Meet Landscape Garden Designer Sam Ovens

At Seasalt, we celebrate Cornwall’s vibrant artistic community by shining a light on the county’s creative pioneers.

Alongside the work of Gertrude Jekyll, we’ve been inspired by Cornish gardens and landscape designers like Sam, who we caught up with at his studio near Lostwithiel.

How did you get into garden design?

I studied product design in Cardiff, when I finished I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do. It felt throw away, but I loved the design aspect. I grew up on a farm, I was always outdoors so landscape design appealed to me. I started a degree in Landscape design at Falmouth University. Falmouth was good for learning the plant side of things which was new to me. I graduated from there six years ago, but I am learning every day. There are so many plants, you can’t know them all so whenever I am planting I add a new species to see how it grows and build up my repertoire.

How would you describe your style of working?

People would describe my styles as naturalistic and fluid in terms of planting. I like contrast, bold statements, plants planted on mass and contrasted with geometric, contemporary structures. I like the juxtaposition, they highlight the positives in each other.

What or where inspires your work the most?

Growing up on a farm in Cornwall, I was inspired by the natural landscape, my planting style is inspired by the wild. I try to replicate that in garden by just using garden plants, it’s soft and informal.

What themes do you explore in your work?

The main theme I explore is juxtaposition between man-made and natural. I like how they amplify the characters of each other when side by side. I love using clean contemporary materials like concrete against something traditional like dry stone walling, and combing that with informal planting.

Do you have a favourite space which you’ve created?

My favourite outside space was my Chelsea Flower Show garden, which is sad as it was only there for five days. What I liked was it was in the middle of the mania of central London, but it felt like a different world.

Can you talk us through the process of how you start and create a space?

The process is different every time. Generally, I go and see a project, get a feeling of the direction I want to go in. I will then take a few weeks thinking about it, I’ve always got a sketchbook on me for doodles. I’ll then take it onto the computer to develop further using Vectorworks and Sketchup. The process and timeline varies depending on the project.

You’ve won a handful of accolades including Silver-Gilt at RHS Chelsea Flower Show. What’s been your career highlight to date?

Getting a Silver-Gilt at Chelsea Flower Show was great, but I was the youngest designer to make it to Main Avenue in Chelsea’s history. Even though it isn’t an award I was proud. I don’t feel like I’ve completed it yet, I need to get back to Chelsea and get gold before I can relax.

What is your favourite season and plant?

My favourite season would be autumn, winter, the light is great. I like the structure you get when things start to die. I like seeing the skeletons of plants as they decompose. It is an underrated season, I think it’s magical.

I couldn’t pick a favourite plant. My favourite fluctuates all the time. However, some plants I use a lot are euphorbias and ornamental grasses.

Why is creating sustainable spaces important to you?

Gardens are living, breathing things. Designing spaces which are suitable for the location and not something which is forced is important. The reason I came into garden design was to design something which will last. I like to think that most of my gardens will still be here in 100 years from now. Unless I get the sustainability right at the start then it will never happen.

I like to think that sustainability and designing for longevity go hand in hand.

What do you like to wear in the garden?

What I wear to work day-to-day is different to when I’m working in the garden. Unfortunately, I’m only in the garden once or twice a week, placing for new projects and I just wear jeans and a t-shirt.

How has growing up in Cornwall influenced you?

Growing up by the sea makes you aware of the natural elements. You’re always close to them. That’s one thing I try to bring into a garden, something which magnifies the seasons, and the elements.

How does your perfect day look?

My perfect day would be one where I’m out on-site placing plants. That’s my favourite part, to see a garden taking shape, the anticipation of how things are going to look in a few weeks’ time. I enjoy rowing so, gig rowing on a summer’s evening would take beating. Maggie my dog comes everywhere, she comes on site and undoes my work by running through and knocking over plants, she’ll come with me of an evening in the boat too.

Do you have a favourite part of the Cornish coastline?

My favourite place is Lantic Bay. It’s local to me, there is a bit of a walk to get there but it’s a beautiful quiet rugged little bay.

Sam wears: Men’s Tidal Pool Jacket, Men’s Curator Shirt, Men’s Sailor Shirt and Men’s Harbour Master Jumper (available September)

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