Becoming a Garden Designer: Projects from the Learning with Experts Garden Design Diploma

By Jemima Armfield

Ane is a student of the Learning with Experts Garden Design Diploma. Find out how she used these courses to kick-start her career in garden design.

Ane is 48 years old and lives on a farm in Vipperød, Denmark. In summer 2021, she came out as garden designer and launched her very own company Hoffmeyer Havedesign.

Ane works with private gardens, not to impress but to enjoy. Her work is focused on being environmentally conscious and wildlife friendly, using coherent design and interesting plants chosen thoughtfully.

We got in touch with Ane to find out a bit more about her journey into the world of garden design, and to find out how her Learning with Experts courses helped her get to where she is now.

I feel privileged to study with Learning with Experts. I believe my studying with LwE will be a great help in reshaping my career from designer and veg grower to garden designer. I can study whenever my work and family life allows me to. On a level that suits me and in a pace that I decide. I have no opportunities to take classes in these fields where I live, and I definately would have no chance studying with experts like this if it wasn't for the internet and Learning with Experts. - Ane

Ane H - Student of the Learning with Experts Garden Design Diploma

What did you do before setting up your own business?

I am educated a designer (Danish School Of Design, textile and fashion design, 2006), but for seven years I have been working as a farmer, manager, hostess and writer on a self-sustainable and organic farm with it's own restaurant. My husband, who is a chef, and I grew fruit, soft fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers and kept sheep, pigs, ducks, chickens and bees, all to supply our restaurant, and our family.

When did you decide to begin your career in garden design?

Two years ago I stopped working at our farm/restaurant to study full time for a new career in garden design. Even though textile and fashion is far from gardens and plants I think of my five year design school training as a solid foundation for any design work. What I study now is building on that, my experience from farming and gardening and my general obsession with gardens and plants. This has been my very own garden design education.

Which Learning with Experts courses have you taken?

In 2020 I pased the first four exams of the RHS Qualifications 2 after taking the RHS Level 2 course. I have also been working my way through the Learning with Experts Garden Design Diploma, where I have read a lot and attended a lot of webinars. It is such a joy to study again but now I start to do projects that will become actual real life gardens, and that is even more exciting.

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The Garden Design Diploma

I am still working my way through these 11 courses and hope to complete the diploma this winter.

When I started the Introduction to Garden Design course with Hilary Thomas I had no idea how to approach a garden design project. All in all I think it was a good foundation and a good kick start. And the garden plans I made, following Hilary’s strict guiding, was so neat and made the projects look sharp even if I was green.

Ane's assignment for Introduction to Garden Design

Design & Create Your Dream Country Garden

I took Tom Stuart Smith’s course while working on real gardens, and my sister and brother-in-law are very proud to have the only Stuart-Smith garden in Denmark. They don’t, but I designed their garden under his supervision, it was my case for the whole course, which made the course even more interesting and relevant.

An analysis of routes through the courtyard for Tom Stuart-Smith's Design & Create Your Dream Country Garden course

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Designing Small Gardens

The same goes for our own courtyard garden here where I live, that I designed on Annie’s course on designing small gardens.

To get an idea of space, I tried to 'draw' the plan 1:1 in the courtyard with bamboo sticks.

Here is a before and after shot of Ane's garden.

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A sneak peek at Ane's assignment for lesson 3: Growing Grasses with Michael King

For this lesson on Growing Grasses, Michael asks that students imagine a circular traffic island where two roads cross. The roundabout is 10 meters/35 feet across i.e.. approximately an area of 78 square meters or 106 square yards. Your task is to design a planting scheme, including some ornamental grasses.

Ane's assignment

My roundabout island is very well drained; rocky and gritty, and drought tolerant plants are scattered. Some places densely, but often sparsely to try and mimic how wild plants grow where conditions are dry and hot.

I have arranged a planting scheme around a specimen tree (Pinus torreyana). A tree I think you would have to find and collect in nature.

The grasses I have chosen have many similarities, they are all blue-green fx. I hope they will give the impression of a varied landscape with variations on the drought-tolerant grass:

Companion plants:

Feedback from Michael King (tutor):

Dear Ane, You have created a design with a strong dry landscape feel. This imposes a constraint upon your layout and plant choices which I feel fits very well with the difficult conditions to be found on such a traffic island site: dry, open, no means of irrigation and probably poor maintenance.

Your design is asymmetrical which gives it orientation that is good for recognition by regular users and importantly the views across the site are not seriously blocked. Pines are a good choice. As far as the different grasses goes I cannot criticise your choices. If it was me I would have second thoughts about using Leymus as it is such an aggressive spreader.

Having said this, it is in the one place where it can do little harm an could be dug out if it became too much. Festuca glauca is a small plant and they only grow well where they can find moisture deep down in the ground. Often they don’t grow well. I would use a larger similar grass such as Heictotrichon sempervirens or Fesuca mairei instead. A good tough design for a tough site. Would you design the same scheme for a city centre location as perhaps somewhere in open countryside?

Reply from Ane:

Dear Michael, Thank you very much. No I don't think I would use a pine that was shaped by wind in the city. I like urban planting designs that give us a piece of nature, but of course this will always be man-made and therefore fake nature in its origin. And I think this coastal roundaout would look a bit fake in the city.

Hmm don't know. I like to work with the balance between copying or remaking nature, and then the interpretation of nature. Nature made for people by people. I have made a garden about that in my last assignment, but I still have problems with some plants.. I would really like to find a deciduous shade-loving grass. Even better if it looks a bit wild and not exotic. Can you help me? All the best, Ane

Reply from Michael King (tutor):

Dear Ane, Deciduous grasses for shade? I guess you would consider Hakenochloa too tidy, but it does do well in shade. There are no really good large grasses for shade but Chasmanthium latifolium is upright and when grown in shade its vase-shaped clumps open up and look less formal.

Other grasses for shade will include the various forms and species of Mellica. In shade there are dozens of good sedges (Carex sp.). Only a few are offered by nurseries; I trial different ones from seed each year. However, most are evergreen. What about Carex muskingumensis it is informal, medium height, but semi-evergreen with me. Hope this helps? Michael

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Why not join Ane on The Garden Design Diploma and learn from some of the best respected garden designers in the industry? Tutors include Piet Oudolf, Noel Kingsbury, Annie Guilfoyle, Andy McIndoe, Michael King, Tom Stuart-Smith, Chris Beardhsaw & more! Book today, start at any time.

Jemima Armfield

Digital marketing manager, content creator and head of tutor relations, I'm here to make sure everyone is getting the support they need throughout their studies at Learning with Experts.

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