Garden Design Ideas That Work 

with Elliot Forsyth, Noel Kingsbury, and Annie Guilfoyle

A 3-part lecture series in partnership with Garden Master Class
Class 1: Reimagining the Mixed Border, Noel Kingsbury

The “mixed border” is arguably the unsung hero of planting design. Combining small trees, shrubs, perennials, climbers, bulbs, and even annuals has long been the mainstay of many of the best gardens in the world. A mixed border design provides the best opportunity for a long season of interest, and research has shown that it offers the best opportunities for supporting biodiversity, too. In this class we’ll look at the different elements of this blended style and how they can be brought together. Additionally, we’ll discuss layered plantings (in both a structural and seasonal sense) using a woodland edge habitat as a natural case study to reveal why this approach works both visually and ecologically. This planting method satisfies the love many gardeners have for truly making the most of plant diversity close to home.

Class 2: The Herbaceous Design Process: Conception, Production and Refinement, Elliot Forsyth

Take an in-depth look at how to design, plan, lay out, and finesse perennial plantings. Your instructor, Elliot Forsyth, is known internationally for his skillfully designed and maintained perennial and seasonal plantings throughout Scotland and beyond. Here, he’ll explain how to use a sense of place to unpack a framework of design fundamentals and what the critical aspects are when formulating a planting plan. Elliott discusses the importance of a clear theme and demonstrates the method he employs to create it. Using specific examples, he takes you through a step-by-step process: exploring plant selection, combining plants effectively, and planning, laying out, and refining perennial plantings. This course will teach you how to create a concise and masterful exposition, using a detailed yet approachable process.

Class 3: Planting the Smaller Urban Garden, Annie Guilfoyle

Planting smaller, urban gardens can sometimes be a really challenging and somewhat daunting task. What should you include and what is OK to leave out when space is very limited? In this class, award-winning designer and RHS Chelsea Flower Show Silver Medal winner Annie Guilfoyle will focus on the best way to research and select plants that will work in the smaller spaces while offering as much interest as possible. She’ll outline the importance of seasonal interest and offer concrete how-to advice, especially when designing front-facing gardens. Additionally, Annie will address often overlooked aspects in small-space gardening, like the inclusion of bulbs, which are a great way of packing interest into urban pocket gardens. And finally, you will get a tutorial on designing and drawing up a planting plan.

Meet Your Instructors

Noel Kingsbury is internationally known as an innovator, writer, and teacher in the fields of gardening and planting design. His book New Perennial Garden, published in 1994, helped launch the current wave of interest in naturalistic planting design. He undertook a research doctorate in 2007 with the Landscape Department at Sheffield University on the long-term performance of perennials, a research field he has continued with, along with a series of workshops to disseminate the findings to gardeners the world over. 

Noel has published around 25 books, including four with Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf. His other works are wide-ranging and include a history of agricultural crop breeding and a collected volume on the culture and politics of gardening. Central to Noel’s work is his great interest in finding innovative ways to present horticultural information—hence his collaboration with Annie Guilfoyle in creating Garden Masterclass ( as a global education portal. After having gardened in the west of England for many years, he is currently making an experimental low-irrigation garden in Portugal. 

Elliott Forsyth is an experienced and creative horticulturist who specializes in naturalistic perennial design. He trained at the RHS Wisley, the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, and SAC Auchincruive. He has been a head gardener for the last 25 years and is the recipient of an award from the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society. Elliott is best known for his work at Cambo Gardens in the UK, where together with his teams he developed it to become one of Scotland’s best loved and most innovative gardens. During this time, he developed refined design and maintenance methodologies which he used to train gardening students and inform his own practice. For the past three years he has been head gardener at Aldourie Castle, a Tom Stuart-Smith garden on the banks of Loch Ness, where he works for the Wildland Group overseeing horticulture in their many properties. 

His approach is centered around the juncture of art, ecology, plantsmanship, maintenance, and education. He has been deeply influenced by his wife, who is an art teacher and landscape painter. Elliott has been making naturalistic plantings for the last 25 years. His work has appeared on television, in books, and in numerous magazines.

Annie Guilfoyle is an award-winning designer and an RHS Chelsea Flower Show Silver Medal winner. After studying horticulture at Capel Manor College in Enfield, Middlesex, she earned a BA Honours Degree in garden design from Middlesex University. Annie combines running a successful garden design consultancy with lecturing and writing on the subject. Annie’s design work has featured on several television programs, including Small Town Gardens on the BBC.

For 18 years Annie was the director of garden design at KLC School of Design at Hampton Court Palace, Surrey, where she was instrumental in establishing the highly acclaimed garden design courses. Many of Annie’s students have gone on to become award-winning designers.

As garden course consultant at West Dean College near Chichester, West Sussex, Annie is responsible for the development of the educational program and has developed an educational allotment where students can learn about growing food. Annie also teaches a monthly course called The Art and Craft of Garden Design at Great Dixter House and Gardens.

Garden Design Ideas that Work 

with Elliot Forsyth, Noel Kingsbury, and Annie Guilfoyle