Mark Lane is an Author, Regular Gardening Magazine Columnist, Tv and Radio Broadcaster and is Landscape Designer of the Year 2020, His new book “Royal Gardens Of The World” is out soon. In which he looks at 21 fabulous Royal Gardens,The history of the gardens and the plants in them. And how there designs tell us more about people who lived there and the times in which they were designed. He is also an Ambassador for several Charities and an avid campainer for Disabilty rights and inclusion.
Dan: Hello Mark, and welcome to Who’s on The Grapevine. How have you been in these difficult last few months? How has it affected your design work etc?
Mark: Fortunately we have a garden to escape to. I really don’t know how we would have got through the last few months without a dose of my ‘green pill’ every day. All of my design projects were put on hold, but in the last few weeks contractors have started up again, and projects are well underway.
The gardening scene has been through a massive shift during the lockdown period from shows being cancelled, difficulty getting materials. But also in positive ways, Allotments have never looked so good, online suppliers have come to the forefront, along with social media and online versions of many things. And the thirst for gardening is at an almost high. How do you think we can best keep hold of this positive attitude to gardens and the environment around us?
I think lockdown has really shown the importance of gardens and open spaces, such as parks. We all need to get outside, feel the breeze on our face, lower our heart rate and take time to relax and be more mindful of ourselves and our environment. A recent survey by Jeyes has shown that 6 out of 10 households have actively been gardening during lockdown. I really hope that once we return to a new ‘normal’ that those people who enjoyed being in their gardens continue to grow food and flowers. Children have learnt more about growing food and the whole idea of seasonal produce and of course loved eating what they have grown. I think, interestingly, online suppliers will continue to be at the forefront, as buying trends shifted to online purchases over the last few months. We all know the positive effects of gardens and gardening on both our mental and physical wellbeing, and as we start to recover both fiscally and from a health perspective we need to continue to think about gardens and gardening in a positive way.
Mark you are the newly crowned Landscape Designer of The Year 2020 so congratulations on that. Is the award presented for a one-off design or a culmination of great designing?
It is based on my overall work, my ethics and understanding of garden design practices, my innovative approach to materials and plants and my belief in producing sustainable, environmental and healthy gardens.
You have been gardening from a wheelchair for 17 years now but having seen your garden you certainly have not let it stop you. I guessing gardening has been a sanctuary for your mind, soul and body in those years?
Absolutely. At the end of every day I go outside (sometimes during lunch), and being in the space surrounded by colour, texture, form and scent the stresses of the day seem to evaporate. Gardening changed my life both physically and mentally and every day I go out and thank the garden for making my life so full of wonderful memories.
Do you find gardens in the whole have become more accessible in the whole in the last 17 years? Or is there more still to be done?
Gardens still have a way to go. Don’t get me wrong, compared to 17 years ago we have come a long way, but there still needs to be a better understanding of disability and inclusive design both within the horticulture and broadcasting fields. More research needs to be carried out on material choices, plant selections, lighting and more in order to educate gardeners, contractors, developers, community groups, etc. Not many gardeners think about building regulations, but as a garden designer I have digested and practice inclusive design, but Part M of the regulations only focuses on the building and the approach to it. It needs to be expanded and cover all aspects of gardens and gardening.
Where did your passion for gardening start? As I know you had a successful career in publishing?
I used to follow my paternal grandfather around his vegetable garden. He taught me about sowing seeds, growing on, tying in climbers, etc and my grandmother was a floral arranger so she taught me about the use of colours, texture and shape. My maternal grandparents had a rose garden and my love-hate relationship for roses grew from there. I have always been arty and loved to draw and as a child used to paint landscapes, flowers and wildlife. When I became an editor and publisher in London I worked with many leading landscape architects, architects, gardeners and garden designers and having bought houses with gardens my love and fascination of gardening grew. So, it has always been with me, and my passion has just increased year on year.
Mark your marooned on a island in the middle of nowhere but luckily you have one book, one song and most importantly one packet of seeds with you what are your choices for your Desert Island Veg?
Book would have to be Piet Oudolf ‘Landscapes in Landscapes’. Song would be ‘It’s raining men’ because it’s so upbeat and reminds me of my student days. As for a Desert Island Veg I suppose Kale because it has loads of fibre, iron and vitamins. And can I sneak in a fruit as well? If so, raspberries or even a plum tree (for shade and fruit).
We are blessed in this country with many beautiful gardens, estates and areas to visit all around the country. Where would you recommend people to visit once if they get the chance? And why?
Great Dixter for me. Christopher Lloyd was a visionary when it came to plants and plant combinations. His love for colour and structure taught me a lot.
Mark do you have a favourite season of the year? And why?
I love every season for different reasons, but I love autumn. The smell of bonfires, the changing colour of leaves, the warmth from the sun, cobwebs and the time to plan for next year.
