David Keegan has been designing gardens and landscapes across the UK & Europe for over 20 years. He has achieved international recognition for his work and is the only UK garden designer to have been awarded the Northern Design Award for Best Garden Design 4 times. We ask David how it all began and what excites him about the industry he is so passionate about.
1. Can you please tell us a bit about how you started your career in garden design?
The first garden I ever designed and created was actually a roof garden above my flat in London around 1997. After that I started to get requests from friends to assist with their gardens. I moved to Manchester in 2000 and created a new garden for the house I was living in, again this led to requests to create gardens for other people. I took on my first properly designed garden for a client in 2001.
2. Was this your first career or did you do something else before this?
No, garden design is my second career, my first was as a fashion and portrait photographer based in London for many years working for magazines such as Tatler, Harpers & Queen and GQ.
3. When did you set up your own business and what led to this decision?
Around the same time that I moved to Manchester I spotted an advert in Gardener’s World magazine looking for people to audition for a BBC TV programme on garden design. I auditioned and was successful. Following the airing of the Show ‘Garden School’ I decided to start designing gardens full time.
4. What is your niche and how does this help you to attract new clients?
I’m not sure that I have a niche as such, though I do seem to get a lot of commission for difficult sites that include slopes of varying kinds and degrees. If anything, I like projects that are challenging and stretch my creative abilities.
5. How important is your website and Award recognition to your business?
A good well-designed website is crucial. Mine has gone through four redesigns over the years as styles, formats and technology change.
Winning awards makes a huge difference to client perception. It is also very gratifying to have your work recognised by professional bodies. I am very proud to be the only garden designer to have won the Northern Design Award for Best Garden & Landscape Design four times!
6. What has been your most rewarding creation and why?
All of the gardens and landscapes I have created over the years remain important to me, because I feel the same sense of commitment to every project I take on and that is rewarding.
7. Which industry figures do you most admire?
This would have to be Bleddyn and Sue Wynn Jones, the owners of the wonderful Crug Farm Plants in Caernarfon, North Wales. I really admire that they gave up farming to persue their passion for plant hunting and rare plant cultivation. Travelling to far flung corners of the globe seeking out rare and unknown species of plants and bringing back the seed which they grow in their nursery. As a result, they have some wonderful and unusual plants on offer. They also have a magical garden of their own attached to the nursery.
8. What is your favourite garden to visit?
This would definitely be Biddulph Grange Gardens in Staffordshire for the sheer sense of contrast and playfulness in the design and the layout of the wondrous Victorian garden. It excites and delights, taking you on an unexpected journey through time and style. Head through a tunnel set in an Egyptian style arch only to come out into a full-blown Japanese garden, wacky & wonderful!
9. Do you have particular plants that you always use?
I am a huge fan of pleached trees (hedge on a stem). A wonderful and very effective way of providing screening to garden boundaries, or sectioning off parts of a garden without overpowering or dominating a space.
10. How important is hard landscaping within your designs and do you have any favourites?
I am a big fan of recycled materials such as reclaimed street cobbles and York stone paving. I also like diamond sawn York stone for a more contemporary look.
11. What are your ambitions for the future?
To grow my business with a view to looking for more international projects. I would love to do a hotel garden somewhere tropical like South East Asia. That would not only be an interesting challenge, but would also allow me to use a completely different planting palette.