The Times, January 2011

English gardens.

24 August 2011

This year, for the first time, The Times has its own garden at the Chelsea Flower show. Its creator, Marcus Barnett, explains to Stephen Anderton the ideas behind the science-based design.

This year's Chelsea Show will have something special to offer; a show garden from The Times, in association with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. It will be a science-based garden in conjunction with Eureka, The Times's monthly science magazine, now in its second year. it is a garden with important things to say about man's relationship with plants, and which will express them in every last detail of its construction and planting.

The designer asked to take on this weighty brief is Marcus Barnett. Now aged 40, he qualified as a garden designer in 2004 at The Inchbald School of Design.

There he met fellow graduate Phillip Nixon and together they blithely"planned a meteoric rise" in the garden world with their own unsponsored little Chelsea garden in 2005, and in 2006 and 2007 with large gardens sponsored by Savills. It brought in two Gold medals and a Silver Gilt remarkable for a beginner. "Chelsea's the place to be, it's our World Cup," says Barnett, as he passes me a hurried teabag and pushes back in his chair, ostensibly relaxed as if he's interviewing me for a job.

Barnett is no shrinking violet, as you'll gather. He went straight from school into the Army and rose to the rank of Platoon Commander, serving in Northern Ireland and the Quick Reaction Force. (The great Victorian designer of formal parterres, W.A. Nesfield, was a soldier, too.) for three years he was equerry to the Duke of Kent: a handy way to get to see Chelsea shows. Even then he hankered to design gardens and his constant doodling of asymmetrical geometric shapes proved the pint. After the Army he worked in security for the Sydney Olympics before becoming an international management consultant on security matters. He's an operator, but in that smiley, look-you-in-the-eye, officerly way.