As the world prepares for the Chelsea Flower Show, we meet up with the young superstars of landscape architecture

Laura Latham
Top gardeners Harry and David Rich, laughing about petunias or something.

Harry and David Rich, 28 and 25

Although not involved with the London shows this year, Welsh brothers Harry and David Rich already have a clutch of medals from three successive years at Chelsea.

Having grown up with a love of gardening, it’s no surprise the siblings both decided to go into landscape design. Their company, Rich Landscapes, is one of the hottest in London and their fresh, urban-style schemes have won private and corporate commissions across the world. “We’re working for larger-scale clients in Barcelona and South China, as well as on individual gardens in London,” says Harry. “We’ve evolved to cover both ends of the spectrum.”

A major coup was the commission last year to design the garden for the Chanel exhibition, Mademoiselle Privé, at the Saatchi Gallery. The garden received a lot of media interest and incorporated ‘rooms’ representing different inspirations in Coco Chanel’s life. “It felt pioneering to have that garden-fashion crossover,” says Harry.

The brothers work collaboratively and have developed a signature style that Harry says “blends contemporary structures with naturalistic planting”. This might include a glass cabin, dry stone wall or bench, surrounded by an unstructured looking display of grasses, ferns and wild flowers.

Having made their mark in exhibitions and global projects, the duo is embarking on another new direction with an as-yet-untitled TV series for the BBC. Harry hopes it will bring viewers a fresh perspective on landscaping to match the change he believes is happening within the industry. “There’s a new generation of designers coming through right now and it’s amazing to be part of that.”

Sam Ovens, 26

After starting a course in product design, Sam Ovens soon became disillusioned. “It’s part of a throwaway culture and it didn’t feel like a good fit. Landscape design is about creating for the long term.”

Ovens grew up in Cornwall, and graduated from Falmouth College in 2012. In 2014 he won silver at the Hampton Court Flower Show, followed by gold at the Tatton Park show and the Royal Horticultural Society’s Young Designer of the Year. But he thinks this year’s Chelsea Flower Show will be his breakout moment. “Chelsea is very prestigious, the peak of great landscape design. It’s a unique opportunity.”

His exhibition garden is sponsored by Cloudy Bay, the upscale New Zealand wine producer, which has a history of working with up-and-coming names. “It was a natural fit,” says Ovens, “I had a very free brief.”

His design will display loosely planted levels of grasses and heathers, a representation of the moorland and heath of his native Cornwall, interspersed with orchids and agapanthus. Wooden boardwalks and a cabin overlooking a reflective pool create focal points, as do five pines around the border. “I wanted it to feel rugged and wild. The cabin and pool offer a sense of privacy,” he says. “I think it gives a personal aspect to the garden that contrasts with the public nature of Chelsea.”

Though his work will be judged by professionals and the public, Ovens has no qualms. “Exhibiting at Chelsea is a massive leap for me but, because it’s my first time, no one has any expectations, so I don’t feel any pressure to play it safe.”

He hopes the show will provide a springboard to further opportunities but, for now, he’s concentrating on one goal. “My ambition is to get a gold medal. If I don’t achieve it this year, I’ll keep trying until I do.”

Hugo Bugg, 29

Already one of gardening’s best known names, Hugo Bugg was, by 27, one of the youngest designers to have won a gold at Chelsea in 2014. Since then he’s had such an influx of work that he worries about getting burnt out. “I love the challenge and have had some fantastic projects, but juggling it all can get difficult,” he says.

Bugg comes from a creative background, his parents were art teachers, and he studied landscaping because he wanted to work in design with a practical application. In 2010, a year after graduating, he already had the title of Young Designer of the Year from the Royal Horticultural Society.

Current projects include landscapes for the Royal Botanic Gardens in Jordan, and a tropical forest in the Italian town of Trento. His team is also working on a number of UK schemes including country estates and rooftop gardens in London, and an exhibition garden for the Singapore Flower Show in July.

In addition, he’s showing again at Chelsea this year. His garden, described as a Mediterranean pine landscape, will resemble the terrain he experienced while travelling in Jordan. “About 80 per cent of the planting is native to Jordan and the surrounding region,” Bugg says. “It was one of the hardest collections we’ve had to do.”

The garden has elements in natural stone and a sculptural backdrop in goat hair, there is also a focus on water with an eye-catching ‘oasis’. Bugg is keen to show that some nations take water for granted, while others suffer deprivation. “My aim is to make gardens dynamic and creative, with a strong, unique appearance,” he explains. “I also want to design gardens with longevity, something of quality that will endure.”

Sophie Walker, 30­

The youngest woman to show at Chelsea, in 2014, Sophie Walker’s work is strident and striking. Her planting focuses on rare specimens set alongside or framed within highly structured parameters.

Her Chelsea debut, Cave Garden, brought together plants that had never been cultivated on British soil, trapping them within an inaccessible box. It won a silver medal and introduced her as a new talent who could combine horticulture and art. “I’m interested in the relationship between the man made and nature. In the natural world, for example, you don’t get straight lines, so I like to introduce them to provide a focal point.”

A trip to the Amazon inspired Walker to switch from studying art history to horticulture. She was fascinated by the way the local plants and their environments had evolved. Within a year of setting up her business she won a silver medal for her conceptual piece, Valley Garden, at the Hampton Court Flower Show in 2013.

Walker is currently overseeing a long-term project for the Bahamian National Trust to build a series of gardens using indigenous plants. She is also creating a sculptural spiral garden for a client near Istanbul, and redesigning a landscape at Borde Hill House, West Sussex. Though not showing at Chelsea this year, she is taking part in Grow London and has a book out next year titled Gardens of Japan.

Walker’s work doesn’t suit everyone; it’s challenging and makes demands of the observer but she refuses to compromise her style. “There’s a need for landscape architects, particularly young designers, to take risks. I hope to create gardens that aspire to be works of art.”

Hay Joung, 37­

It’s a long way from Seoul to London but Hay Joung is happily working on both sides of the globe. In the past 10 years, she’s forged a reputation for blending the best of traditional and modern landscaping in her east-meets-west designs.

Initially, Joung trained as an interior designer but discovered she had more passion for gardens. In 2014, her design on the theme of the seven deadly sins was selected for the international festival at Chaumont-Sur-Loire, a prestigious competition in France. Joung’s success prompted the authorities in her native Seoul to invite her to participate in a new garden festival there. “I was very honoured to be approached,” she says.

Currently Joung works with London landscaping firm Randle Siddeley, as well as running her own consultancy, Hay Designs. In addition to private gardens, her commissions include a Zen meditation garden at a Buddhist temple in South Korea.

She is also collaborating with the company on her exhibition garden for this year’s Chelsea show, which is sponsored by LG. The design examines how smart technology and garden design can work in harmony, with cutting-edge watering and lighting systems fitted among the manicured hedges, banks of irises, a magnolia tree and pergolas covered in jasmine.

“I’m from a country where high-tech is very important, I wanted to show that technology can be combined successfully with nature,” she says. The overall concept of her Chelsea site merges the sleek, Scandi-style lines of an urban environment with a softer background of plants in pastel hues. “It was an ambition for many years to show at Chelsea,” says Joung. “It brings a sparkle to my eyes.”

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