Everything in miNiATURE

A fabulous exhibition of teeny tiny gardens created by big name designers

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

Pictures: Mark Barrs

One of the most limiting factors for any designer is that most unavoidable of complications, the client. The client, understandably I suppose, has views and opinions. In most cases this is a good thing and is part of the process of making a garden but what sort of garden would the designer create if there were no restraints?

No client, no budget, no inconvenient access problems, no rain, no mud, no health and safety in fact, nothing at all to clutter the imagination. miNiATURE is a unique exhibition that allows just that.

Ten leading designers from across the world have been invited to design a Chelsea Flower show size garden (11m x 22m) that have been realised on a scale of 1:50 using a combination of 3D printing and traditional model making skills.

Part 21st Century high tech whizziness, part sitting around the kitchen table as a child sticking things together.

It is showing at the Strand Gallery from Thursday 6th until Saturday 8th March. But if you miss it, never fear as it resurfaces in Japan for the Gardening World Cup with additional visits to the Netherlands, Sweden and the RHS London Show in the autumn. The plan is to add extra gardens for each show so there will always be something new to see.

Creek end

by John Brookes sponsored by Marshalls

Each designer initially drew their plans using Vectorworks or Sketchup but a fair bit of extra preparation was needed before the designs could be fed into the machine. 3D printing is still a magic process to most of us – although that is likely to change very quickly as it slips into the mainstream – and this is the first time it will have been seen in this context.

This garden is designed by the great John Brookes – one of the first people to ever turn domestic garden design into a way of life. John’s garden is based on reality as it is for a property in the USA which was finished about three years ago. A kinked rill runs from the house to a very elegant sunken pond.

John has been designing gardens for a terrifyingly long time and is firmly embedded in the world of the pencil as he cheerfully admits, “I think you could say that I am not computer orientated!”.

That said the idea of making models of gardens so that both designer and client can fully appreciate how the space will work in three dimensions is not an old one. Artists and architects have been making maquettes for centuries. This is just another way.


by Jo Thompson sponsored by The Outdoor Room

My grandfather had an expression for when he thought that anything went. “Liberty Hall” he would cry and us children would descend upon the chocolates/pancakes/strawberries/whatever with no thought for the consequences.

If you take the principle behind the idea to be one of Liberty Hall then Jo Thompson has run faster with this idea than John and has allowed lots of movement and fantastical sculpture to populate her garden. Imagine the number of hours that structural engineers will need to spend head scratching while they work out how to make that sculpture/viewing platform stand up?

Still, in spite of the technology the inspiration is still quite traditional. It is flamboyant and theatrical with nods to the Late Baroque. Lots of rich, slightly decadent, colours resound around the garden; amber, mulberry, pinks and blue.

I always like Jo’s gardens (her first, Best in Show winning, Chelsea garden was unforgettable) and she is always winning awards. She is particularly good at winning best newcomer and best up and coming designer awards which is very encouraging for those of us who share her vintage.


By Jim Fogarty sponsored by Landform Consultants

Jim Fogarty comes from Melbourne where he runs a thriving international practice which has won twelve gold medals from shows around the world. British gardeners will remember him from his Gold Medal winning Chelsea Flower Show garden in 2011.

His exhibition garden tells the story of the relationship between humankind and the Australian coastline. Over 80% of Australians live within an easy camper van’s drive of the sea – unsurprisingly as the vast Australian interior is a pretty hostile place to hang out – but this means a lot of demand for housing and pressure on the natural ecosystem.

A house with a view is all very well but is it worth it at the expense of something that has taken millions of years to evolve? The stripey line symbolizes the flapping of multi-coloured beach towels in the wind and the bubble structure a water molecule under pressure.

Nice garden but I would really have liked to see something a bit wilder: this is an excuse for a bit of unrestrained craziness and it looks a little too much like a conventional show garden. It may be that the technology is still a bit baffling.

Haute couture

by Sarah Eberle sponsored by Neale Richards Ltd

Sarah Eberle has done loads of show gardens around the world: a more exciting use of her training in landscape Architecture than “dealing with dysfunctional car parks”.

Sarah’s garden is designed for a fashion house with a permanent raised catwalk – for those times when strutting is required – surrounded by a quirky garden. There will be encapsulated fabric walls and supports full of shoes. There will be a glass sided building on three sides of the garden to hold an audience (one would hate to think of the assembled fashionistas getting rained upon) and to give great garden views.

Those tall funnels that look like ear trumpets are not just sculptures but rain catchers – allowing water to be stored for irrigation.

This is still a garden that is adhering to quite strict show garden parameters but she is having fun here. Sensible show garden designers always make models anyway to see exactly how things are going to look to a visitor. Sarah is no exception “I see them as a hugely under used design tool. Nop doubt, however, when I see it I will want to make changes to the detail and may be found secretly adding or taking away pieces when nobody is looking!”.

If visiting the show, watch out for Eberle and her sneaky ways!

Andrew, Kajsa and Tom get plotting.

The idea was hatched in the minds of designers Andrew Fisher Tomlin, Tom Harfleet and Kajsa Bjorne.

“We worked very closely on a show garden in Australia and, whenever Tom and I are together, ideas seem to flow and we emerge from one project with a plan for the next one” remembers Andrew. It began with a discussion about 3D printing and then to childhoods spent making Airfix models and chiseling balsa wood into bits of fuselage. Andrew is also a sucker for a model village.

miNiATURE is sponsored by Hobs3D, London College of Garden Design and Marshalls.

A world of 21st century stone

By Adam Frost sponsored by The Outdoor Room

Adam Frost is well known to Chelsea visitors and also to regular watchers of the One Show where his antics with the great Christine Walkden are always entertaining.

This year they will again be mentoring the winner of the One Show/Hampton Court Flower Show competition. This is an urban garden overlooked by a shelter and viewing point at one end, water bubbling away and a grid of planting and sitting areas. I particularly like the three big trees and the kick in the concrete path. Nice line.

Adam strikes me as a man who is no stranger to the model Spitfire :”It’s a long way from building miniature gardens in a tray with my nan!”, he says. Actually it isn’t really: there may not be so much glue spilt or fiddly axles that need painting but the principle is still the same. Just a little bit more grown up.

Wilson McWilliam Studio

This is the garden in the exhibition that embraces the idea most completely.

It is a fantasy garden with balanced boulders, deep tree filled crevasses and viewing platforms that would send even such experienced adventurers as Ranulph Fiennes or Sherpa Tenzing into a flurry of vertigo and cold sweats. I noticed than one of the figures was very definitely of pensionable age (only a little bit older than the designer) and really should not have been allowed that close to the edge of an abyss.

This is the designer’s imagination taking flight without any thought of convention or practicality. Just what we needed.

It is designed by Andrew Wilson and Gavin McWilliam (who you will see again at Chelsea Flower Show this year) and is called “To die for”. The theme of the garden about danger and the rush of adrenalin - something more usually associated with bungee jumping and skeleton bob racing than gardening.