Q&A: Ben Harris of Ben Harris Gardens
This year’s Boutique Gardens demonstrated that size doesn’t need to stand in the way of creativity in landscape design. We spoke to Ben Harris of Ben Harris Gardens, who took out 1st Place with his design “Calming Waters”
Tell us about the garden you designed for the Boutique Gardens competition.
The concept evolved as a bunch of ideas that came together as one. I wanted the garden to be calming; for people to be able to take a moment out of their busy lives, and simply relax. I think nature has the ability to do that, particularly when you incorporate water.
It was then a matter of choosing what type of garden that would be. I deliberately chose not to do a Japanese garden, and instead decided that I wanted to create a green forest.
How did you select your plants?
Looking at the Warners plant list, I recognised a lot of woodland plants, and so that became the starting point. Central to the design was the water feature, surrounded by a beautiful Silver Birch forest. I selected Hostas because they’re an interesting plant, and I had seen them used extensively when I visited Chicago for a water feature conference. There were Hostas everywhere – it’s kind of their ‘go-to’ plant – so I wanted to integrate them into the design. It just kept on going from there.
Is ‘Calming Waters’ typical of the style of garden you do?
I do tend to design and construct a lot of natural gardens. They’re not necessarily woodland style gardens – I do a lot of native gardens, Japanese gardens, cottage gardens – but they’re definitely rustic in style. I like working with lots of plants and water features, and I like the feel of my gardens to be relaxed and calming.
What did you find most challenging about the Boutique Gardens competition?
The process of building the garden went pretty smoothly. I did a display garden at the Horticultural and Gardening Expo last year which was a bit of a practice run for MIFGS in that it helped us to work out the logistics of building a garden with a water feature when you can’t dig.
One of the greatest worries I had when I designed ‘Calming Waters’ was being able to create that sense of scale. The site is a small one, and the pergola I had designed was sitting quite high off the ground. My worry was that the Silver Birches wouldn’t be tall enough…it simply wouldn’t have looked right. But when I saw the trees at Warners in January, they were huge, and I knew it would be fine.
What’s next for Ben Harris Gardens?
Being at MIFGS has definitely given me more exposure. I’ve fielded a number of enquiries about possible projects, as well as some potential media opportunities. It also allowed me to strengthen my network with other landscapers, which may lead to something in the future.
I’d also like to do another garden at MIFGS down the track – maybe something bigger. It’s just a matter of timing.