. On graduation, I began to look for job opportunities that would further my experience and knowledge base and found that the demand for new design graduates was in my favour both in Ireland and abroad. I have always felt it important to experience a wide range of related work areas to the main study of landscape design in order to be in a position to ‘speak the language’ of these other disciplines. As such I have worked with different companies who specialised in landscape architecture, garden design, landscape construction and nursery production. Armed with my college degree and a wealth of practical experience I decided to go into full time self-employment as a garden and landscape designer in 2001.

 

B. Since emerging onto the Irish design scene, what have been your been the most interesting and challenging projects you have worked on?

G. It’s always enjoyable to participate in a show garden event open to the public where a large amount of experimentation with new ideas is welcomed and encouraged. A show garden I designed at Dublin’s RDS was just that – lots of fun to do but also quite a lot of work to bring all the elements and people together to make it happen. Still, it was worth it as we received a significant amount of exposure and new business from clients who liked what they saw and were open to new ideas.

One of the more challenging projects I have worked on took place on a site with quite a sloping ground plane. Part of the overall brief required that a large patio space would occupy a section of the slope from where steps would lead up into the garden behind. Without going into too much detail, we created a split-level sandstone and timber deck patio that required a brick retaining wall to support an exposed soil face. This wall incorporated brick planters at different heights and a number of brick steps leading up to a gravel landing area and a gravel path.

B. What elements of your job do you find most rewarding?

C. I enjoy meeting new clients and finding out what their hopes and aspirations are for their new garden or landscape. I try to build on these initial thoughts and ideas, developing them in greater detail through rough sketches and in plan form. Finally a presentable garden design solution is made ready to show the client that may just take them beyond their own expectations and create a sense of anticipation about its eventual completion.

In addition, for me the whole process of designing a garden or landscape from conception through to completion is hugely rewarding. There are a number of necessary steps in between each of these phases that present their own challenges and rewards. For example finding out about and sourcing new materials, coming up with innovative ideas for structures and features, and finding ways of dealing with site-specific issues like landform.

I also enjoy a hands on approach to the business and usually involve myself closely in the planting and construction side of a job whenever possible. The dynamic nature of a garden and gardening means a new project is never really completed but continues to evolve and demand our attention over many years.

 

B: What experiences and memories define your career so far?

G: I’m sure most would agree their college days hold a lot of fond memories and experiences when the gaining of knowledge and experience in their chosen field of study which was fresh and exciting. For me too my decision to retrain after some experience in the workplace gave me the enthusiasm to be very focussed and determined to succeed in the new challenges presented to me. The thrill of taking my first designed garden through from concept to completion meant a lot to me. I try to maintain the same enthusiasm and freshness I felt then throughout the development of each new project I’m working on. B: What experiences and memories define your career so far?

G: I’m sure most would agree their college days hold a lot of fond memories and experiences when the gaining of knowledge and experience in their chosen field of study which was fresh and exciting. For me too my decision to retrain after some experience in the workplace gave me the enthusiasm to be very focussed and determined to succeed in the new challenges presented to me. The thrill of taking my first designed garden through from concept to completion meant a lot to me. I try to maintain the same enthusiasm and freshness I felt then throughout the development of each new project I’m working on. More recently, I was delighted to receive full membership of the Garden & Landscape Designer’s Association in Dublin last June 2005.

A primary role of the GLDA is to promote high standards in education and knowledge of garden and landscape design to be attained by those seeking membership. In addition, full members are encouraged to continue and maintain their professional development through further education courses and workshops.

B. What does a designer’s typical working day involve?

G. In my experience there’s rarely been a fixed pattern to a days work but rather it’s often a fluid mix of events and things to be done. If I’m not out at a site meeting or working with the contractor on a job, I will usually be found at the drawing table or computer putting together the next project. There are also new clients to meet and others to update on the progress of their garden build. Most projects involve some travelling to nurseries to order plants, and to material and product suppliers to source specific items such as a fountain or light fitting. Sometimes a particular project or plan drawing may demand extra man-hours to be completed in time, often late into the night!

 

B. What do you think defines the Irish garden style?

G. As in many cultures and countries, the development of agriculture has probably been the single most influential factor determining land use over the centuries.

In Ireland, there has also been a strong colonial influence in the shaping of much of our recent landscapes and gardens and the ‘land’ has always had a significant impact on our lives and in how we have developed as a people. For most the green space outside the home was where the animals were kept and produce grown and may not have been considered a garden as we may think of one today. Returning back to Ireland in recent years has shown me that as in other parts of the world, our land too has many unique attributes and qualities to offer those who seek an Irish garden style. Our rugged unspoilt coastlines, mountains, hills and valleys provide much inspiration and experience of nature. In addition, our generally mild climate and good soil has always favoured the development of gardens and estates over the centuries and allowed us to introduce and grow a wide variety of plant species.

In today’s environment we are experiencing new developments and perceptions within our profession of how we view gardens and garden design on a local as well as a global scale. In that sense, finding or creating a specific style of garden that embodies our own culture and environment requires an appreciation and understanding of our historical roots and of how we perceive ourselves and the type of country in which we live today.

B. What direction do you see the design industry moving?

G. Today not only in Ireland but right across the world we are seeing many exciting new developments in all aspects of the garden and landscape design industry. With ongoing innovations in construction and materials technology and new product and plant availability, we as designers are being challenged to evolve and discover new approaches to our work. Added to this the increasing public awareness of good design and expectation for high quality outdoor environments right from small scale private gardens through to large scale environmental planning promises a very bright future for our profession as a whole.

B. What plans do you have for the future?

G. Right now I’m concentrating my efforts on continuing to build up the business and develop a strong project portfolio. In addition, the fluid nature of this profession means there is always something new to learn whether it’s about the latest design trends or pursuing further study in a related subject such as horticulture. There are also exciting possibilities to bring new ideas to the industry through innovative landscape design and product development, and through the championing of improved technology and design education. Participation in public events like lifestyle shows and show gardens continue to be a favourable approach to promote ones work and business.

B. What advice would you give to a person wishing to pursue a career in landscape and garden design?

G. To anyone seriously considering garden design as a career, my best piece of advice would be to go out into your own or a friend’s gardens as soon as you have finished reading this article. Assuming it’s daytime and not raining, stay there for a while and soak up the atmosphere. Close your eyes and listen to the sounds around you, the birds, people passing by or even aircraft overhead. After a few moments, open your eyes again and look, really look closely at the plants and flowers, and that old garden shed. What colours inspire you, and what scents affect you consciously? Notice the texture of leaves and stone, shapes and patterns cast by shadows and on decorative tiles perhaps. Does the sound of the wind through the trees or the traffic passing by add to or take away from your experience of this space? If you can glimpse a moment of its essence and character noting how you feel, and if you have a sense of aspiration to effect a change to enhance yours and other’s experience then you have tasted the fruit and understood what it means to be a garden designer!