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Andrew Fisher Tomlin

In this edition of our 'Have a Seat With...' series, we speak with multi-award-winning garden designer Andrew Fisher Tomlin of 'Fisher Tomlin & Bowyer London'.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. It’s been such a crazy 12 months, as we’ve just entered another lockdown, we wondered if the last year has changed the kind of gardens you're being asked to create for private and/or corporate clients?

We’re fortunate that more often than not we are creating some quite large gardens and with people staying at home more we’re being asked for swimming pools and greenhouses with small, manageable kitchen gardens. I don’t think there is one client who hasn’t asked for at least one of those and for smaller city gardens we’re including space to get away from screens and surround yourself in lots of planting.

Your video that began the series of #intheirgarden films on YouTube was really interesting, you focus on your love of unusual plants – is there a particular reason for that? When did your love of unusual plants start?

First and foremost, I’m a horticulturist. I’m probably known more for our designs but my training was first in horticulture and I’m fascinated by plants. The UK has this amazingly mild climate that allows us to grow a much larger range of plants than many other regions so we can grow all those unusual plants, especially in a very sheltered London garden. I think my love of these unusual plants comes from the fact that I’ve always travelled a lot and have occasionally led tours to places like Japan and New Zealand so I squirrel ideas away. A lot of nurseries know about this, especially after we created a plant collectors garden at Hampton Court in 2016 and so I’ve often been given plants to try out. Eventually you run out of space and those plants find their way into friends and clients’ gardens!

What drew you to garden design in the first place?  

As I mentioned I started training in horticulture at Askham Bryan College but it was at a moment when design was appearing on TV and when magazines like Gardens Illustrated launched. I got the chance to create my first Chelsea garden when I was still at College so I sort of fell into it. Strangely enough it reminded me that first Chelsea garden was called the Globetrotter’s Garden for someone who travelled the world!

My training was first in horticulture and I’m fascinated by plants. 

Now that you’re in your 30th year running your company, what would you say are the main things that have changed in garden design for private gardens and/or commercial gardens?

The biggest change by far has been our response to climate change. I think people who don’t have that connection to landscape and the outside don’t realise quite how much it changed what we design and plant. From vastly improved drainage systems to use of sustainable materials, plants and better planting methods such as waterwise planting.

What was personally your proudest moment in the 30 years of your company?

There are always a few moments that stand out. Personal moments would be becoming a Chartered Horticulturist, a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Gardeners and a Fellow of the SGD and for the company creating some great show gardens where we laughed a lot (our 2017 Blind Veterans UK and 2016 Australian Garden Show gardens stand out) but I think more than anything it’s being asked to create gardens all over the world which is a great privilege.

In the past 15 years, we’ve worked as far afield as Japan, Siberia, New Zealand and Australia as well as Europe. It feeds my interest in unusual plants and we’ve made some great friends.

Designing a garden involves so many elements, from plant selection to project management. What is your favourite element of each project?

Obviously planting design is up there because we are a company led by planting first and foremost which is why people come to us. But over the past few years, we’re designing much more bespoke and integrated garden features such as planters and furniture that create a seamless narrative in a garden.

I love working with these craftspeople that have amazing skills I can’t really get my head around. 

Your garden designs are so different, catering for unique needs and personalities, but is there a plant or element that you find most people want in their residential garden?

You know the biggest compliment that we were paid last year was that we understand exactly what a client wants and create very individual gardens. No two clients are the same so neither are our gardens. People come to us wanting inspiration, not the same garden as another person and so if they do ask for a particular element (raised beds!), a specific tree (birch trees!) or a box ball (I’m not a fan!) we always start by discussing if it’s appropriate and hopefully open their eyes to other possibilities. 

You collaborate with other businesses to add different crafts and artwork, are there any that have really stood out to you as an amazing addition to a residential garden?

Yes, I love working with these craftspeople that have amazing skills I can’t really get my head around. When we created our gardens for Blind Veterans UK, we worked with Tom Hare, a master sculptor in willow, Holkham Forge that produced the most brilliant organic gates and Essex Oak Frames for two beautiful buildings. I got to have a go with all of them and I can’t praise them enough as they are skills honed over many years with an immense amount of creativity. 

What is your average working day like?

Never the same!

As well as Fisher Tomlin & Bowyer I am a director of London College of Garden Design based in Kew and Melbourne and we’ve recently launched so my days can be 24 hours - recently I’ve taught students in Australia at 3 am but a more ordinary week has a couple of LCGD days, a day out visiting sites and nurseries with the remainder of the week in the office.

At the end of a busy day of work, what do you do to relax?

I have a large painting collection and am slightly addicted to eBay which has led to a new art project. So, whilst we can’t be travelling anywhere, I’m at home working on those and gardening.

We’re all pros at restrictions and lockdowns now, especially those of you in London! How are you keeping calm and relaxed through the new restrictions?

There’s nothing better than gardening whatever the weather.

We’re in the dead of winter now, but what would you recommend keen novice gardeners should be planting in the coming weeks, ready to enjoy in Spring and Summer?

It’s a little early for most things but we can be planting trees, more important than any other plant right now, I think. You can also start planning. At we’ve got some courses for those new to gardening to support them in growing vegetables in small spaces and creating wildlife gardens.

Finally, looking forward to the colour of Spring, what is your favourite Spring plant?

It’s probably my Acacia pravissima the Australian Ovens Wattle which is a very early spring flowering and fragrant tree. It’s a bit rampant so make sure you have the space for one but it even beats Forsythia to flowering and is probably only beaten by Daphne for fragrance.

Find Out More...

Find out more about Andrew Fisher Tomlin and his business, 'Fisher Tomlin & Bowyer London'.

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The Sitting Spiritually 'Have a Seat With' series takes a look behind the scenes at how we switch off from the bustling modern-day lifestyle. We speak to people of all sorts of backgrounds and lifestyles around the country as we seek to explore the different ways of relaxing and just taking a moment.

Posted on January 26th 2021

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