Young designer who’s sure to be a growing sensation

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Western Morning News – Janet King – 21 August 2010

Using the word “talented” to describe a young person on the threshold of a promising career is not to be taken lightly. Most youngsters show signs of talent, but whether that ever reaches its potential remains to be seen.

It would be churlish, however, not to describe young landscape garden designer Hugo Bugg as such. A graduate of University College Falmouth’s increasingly prestigious garden design course, he is, at 23, the Royal Horticultural Society’s current Young Designer of the Year.

And, at the same time as winning the accolade at the RHS Flower Show at Tatton Park last month, he also took the Best in Show crown there as well. To misquote Lady Bracknell: “To win one award may be regarded as fortunate. To win two looks suspiciously like talent.”

Well, it does to the Royal Horticultural Society, anyway – and they should know. Bob Sweet, RHS shows organiser, described Hugo’s achievement as “phenomenal” and described him as “a truly worthy winner”.

Hugo himself remained admirably modest amid all the praise. “I entered the competition to win it, but am still amazed that I’ve gone on to take the title of Young Designer and beaten off such amazing competition,” he said.

“I couldn’t have succeeded without all the help I received from my friends James and Dhundi from Himalayan Landscaping, who threw themselves into bringing the garden to life as much as I did. Winning Best in Show on top is something I couldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams and it’s going to take a while for it to sink in.”

When I meet Hugo, he is hard at work on a project for private clients, in the village of Seavington St Mary, near Ilminster, Somerset. Actually, they are two of his old art teachers, from The Woodroffe School, Lyme Regis. These days, Hugo is based in Cornwall, but his parents still live in Devon, in the house he grew up in, between Axminster and Lyme.

He comes from quite an artistic background. His father used to be an art teacher (he now works as a schools adviser for Dorset County Council) while his mother is a retired PE teacher who loves her gardening. His uncle is the artist Laurence Dingley, who recently exhibited at the Institute Hall in Rock, North Cornwall.

Hugo grew up surrounded by countryside, and if he hadn’t become a gardener, he thought he might like to farm. But, when he was little, his parents bought a cottage from his grandfather, pulled it down and rebuilt it, completely clearing its surrounding three acres and creating a beautiful garden with lawn tennis court. Hugo loved helping his father clear the land; he was bitten by the gardening bug.

“When we first moved in it was a wilderness of woodland and scrubland,” he recalls. “We cleared it all by hand – it took years before we were finally able to move in. But it was a magical experience, seeing the garden take shape. I loved it.”

Hugo says he is not inspired by any particular style of garden, although he cites one of Chelsea’s most successful designers, Tom Stuart-Smith, among his favourites.

“I try to take inspiration from lots of different gardens, and draw on elements of the materials they use. Studying at Falmouth was great, because it is a multi-art-discipline college. I liked jumping between all of them, getting inspiration from textiles, architecture, product design…”

At college – where he was voted Student Garden Designer of the Year 2008, by the Society of Garden Designers – he met fellow student Maren Hallenga, who had herself won the same award the year before.

On graduating in 2008, both with first-class honours, the pair set up their own company, Hallenga and Bugg Landscape Design, aiming to create “innovative and captivating landscapes”. They brought a young, fresh and dynamic approach to their work, promising clients “a combination of creativity, conceptualism and flair”.

Hugo and Maren, who is originally from Germany, kick-started their careers together, working on a £22 million lottery-funded project in Pool, near Redruth, in Cornwall, called Heartlands. This community-led vision to transform Cornwall’s most derelict urban area into a cultural landscape aimed to help Pool to be “a great place to live, work and play”.

The pair’s first show garden was called Narratives of Nature, at the Future Gardens 09 festival (phase one of the Butterfly World Project in St Alban’s, launched by Sir David Attenborough and David Bellamy). They bisected the whole space with a huge log wall, with steel circles making porthole views through it. Birch trees created dappled sunshine, ponds full of old cutlery shimmered in the light, and bees buzzed lazily. It was a vision of a greener future.

Sadly, however, just as their business seemed to be taking off, Maren’s twin sister, Kristin, was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer. She set up an awareness campaign, called CoppaFeel ( aimed at young people, and also won a Pride of Britain award. Maren decided to step back from her gardening commitments, and is now devoting her time to help Kristin and her cause.

“I would very much like to do a show garden for CoppaFeel,” says Hugo, as we sit in the garden at Seavington St Mary. “I’d love to do one at Chelsea, but will probably start off with one at Hampton Court, either this year or next. The charity is aimed at young people, so, as I’m the current Young Designer of the Year, I’d like to join forces and create a young show garden.”

It was Hugo’s show garden for the RHS Tatton Park Flower Show which won him his individual recognition, and the title of RHS Young Designer of the Year, as well as winning Best in Show, pipping more experienced designers to the post.

The Albert Dock Garden was Hugo’s masterpiece – to date. After a national selection process overseen by an RHS panel, he pitted his talents against three finalists, who were each briefed to reflect an aspect of the North West of England. Hugo’s garden took on a challenging interpretation of Liverpool’s Albert Dock, exploring the juxtaposition of horticulture and architecture, playing homage to the Grade I-listed buildings, by using the same construction materials.

Bob Sweet, RHS shows organiser, explained: “The judges considered the constructive detail of the garden, including the choice of materials, to be exceptional.

“Hugo has very cleverly delivered a garden that is both intimate, but also has a very useable space. The garden is perfectly enclosed by the horizontally trained Hornbeams and the use of Silver Birch. The choice of white- flowering plants contrasts beautifully against the red brick colour.”

What the judges really liked was that the Albert Dock Garden acknowledged the role of Liverpool’s Albert Dock in bringing prosperity, growth and power to the UK. “The garden represents change, ingenuity and innovation through its use of materials and layout, much like the dock when it was first conceived in the 19th century,” they said.

They also said the layout of the walls, planting and pleached trees created “a fascinating garden that can be viewed from all aspects”.

Now, with his own company, Hugo Bugg Landscapes, Hugo’s plan is to rapidly build up a portfolio of gardens, develop his business – and win gold at Chelsea. “I want to be the first Young Designer of the Year to win gold at Chelsea for my own large Show Garden,” he says.

He is already signed up to help with the Laurent-Perrier Garden at Chelsea in 2011. But, if he could find a sponsor of his own, he would really like to have his own show garden there next year – any potential sponsor would need to contact him by the end of September. But it won’t be cheap. “For a large show garden I’d need £100k-£300k, but I wouldn’t mind doing a smaller one.” The price? A mere £50k-£100k.

He’s also looking for large private schemes, projects coming in at around £100k. “I want a range of projects, but lots of scope, and without budgets too restrictive in terms of materials used… I want to be artistic and creative,” he says. “I always make sure that my gardens and show gardens have a really strong context and background … it’s my reason for doing them. A lot of show gardens are lovely and pretty – you can’t fault them – but they’re just a courtyard garden. I like to add more.”

When he left college, Hugo received a grant from Unlocking Cornish Potential – a scheme which aims to keep students in Cornwall after graduating, helping them set up their own businesses. “They give you a year of support and mentoring, and a grant as well, it’s a fantastic scheme,” he says.

But, wherever he’s eventually based, Hugo knows he wants to take on national projects, even international ones.

In the meantime, his award-winning garden at Tatton is being rebuilt at a school in Purbeck, and he has the garden surrounding an old barn conversion at Seavington St Mary to finish. Get in soon, before the rush.