Interview; Inside Scoop with Marcus and Matt

(Left; Marcus Barnett, Right; Matt Keightley)

Personalising your garden is very difficult and takes an eye for design – not something that comes easy for everyone. Therefore, we called in the help of landscape architects Marcus Barnett and Matt Keightley, to tell us about their approach. This is what we asked them during the interview;

  • How would you build your personality into your garden plans? 
  • Do you take into account your client’s personality when deciding the mix of relaxing and recreational areas?

We talked to Marcus Barnett, owner at the Chelsea-based Marcus Barnett Landscape and Garden Design company, and he told us this;

“I aim to build my personality into my design work by introducing simplicity, clean lines and layers of depth and curiosity into my designs.  My belief that the vernacular is important to any scheme, is borne out by my desire to see locally sourced materials used within my design schemes.  I like to investigate traditional and modern construction techniques and apply these in a way which is wholly appropriate.

The consideration of a client’s personality is integral to determining how the garden is designed and I aim to understand and get to know my clients wholly and fully in terms of how they wish to use their garden.  How areas are designed for relaxation and recreation within any garden scheme is therefore of utmost importance to resolving the design of my clients’ gardens.”


(Marcus’s garden sketch for the Chelsea Flower Show 2015)


Matt Keightley shared this with us;

“Regarding my clients – It’s my responsibility as a designer to inspire my clients to see their garden in a different light, to help them use it in ways they didn’t necessarily think they would. That said portraying my clients personalities throughout their space is hugely important and something that comes out naturally in my designs through a decent designer / client relationship and plenty of research of course. From the very first, ever exciting meeting and site visit, I seek to learn as much about their lifestyles as possible. Leave no stone unturned. The interior (or mood boards if the property is yet to be complete) is always a good starting point. Subtle hints – are the books immaculately clean and pulled forward on the shelf to line up in a regimented fashion, could translate into – a row of identically clipped taxus topiary punctuating a border.  Or a sofa set with sleek geometric lines purposefully placed on an enticing terrace half way up the garden. Are there cupboards with kids toys stuffed inside, to hide the mess – organised chaos, could translate into a vibrant tapestry of herbaceous planting. Or a single timber bench nestled within a border.  It’s these smaller details that culminate to create a fantastic space; however the overall scheme can be created in much more broad brush terms. Is it to be traditional or contemporary in style, do the clients enjoy entertaining regularly or their own intimate spaces, do i need to consider an area for the kids or pets?

Personally, I like order in a space for aesthetic reasons, not because it’s a true reflection on the way I live my life day to day. Structure and backbone to a space is very important to me, regardless of the size of garden. I tend to create this form with a combination of hard and soft landscaping elements, which are always most effective when harmoniously linked. Take my current postage stamp of a garden in South West London for example. I have had to make the most of every inch and feel I have done so whilst designing to suit our lifestyle and subconsciously, I guess reflect our personalities. Although the beds are only 1m deep in places, I have taken them from ground level up to 2.2m; through scrambling ferns, repeated stone planters to dramatically jump in height which are surrounded with a fairly loose naturalistic scheme leading the eye up to the top of the pleached carpinus. Although that is just a small part of our space, it’s the order I mentioned, making a statement without being too contrived.

I love spending time with my family and friends and this is clearly seen in my garden. when i did a quick sketch to explain to my wife how it would look, entertaining space took up 50%. In reality I would say it’s more like 60%! I made sure the space was multifunctional. Large benches can be used for sunbathing and lounging outside or sitting 12 round for a leg of lamb. A relaxing and recreational space. I put it down to my enthusiasm for outdoor living, but i purchased a ridiculous BBQ, way too big from a design point of view, but it for fills an essential function. Although the design is complex, if you break it down the end result is a simple space that inspires and satisfies our recreational needs.”


(Matt’s garden sketch for the Chelsea Flower Show 2015)


Marcus and Matt taught us that taking parts from your daily life, and translating them into design, is what makes a garden synonymous with your personality – just as Matt translated his structured and functional life into a structured and functional garden. See both designers at the Chelsea Flower show this May.

What parts of your life would you translate into your garden?

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Image Credit:

Image of Marcus Barnett: The Times; Gardens

Image of Marcus’s sketch: The Telegraph; Chelsea Flower Show

Image of Matt Keightley: The Guardian; Gardens

Image of Matt’s sketch: Rosebank Landscaping


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