In 1984 my parents took me and my sister on a visit to the first, and still the only, International Garden Festival on the banks of the River Mersey, in my adopted home city of Liverpool, writes Pete Swift of Planit-IE.
There, for the first time, I and the millions that would follow saw gardens from across the globe – India; the Americas; the Netherlands; China and most notably, Japan. What I also saw for the very first time, beyond the ‘boring’ gardens of stately homes and The National Trust properties I had been dragged around to that date, was a landscape of epic scale and colour. I wanted more.
That series of visits played some part in my journey to becoming a landscape architect, but the next twist was perhaps more profound. In 1992, though a series of bizarre events best saved for my future memoirs, I ended up in Japan; Kyoto to be precise, the home of the Japanese Garden.
I was apprenticed to a ‘Mr Miyagi’ type character, a fifth generation garden maker and polymath of most of Japan’s finest arts. Through the setting of stones, the pruning of pine trees and the raking of gravel I learnt many lessons, but two prevail. The first was a renewed fascination with detail and how joyous the minute aspects can be. The second, and most important, was an alternative way to see the world around me. From the madness and magnitude of the Garden Festival, I had found a new home in a place where design is not complete until nothing further can be taken away.
Working at scale is what we, my practice and our team, do. Yes, we are landscape architects, urban designers, visualisers, graphic designers, but above all these, we are able to zoom in and out – looking at the world around us from the helicopter but also with the microscope.
When John Downes from Langtree invited me to look at the Garden Festival site some 25 years later, he knew not of the circle he was giving me the privilege of completing. From the epic vistas across the Mersey to the foliage of the Japanese Garden, perhaps that was the moment I knew that the tools for my job were, as architect Rem Koolhaus said, to be found in the small, medium, large and extra-large.