I am Professor of Planting Design, Urban Horticulture and Vegetation Technology in the Department of Landscape, University of Sheffield. I have pioneered the use of innovative approaches to landscape planting, and in the multi-functional use of vegetation in the built environment.
A primary objective of my work has been to move the consideration of planting design and landscape horticulture from a largely cosmetic, decorative and functional role, to one that is also central to the discussion of how to address the major problems of climate change and a sustainable future. And, while ecological ideas in landscape design have often been applied at the larger scale, my focus is at both the large scale and at the smaller scale: gardens, urban parks, on and around buildings, and in high-density built development, applying ecological concepts within horticulture, landscape architecture and garden design.. Specifically, this work has included bold and dramatic urban plantings; ‘modern meadows’; Water-Sensitive Urban Design and SuDS applications; biodiversity-enhancing design; and green roofs and roof gardens.
Together with my colleague, Professor James Hitchmough, I have established a body of research and practice relating to the use of ‘designed plant communities’ in a wide range of urban contexts. Our approach, typified by workable, sustainable solutions for public space, with high public appeal, and rich in biodiversity, has come to be known as ‘The Sheffield School’ of planting design. The emphasis is on simple maintenance, and a careful consideration of the various layers within a planting, and successional flowering of a planting over a long period. The key element is an understanding of the ‘horticultural ecology’ of designed plantings, and working with ‘plant communities’ that are suited to site conditions, and which mimic the processes in ‘natural’ vegetation.
I am active in design and consultancy, often in collaboration with architects, landscape architects and artists. These projects include the London Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, where, together with James Hitchmough, I was principal horticultural and planting design consultant, Central London’s first street-side rain garden at the head offices of the John Lewis Partnership, and the Diamond Garden at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace. I have regularly staged main show gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show (Gold Medal 2013) which bring the ideas and concepts of my research and practice in ecological design and planting design to a wide audience.