Nigel Dunnett is Professor of Planting Design and Urban Horticulture in the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Sheffield, and is one of the world’s leading voices on innovative approaches to planting design. He is a plantsman, 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, high-impact landscapes that are dynamic, diverse, and tuned to nature.
Nigel’s work is based on decades of detailed experimental research, and widespread application in practice: he works as a designer and consultant and regularly collaborates with a wide range of other professions, and his work 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 planting design, water-sensitive design, and urban rainwater management (Nigel Dunnett on Planting (Filbert Press 2019); 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). In Spring 2019 his book: The Essential Guide to Naturalistic Planting Design will be published (Filbert Press). He is a regular lecturer to audiences throughout the world.
Nigel’s projects include: The Queen Elizabeth London Olympic Park (principal planting design and horticultural consultant, together with James Hitchmough); The Barbican Centre, London (new planting schemes for podium landscapes); Sheffield Grey to Green (Planting design for the UK’s largest retrofit inner-city greenway and water-sensitive scheme). Nigel is a gold medal-winner at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. In November 2018 Nigel won the Landscape Institute Award 2018 for Planting Design, Public Horticulture and Strategic Ecology, and the Landscape Institute Fellows Prize for Most Outstanding Project, both for The Barbican, London.
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, his 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.