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.
Nigel is an ecologist, horticulturist, designer, and pioneer of the new ecological approach to planting gardens and public spaces. His work revolves around the integration of ecology and horticulture to achieve low-input but high-impact landscapes that are dynamic, diverse, and tuned to nature. Nigel’s work is based on decades of detailed experimental work, and widespread application in practice: he works as a designer and consultant and regularly collaborates with a wide range of other professions, and hiswork has been widely applied in the UK and abroad. In 2016 Nigel was appointed as an Ambassador for the Royal Horticultural Society to spearhead their ‘Greening Grey Britain’ campaign, and is a former Garden Club of America International Fellow. Nigel has authored and co-authored key books on water-sensitive design, SuDS, and urban rainwater management (Rain Gardens: sustainable management of rainwater in the designed Landscape (Timber Press 2007), Green Roofs (Planting Green Roofs and Living Walls (Timber Press 2003)), and Urban Landscape Planting (The Dynamic Landscape: design, ecology and management of urban naturalistic planting (Taylor & Francis 2004).
A primary objective of Nigel’s 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 naturalistic planting design; ‘modern meadows’; Water-Sensitive Urban Design and SuDS applications; biodiversity-enhancing design; and green roofs and roof gardens.
Together with Professor James Hitchmough, Nigel has established a body of research and practice relating to the use of ‘designed plant communities’ in a wide range of urban contexts. The 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.
Nigel is 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, he was principal horticultural and planting design consultant, Central London’s first street-side rain garden at the head offices of the John Lewis Partnership; the Diamond Garden at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace; and the re-design of Beech Gardens and The High Walk at The Barbican, London. He is a Gold Medal Winner at the Chelsea Flower Show, where he has regularly staged main show gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show bringing the ideas and concepts of his research and practice in ecological design and planting design to a wide audience.