The SGD Awards

The SGD Awards 2016, at the Landmark Hotel, London , 27th January 2017

‘Do you go to the SGD Awards in London?’ asked Frank, the rep from Stonemarket, one of my paving stone suppliers, just before Christmas.

‘Never!’, I retorted. ‘Prise myself out of my wellies, scrub my grimy nails, buy a posh frock, go up to London on the train and pay for an expensive hotel and award dinner tickets, only to spend the evening grinning and clapping at people who are better and more successful designers than me, showing off their splendid commissions with handsome budgets, beautifully illustrated and professionally photographed, not bloody likely…’

Priming myself to continue my jealous and waspish rant, he interrupted my flow saying ‘Ah, that’s a pity, we have a spare ticket and a hotel room going begging and already paid for, would you like to come and join our table, you just have to get yourself up to London and join us at the hotel bar where we will be drinking lots of gin?’

‘Hell yeah’. I am easily swayed.

So checking the paper work and scoping the prospect by looking at photos of the awards last year, I realised that this was going to be Proper Posh Do, dress code lounge suit and cocktail dress. Dresses and I do not get on, so old comfy velvet trousers and vintage beaded velvet jacket was the gear of choice, with borrowed glitzy shoes and chandelier earrings. I even got my nails done, which hid the grime beautifully.

At the venue reception, the guests were offered magnetic name badges and later I noticed that many well-known designers did not wear theirs, perhaps considering themselves recognisable enough without. Still, I am prepared to think kindly of any event that commences with smart young waiters offering limitless glasses of Prosecco and regular top ups, so after the first three glasses, the rest of the evening took on a rosy glow with consequent reduction of critical faculties.

Delicious food was served, each course by 6 waiters to each table so everyone got their food at the same time. Elegantly presented salad of butternut squash with shitake mushroom and garlic mozzarella balls was followed by chicken on a bed of pea shoot risotto. Despite dark mutterings from some chaps (wot no roast potatoes?) we agreed that not being overstuffed left room for more wine, so after pudding the awards commenced.

The SGD awards are now in their fifth year and I have to say it was rather fun, Prosecco enhanced or not. The venue of the Landmark Hotel was most handsome, and Jo Swift did an excellent job compering the awards, bellowing down the length of the huge ballroom to silence the rabble at the back.

You must read the results of the awards to fully find out who won what. It all passed in a bit of a haze. Check out Stonemarket were sponsoring the Small Residential Award, for gardens with an area between 100 and 400 square metres. Loud cheers for Andy Sturgeon’s Riverside success!

Predictably the large budget garden categories were won by established practices, and of the 22 categories, only 4 designers were not based in London or the Home Counties. Cleve West once said at an SGD conference that he wished he had known that you ought to have a double barrelled name to succeed in garden design and indeed Arabella Lennox-Boyd approached the podium twice, awarded for Large Residential Garden and Planting Design at The Hermitage.

Andy Sturgeon won Small Residential and Medium Residential. What with designing high quality gardens, planning and building show gardens and bringing up three children, the rank and file solo designers at our table concluded that he must have an awful lot of back-up and assistance, which continues to elude us.

However jealous we were of the large projects, the likes of which afore-mentioned rank and file designers seldom get offered (more dark muttering round the table ‘it’s not quite like that at 22 Station Road) nevertheless there are plenty of award categories that any garden designer could enter. However, it transpired that the Big Ideas, Small Budget means that up to £30,000 is now considered Small Budget in garden construction terms (design fees not included), which caused more dark muttering.

It is clear that the majority of large projects are commissioned by owners in London and the South East to established designers there, where the money is.  Last time I looked at the SGD conference delegate list, over 60% of designers did not have far to travel. The women still have a way to progress. The SGD membership is about 60% female but they won only a third of the categories.

However, regardless of gender, experience or location, designers should not be discouraged from entering the SGD Awards, providing they go to the trouble of presenting their project well, for there are categories for students, roof gardens and small gardens, even gardens of less than 100 square metres. There was a Paper Garden category, for student projects and concepts that never actually got built and one for Garden Jewel for a space less than 100 square metres. There was one for Healing and Learning gardens.  I have never quite understood how you could fail to learn or heal in any decent domestic garden, but this non-domestic category is for a school, hospice or hospital garden.

It was delightful to see a video from the winner of the Community Garden award, the Breaker’s Yard in Hackney. It was one of the few presentations that showed people thoroughly enjoying themselves in their new space. Most pictures of gardens are shown absolutely empty, because clients prefer to remain anonymous and not advertise to the world that their recently renovated property is now worth burgling. Also it is not desirable to present one’s creation infested with drunken clients having a party and getting in the way of the lovely new landscaping, which is a pity. I would like to see more work with owners enjoying  the garden, for that is usually what gardens are for.

Following the awards, I shamelessly worked the room, saying hi to South West designers I knew, thanking Pip O’Brien for the best Designer Development Day to date, a quick hug with Jamie Butterworth, then sidled up to several of the winners to ingratiate myself by offering my congratulations. They were mostly blind with delight and engrossed with their cliques so I sidled away again. A few sweetly thanked me and some designers, who shall remain nameless, largely ignored me, prairie-dogging over the top of my head, on the look-out for better  prospects to talk to. It was not paranoia, others of our party reported being similarly blanked, however I am sure excitement and alcohol had a lot to answer for.

The crowds headed for the bar while we headed back to the hotel, for rather more huge gin and tonics than were strictly necessary. In the morning, feeling a lot better I deserved, we agreed that the evening had been a success. Would I go again? Yes, if I designed and presented a garden of sufficient merit to consider the trouble of entering, and if I was lucky enough to be short-listed. Yes, if I had a free ticket again and someone else paid for the gin and tonics, which I subsequently found out cost £13 each.  I was glad to get back to Somerset.