The Times Magazine, May 2006

English gardens.

7 July 2010

Giving up jobs in the Army and the City to retrain in garden design might seem risky, but for Marcus Barnett and Philip Nixon it's paying off already, as they prepare to take Chelsea by storm.

Marcus and Philip met on the course and immediately recognised a kindred spirit. Each wanted to get in at the top of their new profession, which is why they chose this hothouse environment for their training. While still studying, the pair secretly joined forces to design one of the Chic Gardens for Chelsea 2005. Their proposal was accepted by the RHS. Their sleek concrete creation with pared-down planting and subtle repetition of shapes and forms not only won a Gold Medal but the coveted "best in category" award. The duo so impressed property company Savills they were asked to design a full-scale garden for 2006.

So one year later here they are again: with an impressive body of work already under their belts, confidence gained by experience, and a design that is straightforward yet sophisticated.

With show gardens the possibilities are endless, and this is where Barnett and Nixon find teamwork constructive. It's a process that keeps their work crisp and focused, with none of that self-indulgence frequently seen at the flower shows.

Taking Mies van der Rohe's riverside Farnsworth House in Illinois as their point of departure, Barnett and Nixon have produced a Modernist masterpiece all their own. Inter-relating vertical and horizontal architectural planes visually echoed by giant cubes of box, naturalistic tree and shrub planting with great feeling for balance and mass, subtle colours and strong foliage shapes, still reflecting water, all play their part in a coherent whole. No tricks. No fuss. Just bang on the mark.

Report by Rob Cassy