Landscape’s honorary editor Tim Waterman responds to a recent ‘Garden Design Journal’ column calling for a merger between the LI and the SGD

Comment: How inconceivable is a merger between the LI and the SGD?

In my last column for Landscape (‘Scope’), I called for landscape architecture to throw open its boundaries and for landscape architects to open their minds in this period in which professional definitions are in flux. With impeccable timing – and no collusion, honest – landscape critic Tim Richardson’s column in the Garden Design Journal called for a similar or greater degree of flexibility from SGD members by advocating a merger between the SGD and the LI. Horror and panic have ensued.

I don’t think Tim has gone into hiding yet, but I’d imagine he’s been talking to Salman Rushdie for advice. The “ladies-who-lunch” are surely conspiring with those “charming chaps in Panama hats who dabble in gardens” to steam up the summer house with plots of murderous intrigue. Call in the bomb squad if an ‘admirer’ sends you a box of Hostas, Tim.

All hysteria aside, his suggestion has many merits that certainly deserve an airing. I’ve paraphrased:

  • Garden designers need a rigorous system of educational accreditation and chartership or licensure.
  • Garden design is an exciting world at the moment, with new ideas being embraced. Landscape architecture would benefit from its freshness and enthusiasm.
  • The realms of landscape architecture and garden design are increasingly intermingling, with landscape architects taking on more small jobs, and garden designers looking to bigger commissions.
  • Landscape architects would benefit from the expertise in plants and planting that garden designers possess.
  • The division between landscape architecture and garden design is difficult for the general public to understand.

These points all reflect problems, and there is much nuance when one begins to mine down into the implications, but they can all be broadly stated simply as fact. The first point, in particular, is an important one. We long ago came to the realisation that domestic gardens are an important part of urban green infrastructure and that it is vital for garden designers to work with ecological and environmental context as a matter of course.

Some garden designers receive an education that prepares them for this, but it is rare. Others, through great personal dedication and erudition, are able to rise to this challenge. However, as a general rule it is not wise to allow garden designers to manipulate the very fabric of our existence without the benefit of a fully accredited course of education and the knowledge and responsibility that accompany. Brief certificates of wildly varying quality, a bit of Euclidean geometry, and some skill in colour rendering are simply not sufficient preparation. Garden design is important and requires great range and skill – and education should reflect that fact.

Richardson only speaks of the boundary between landscape architecture and garden design, however, and influences at landscape architecture’s other boundaries militate against the possibility of an LI/SGD merger. In precisely the same way that landscape architecture and garden design are intermingling, so too there are significant overlaps with planning, landscape management, building architecture, and civil engineering, to name a few.

These fields are seen to be newly intruding on landscape architecture’s territory, but in fact they have always shared ground. The emergence of the collaborative discipline of urban design was an acknowledgement of this interdependence, and landscape urbanism and ecological urbanism are not really new forms, just new hybrids of practice that respond to newly perceived conditions in urbanism.

Thus a merger might, at this point, simply be inconceivable. We could and should work together more, though. We could, for example, work together to provide accreditation for garden design courses. We should talk earnestly, plan together, collaborate, lobby, and present a unified voice for our landscapes, which sustain and enrich our lives.

Tim Waterman is honorary editor of Landscape and is a lecturer in landscape architecture and urban design at Writtle School of Design

*Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the contributor and not necessarily those of the Landscape Institute.

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