We first met Toby Pritchard from Creative Roots at the Gardeners World Live event in 2019 and were really impressed with his beautiful garden design – Harborne Botanics, which resulted in a Silver Merit award.
His friendly, knowledgeable & modest persona shines through in his intricate designs, many featuring clever lighting and contemporary water features. Read on to find out about Toby’s career to date, his inspirations and aspirations for the future.
1. How did you first move into garden design? Have you always been in this field?
I originally trained as a horticulturalist at Brooksby College; after completing a level 2 qualification with the RHS, I went on to work as a gardener and after 5 years of getting stuck in to some beautiful property’s I naturally started to gravitate towards garden design. I went back to study with the RHS gaining a level 3 qualification and began taking on design commissions, I was fortunate to be under the careful eye of Neil Sutcliffe at Creative Roots who steered me away from most calamities!
2. What are your favourite gardens to visit and why?
There are plenty, however my number one is Coten Manor, an exceptionally presented garden in rural Northamptonshire, the owners garden it themselves with a small team of staff and volunteers. Although not huge its a beautiful garden, I have fond memory’s of walking around it with family bemoaning their lack of weeds! My second is Great Dixter, especially the topiary lawn, I love the strong shapes against the softness of the meadow, which is something I try to emulate within my planting schemes.
3. We loved your design at Gardeners World Live last year – could you tell us more about the brief, materials used, hard landscaping, planting, design and your inspiration for that project?
Thank you, part of this brief was to find a frontage of a house that your garden would be sat against and create a mock client off the back of it.
I found a 5 bed Victorian semi on Harborne street in Birmingham that had been extensively done up, from this I developed my mock client, in my case semi retired professional couple with children that has grown up and left home. As my imaginary clients had a love of travel I wanted the garden to be able to look after itself whilst they were away, nothing in the garden was to manicured and irrespective of watering it could mostly look after itself whilst they were away.
Because I’m not terribly well travelled I had to be creative and I went with what came to mind when I think about travel, in this case it was lush jungles, water falls, huts on stilts and bright hot colours.
The hard landscaping materials were fairly limited, we used Larch for the decking, porcelain to clad the rill and for the paving. The walling was created using a stone wall effect tile. The timber uprights that were used for the fence we coloured using the Shou Sugi Ban technique.
The planting was created to look exotic, however with a couple of exceptions such as the bananas, the plants were all bog standard and all fully hardy in the UK. This was important as I wanted people to be able to take the look home with them without needing to know a huge amount about horticulture.
4. Could you tell us a bit about Creative Roots as a company, your personal involvement and the areas you cover?
Creative Roots are primarily a garden design and build outfit and have been running for ten years this month (1st April), we often build our own designs as well as tendering for other designers work, we also have an aftercare side to the business looking after private clients throughout Nottinghamshire and the surrounding areas. My role in the company is as maintenance director and garden designer, as well as assisting in the day to day running of the firm.
5. What industry figures do you admire and why?
There are plenty, but the two that come to mind are Phillip Johnson and Nigel Dunnet. After seeing Phillip Johnson speak at a Society of Garden Designers conference last year I was blown away by the bravery and attention to detail of his 2011 Chelsea show garden, The Australia Garden. Nigel Dunnet’s planting is incredible, and definitely something to aspire too. He manages to create naturalistic planting schemes that are both beautiful to look at and aid biodiversity.
6. What would you say is your niche and how does this attract new clients?
I’m not sure I really have one at the moment! I really enjoying using natural materials such as cut stone against something like stainless steel with naturalistic planting. However ultimately it comes down to how brave the client is as I design to their brief. I think maintaining a good reputation is the best way to attract new clients.
7. How would you typically develop a design from start to finish?
We have a pretty clear cut design process and let our clients know the process before we start. It begins with an initial meeting to see if both party’s are happy to work on the project together, we then have a more formal meeting and discuss the wants and want nots, this is then followed with a full a garden survey.
After this we draw up our survey and send out a client brief, the brief summarises our meeting and confirms how we both see the garden developing. Once approved I start drawing up an initial concept/mood board. There are normally a few tweaks to make at this stage, then once everyone is happy we develop some 3D visuals, a final drawing, various construction plans and planting scheme. After this is signed off and all the details finalised we create a build pack which is then given over to the site foreman who will then work out how the project will run. Its at this stage I’m normally given some stick!
8. What are your top 3 tips for gardening novices to help get their garden ready for summer?
- If you don’t have huge budget for plants, sow seed directly in to the ground, use plants that are easy to grow with a long flowering period such a cosmos. Just hold off until the last frosts have passed.
- Tidy up the lawn, its normally the biggest proportion of the garden and a well looked after lawn can do wonders for the overall look.
- Keep a notebook, and watch the garden for a while, its worth while plotting were the sun is throughout the day over the seasons. You don’t want to find you build a shed in the only space in the garden that gets evening sun!
9. What has been your most rewarding project to date and why?
We are currently working on an Italian terrace garden, it’s the most awkward site we have ever worked on with an incredibly limited access, but despite this the team have been fantastic and the clients are very trusting which is nice. It includes some beautiful large pots planted with Wisteria to cloak a cliff wall, a very versatile lighting scheme that illuminates the steps and up-lights the trees and hand crafted bull nose steps that leading down to a sunken seating area with views over Nottingham.
10. What’s your favourite garden feature or accessory to use and why?
Lighting, it really adds to the garden and you can create so many great effects with it. Particularly in winter when it gets dark so early, lighting brings the garden back in to the home.
11. How important is hard landscaping within your designs and do you have any favourites?
Very important, it transforms the garden from something pretty to look at, in to a space you can move around and interact with. Im a big fan of using natural stone, however the porcelain ranges are great for creating a clean finish. It really comes down to the overall look you are going for,
12. What are your ambitions for the future?
My immediate goal is to become SGD registered, and I confess I have the itch to do another show garden. Further down the line I would love to get in to schools and talk about gardening and garden design as a career option.