Working in the south of France for over 15 years, James Basson, B.A. Hons Garden Design, MSGD, and SCAPE DESIGN have established a reputation for creating low-maintenance gardens that mix modern design with traditional skills. Creating timeless, sustainable landscapes that are sympathetic to the natural environment, the firm use young plants that are compatible with the native climate and soil, requiring little, if any, irrigation.
Located in the south of France, near Monaco, SCAPE DESIGN’s brief was to design a garden for this prestigious villa. The clients specified a unified approach to the three individual properties on the site, while maintaining privacy for the interconnected spaces. They also required the garden to have no irrigation and very low maintenance.
SCAPE DESIGN planted over 500 different species, laid out in a matrix using bands of grey and green foliage. They paid attention to height, varying colours and a layout relevant to shade or sun, with year-round seasonal interest. The pool area in particular showcases the clean-cut simplicity of the space where the crisp edging of the paving contrasts with the complexity of the planting — mixing the feel of a natural landscape with contemporary design. Traditional techniques, including the dry stone walls, reflect the historical agricultural land use of the area, and ensure the end result is a garden completely in harmony with its surrounding landscape.
The garden is now on its way to being self-sustaining, an important part of SCAPE DESIGN’s philosophy. Throughout the build, local materials and craftsmen were used wherever possible.
James, what inspired you to start a career in landscape design?
A love of landscape and the interaction of nature in terms of hard materials, water in the landscape and of course plants!
What would you say your design trademark is?
Naturally inspired landscapes, that are sustainable and fit in harmony with their surroundings.
Did you have a love of gardens from an early age or did you grow into it? I’ve always loved the natural environment but don’t really like gardens!
What country have you been most inspired by for its gardens?
As above, I don’t really like gardens, but I do find Germany’s scientific research into sustainable ecological planting very inspiring, They have done several seeds mixes such as silbersomer that are amazing.
What country are you currently most inspired by?
I suppose that the landscape in which I live in the South of France is constantly inspiring me, especially as I drive and wander in around area.
What are you currently inspired by?
The natural landscape, the changing seasons and tonality that goes with them.
What has been your favourite project to date?
We were lucky enough to do a garden in Villefranche that had over 500 plant varieties. It was incredibly rare that we were able to create such diversity and a natural landscape that contrasted with the contemporary, clean lines of the hard landscaping and pool. The clients were wonderful and totally embraced the garden and it’s development.
How involved do your clients get involved in your projects?
We encourage our clients to get involved as much as possible in the design stage to make sure the end result is going to be something they are pleased with and they can take pride in. During the build they tend to stay away due to the noise of the works, although several enjoy helping out with the maintenance afterwards.
What has been your most challenging project to date?
A garden we did in Peille about 13 years ago. It was on a really tight budget and one that was planted almost entirely from seed. We sold it as a low-maintenance design but had slightly overseen the maintenance requirements until the plants had established and covered the ground. The clients were lawyers so it was a little bit scary but they are now very good friends and our most loyal supporters.
Which architects do you prefer to work with?
Anyone with a sustainable, like-minded approach that recognises the value of a garden within a project and not just chucking in lawn and palm trees.
What’s your garden like at home?
Hmmm, you know the expression ‘the cobblers children…’ it is a wild abandoned Mediterranean landscape that we strim once a year.
Which is your favourite season?
Winter. I love the tonality in colour that you get in a season that people think has none.
If you weren’t involved in landscape design, what do you think you would be doing?
Landscape painting, but not classical art!
What landscape design trends can you foresee?
A new baroque and a move away from the simplistic approach we have seen recently. Something more diverse and culturally rich; more woven and decorative landscapes.
What is your favourite public garden?
The Domaine du Rayol in Southern France.
Which garden do you wish was yours?
I moreso just wish I had the time to develop my own!
What’s the most important factor for you when designing a garden?
The surrounding landscape. It's absolutely imperative that the garden works with and is harmonious with it’s surroundings.
What are you currently working on?
Other than the Chelsea Flower Show, I have various projects on the go at home and overseas, all the while working on developing a methodology for planting design.
What future projects are in store?
We are speaking at the Australian Landscape Conference in Melbourne in September so that will be really exciting. We are also working on a book about the things we can learn from the landscape and apply to garden design.
How do you relax?
Spending time with the family, sailing, mountain biking and walking in nature.
What are your plans over the summer?
A family holiday in southern Ireland, competing in the fast net race double-handed with my father, and visiting clients that come for the summer.
SCAPE DESIGN; scapedesign.com