If I am right you were born with Spina Bifida, and were a active man in your younger years and unfortunately the car crash ultimately took that from you. But I think because of your unique situation you offer a great insight into designing gardens for able and disabled. How has this changed how you blend the two differing aspects together?
I suppose I have a unique perspective when it comes to designing gardens, because I know how spaces and planting should look from a standing and a seated position. The majority of my clients are not disabled, but approach every garden the same. Understand the clients needs and requirements, design a garden to match their brief and create an outdoor space for them to enjoy for years to come.
We have seen many great gardens you have designed for others but what’s your garden at home like? Is it sometimes hard to meld all the different demands and inspirations required of a garden in a harmonious way?
I love the process of creating gardens so that spaces flow into the next space. I have divided my own garden into separate zones. We have a 30m double herbaceous border, a herb garden, blue and yellow border, white borders, prairie border, peony, rose and hydrangea border, small orchard and lawn, and a long herbaceous border near to a pool overlooking the fields. There is also the composting area (8 bays and 2 leaf bays), a fruit cage and a double greenhouse. It was important to make the garden feel as if it had self-seeded from the surrounding Kent countryside, and each zone leads into the next.
Mark we all have plants that works for us and some that don’t! But what is your Plant Heaven/Plant Hell?
Plant Heaven would have to be Agastache. Plant Hell would be roses (even though I grow them as a nod to my grandparents).
Mark you write, present on TV, are active on social media and appear on the radio but which medium do you enjoy most? And which one do you feel delivers your message best?
I love them all, but enjoy TV the most. I think more could be done on TV to deliver my message, but social media is great for keeping people abreast of my life, my designs, disability awareness and more.
Your new book “Royal Gardens Of The World” is out soon I know you have been a avid reader of garden design and culture books for a long time but what was the thought process in creating this book? I imagine a fair amount of research went into it? Did you visit many of the gardens or whats left of them?
I really enjoy garden history and of course plants. After visiting Hampton Court, Highgrove and Castle of Mey I wondered whether a book on royal gardens would work. I researched over 950 historical characters, visited all of the gardens except Bali and Japan (but plan to do so very soon), met curators, head gardeners, historians and volunteers. It took a lot of planning, and I soon realised that the term ‘royal gardens’ covers a lot. So the book is not the best of, but my selection of gardens which I believe have played an important role in garden history, garden design and gardening. Some of the gardens belong to large palaces, while others are personal gardens, royal botanical gardens and more.
Apart from your own excellent books, what is the best garden book you have ever read or book that you would turn to if there is something you are not sure on.
This depends on what I need to check. I always have the RHS Botany for Gardeners and Latin for Gardeners close to hand, as well as Spon’s External Works and Landscape Price Book for the design business. For a good read I love The Wild Garden and the English Flower Garden by William Robinson.
Mark, The Queen wants you to re design all the gardens of Windsor Castle to make them accessible to all with your unique eye for design and detail. The even better news is she has just unearthed a time machine in the vaults of Windsor Castle! So, she has said you can borrow it and chose three people from any time in history to help you? So, Mark who is going to be on your Garden Dream Team? And what might be some of the features you will introduce?
This is a great question. For planting I would either like to go back and invite William Robinson or more contemporary Piet Ouldolf or Noel Kingsbury. Electress Sophie at Herrenhausen or Peter the Great from Russia for their forward-thinking ideas, and Luigi Vanvitelli, Andre Le Notre and Andre Mollet for design principles. I would also like to throw in Henry Moore, the sculptor, and Leonardo da Vinci.
Fully accessible pathways to all areas, signage in braille and audio documentary, clear lines of sight, sweeping borders, sculpture, water features and the art of perspective
With all this attention working for The Queen you are in demand but what show will it be Strictly Come Dancing, Dancing on Ice, Great British Sowing Bee, SAS Who Dares Wins or Bake Off?
I would love to get in shape, so perhaps SAS: Who Dares Wins, but I also love to bake and eat cake so Bake Off would be a very close second.
Many have started to notice the little things in nature that are often drowned out in these quiet last few months, what have you noticed more of? And what do you hope that we can do to try to hang onto these moments or make them the new normal?
Literally the silence. In our busy chaotic lives we don’t take enough time out and sit quietly. I think we should hang on to this and make time for ourselves.
Finally whats the future hold for Mark, are there any projects you would like to get off the ground or tasks you would like to undertake?
The next big task is getting the book turned into a TV series. I would also like to do more writing, so perhaps another book in the not too distant future. Currently I have projects as far as Scarborough and Plymouth (we’re in Kent), so these keep me busy too.
Thank you for joining us On the Grapevine and we hope you have enjoyed yourself
You can follow mark on Twitter @MarkLaneTV on Instagram marklanetv and on Facebook
You can find out more about him and his design work at www.marklane.tv and www.marklanedesigns.com
He appears regularly on TV and Radio and The QVC Channel where he distils his knowledge to many.