Gary Foran, Chairman of the Garden & Landscape Designers Association, records the historical evolution of Irish design and the pivotal role played by the association in raising it to international standards.
Prior to the formation of the Garden & Landscape Designers Association (GLDA) in the mid-1990s, garden design had gone largely unrecognised as an independent profession by the Irish public. This general lack of awareness was due in part to the limited number of professional designers operating at the time. Other factors undermining the evolution of Irish garden design included Irish perception and cultural association with land, nonexistence of any professional bodies to oversee and set standards and the complete lack of any formal training routes for those wishing to pursue a design career. For those wishing to train in design, the only option was to go abroad.
The few professionals operating at that time came to design via fine art, architecture and horticulture. Compounding the poor professional environment were the unhelpful economic conditions. In the late 70s and 80s the government, and thus the population, was essentially broke.
A succession of poor decisions and neglect of indigenous industries produced an environment of higher taxation and a dramatic rise in unemployment. The result? The evaporation of discretionary spending and a stunting of Irish design evolution. Sound familiar?
Against this unfavorable background, a group of pioneering design professionals decided that action was needed to foster a climate in which Irish garden and landscape design could thrive. It was 1995. The GLDA was born.
The first meeting of the GLDA took place in Dublin, at the home of founder member Angela Jupe. Angela had an earnest desire to establish a society in Ireland on a par with the well-established Society of Garden Designers in the UK.
An architect by profession, Angela subsequently trained under UK garden designer, John Brookes. It was Angela’s passion and perseverance which brought together the founding members in the summer of ‘95. Helping to plants the seeds for Ireland’s first garden and landscape designers association were: Gabrielle Sanio, Susan Maxwell, Louise Burns, Gerry Daly, Peter Stam, Angela Binchy, Andrew Glenn- Craigie, Sally Kelly, John Ketch, Maeve Kearns, Elizabeth Barrett-Morgan and Verney Naylor.
Having all met for the fi rst time during that initial meeting, which was followed by two more meetings that year, a concensus was eventually reached on their shared aspirations.
“A group of pioneering design professionals decided action was needed to foster a climate in which Irish garden and landscape design could thrive”
Those aspirations are still enshrined in the Articles of the Association. One of the fi rst decisions agreed upon was the necessity for an independent panel of judges to assess the standard of potential applicants. They also decided to hold workshops to assist applicants, to set about generating more public awareness of garden and landscape design and to encourage greater use of designers. The initial push was helped enormously by the generous publicity provided by Angela’s many garden journalism contacts at the time, including Gerry Daly, Dermot O’Neill, Jane Powers, Charlie Wilkins and Helen Rock. She also decided to seek the support of well known people interested in gardening. David Puttman, the well regarded film director (who had recently moved to Ireland) agreed to formally launch the association, which of course meant they were assured of good newspaper coverage. Gradually, over the years since then, and through the determined efforts of these founding members, the GLDA’s membership, recognition, and influence, has grown steadily.
Around the time of the GLDA’s establishment, garden festivals were just starting to gather pace in Ireland. This newly formed association was invited to both participate in creating gardens, and also to judge works at these shows, all of which helped to establish the professional standing of garden designers in Ireland. In addition, government support and promotion was sought through An Bord Bia (formerly An Bord Glas), who have continued to be supportive of the GLDA. Even RTE came on board later by hosting a garden programme with strong design content. Of the many activities organised by the association, trips and visits to gardens became pivotal from both a social and organisational perspective. Koraley Northen (GLDA Administrator 1995-2007) recalls a visit in June 1997 to Ballinlough Castle in Co Meath, where Sir John & Lady Nugent served cakes and tea to 51 members and friends, all seated around an enormous table in the castle. In October 1998, eleven members went on a trip to France. Koraley recalls how they splashed in the fountains at Parc Andre Citroen in Paris; were amused and confused by the quirky gardens in Chaumontsur-Loire, and marvelled at the style of French gardeners at Courson Plant Fair.
More recently, a trip in September of 2011 saw a group of members visit London’s Olympic Park pre-Olympics, for a specially arranged tour with o cials around the newly planted and sown landscapes and gardens, not yet seen by the public. This same UK trip included a visit to Kew Gardens, Palmstead Nurseries, and Great Dixter House and Gardens.
One of the biggest success stories of the GLDA to date has been its hosting of an annual design seminar, which continues to be a well-respected and popular event, drawing in a diverse audience of industry academics, professionals and students alike. Early seminars saw high-profile designers such as James Van Sweden and Piet Oudolf offer inspirational garden design insights to those fi rst eager audiences, who at the time, Koraley recalls, “were practically climbing in the windows and beating each other over the heads with trowels to get in”.
Needless to say, health and safety was given greater priority for subsequent events. Joking aside, the success of this fi rst seminar a rmed the belief they had at the time in the public’s interest and demand for such an event, and this combined with an equally successful association launch in the same week, were both hugely signifi cant in helping the GLDA get off to a flying start. This year’s seminar, on February 8th, promises to be no exception. The speaker lineup includes international design luminaries Tim Richardson and Jake Hobson and homegrown designers, Oliver Schurmann and Fergus McGarvey.