Gardens Illustrated

Profile: Lynne Marcus - Society of Garden Designers

Published: January 18, 2022 at 5:01 pm

The chair of the Society of Garden Designers on making a change of career, the challenge of fitting the pieces of garden design together and the unpardonable crime of laying fake grass. Words Annie Gatti. Portrait Charlie Hopkinson.

Like many members of the Society of Garden Designers (SGD), Lynne Marcus, who became chair of the society in September 2020, came to garden design as a career change. After a degree in politics and sociology she went into manpower planning and research and then moved to human resources, becoming director of HR for a leading firm of accountants in the City of London.

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When she took a break to have her two children, she realised that she didn’t want to return to corporate life. Having time to appreciate her garden for the first time, she turned her attention to plants and with a friend started up a company providing container gardens, mainly for restaurants. Requests to do local front gardens followed and she was hooked. A correspondence course with Professor David Stevens on the Principles of Garden Design gave her the confidence to start her own design studio in 2004, and has guided her approach to gardens ever since. “It always comes down to the absolute fundamentals of garden design, and that’s what the SGD is about too. The starting point for me is the relationship between the building and the landscape (I use the word landscape broadly). All lines are always taken from the house – windows, doors, the corners of the house, you should always find a line to hang your design on. To me every line is important and it doesn’t matter if it’s rectilinear or curvilinear.”

Today Lynne mainly designs city gardens of different sizes and in different situations, with some larger country gardens. “I like the jigsaw of it all,” she explains, “the challenge of it. Flat gardens are nice to do but levels are really where it’s all at, to me.” She feels that designers often forget to credit their clients who are usually so open to suggestions. “They have a feeling of what they love but they don’t have a clue how to get there. The clever bit of being a garden designer is listening closely and working out what it is that the client wants.”

PEOPLE WHO COVER THEIR BACK GARDENS IN PLASTIC SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF THEMSELVES

Lynne’s clients will certainly be offered sustainable options for the various elements of the designs she proposes, as sustainability is critical to all her work. There are the key issues, such as water usage and storage, low maintenance and ‘right plant, right place’ planting, and reduction of concrete and other non-permeable surfaces, but the issue that perhaps exercises her most is what she calls “plastic lawn” – it’s disingenuous, she says, to call it turf. “People who cover their back gardens in plastic should be ashamed of themselves,” she says passionately. “They can’t get a plastic bag in the shop but they’re prepared to dig up 1,000 years of top soil and stick down a ghastly base and cover the whole thing in plastic to make a no-go zone for anything that breathes or flies.” She is pleased that the SGD no longer takes sponsorship from plastic lawn companies, and that the new specifications guide that the Society is preparing for its members will be state of the art, and include all the current sustainable alternatives.

Lynne joined the SGD in 2010 but didn’t become a registered member until 2016. “I had a lull in work and took the bull by the horns to get the plans, drawings and documentation to go through adjudication.” Four years later she was invited to become chair, her past experience on committees for education, training and recruitment no doubt influencing the Society’s choice. As well as prioritising sustainability, she wants to see more young people entering the industry. “There is a huge skills gap. We are working with the Landscape Institute on its Choose Landscape programme. It’s a big issue and we need to join together on this to have impact.”

On a personal level, she has clearly been influencing her son Matthew, 30, who has for many years been photographing her gardens, and over the past year has accompanied her on consultations, worked with her on designs and helped with planting. “He can start with me,” she says “but he already has his own design style and I hope that he follows his own path.”

Running her own business has meant that she has little time to look after the multi-level garden at her Arts and Crafts house in north London.

“I’ve done things simplistically, to keep it low maintenance. There’s structure from evergreens – from Laurus nobilis, herbs, lavender and parahebe close to the house and from Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Golf Ball’ throughout the garden – and a waterlily pond overhung with Betula pendula ‘Youngii’ and Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ lower down. I also have a network of small, white roses, which twinkle as they start flowering in May and create a framework through which everything else weaves. Recently, I’ve had my head down, working on a design and have only been looking at the garden from inside. The other day I took a break and walked down the garden to clear my head and I thought goodness, it’s really quite nice.”

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USEFUL INFORMATION
Find out more about the SGD at sgd.org.uk
A two-day SGD symposium on looking to the past to inform the future from a sustainability and climate-change perspective will take place at Denmans Garden, West Sussex, on 10-11 June 2022.

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