Student Case Studies

Our graduates come from many walks of life: some have worked in an allied field such as horticulture, architecture or graphical design: others are taking a completely new path far from their ‘first’ career: some are returning after a career break. One thing everyone shares is the same passion to work within the extraordinary and vibrant discipline of garden design. Be inspired by their journeys and vision for their futures......

Christine Fowler

Having worked in the IT and Management Consultancy industries for nearly 30 years, I knew I needed a complete career
change if the rest of my working life was to be happy and fulfilled… but what to do?

In 1996 I decided to set myself the challenge of redesigning my South London town house garden – and quickly discovered it was much harder than I’d first thought! So I called in a qualified designer and was soon bowled over by her ideas and plans. In subsequent months I sat and watched my garden transform before my eyes, and then it hit me – I knew what my next career should be – I wanted to be garden designer.

The Taster Day really set Garden Design School head-and-shoulders above other diploma courses. I knew I would respond to the practical curriculum and intensive education provided by inspiratinal tutors. The course was brilliant, exceeding all my expectations and I finished in the summer of 2008 feeling confident that I was ready, and able to start my own garden design business.

For the last 4 years my business has been thriving. I’m based in Wimbledon, so the majority of the gardens I design are local and relatively small. My current projects fall into one of 3 categories; Family Gardens, Wildlife Gardens or Terraced Gardens. I am slowly getting involved in challenging, larger projects and plan to target Surrey in future marketing efforts, in the hope that I continue to learn, inspire and delight in a diverse range of projects.

I’ve come a long way from that first day of my diploma course when I couldn’t even fill the pen with ink, let alone draw! I have found a vocation that I love, and often think back to my time at Painshill Park, with very happy memories.

To find out more about Christine F and her consultancy work visit

christine fowler


Phil Stovell

Having worked in the design industry for more than 20 years managing various roles, I found myself rather disillusioned and thirsty for a new direction in life. I decided then to take a break and embarked on a few months of DIY.

It was during the construction of my patio that it occurred to me that I relished working outdoors and felt a real appreciation for the garden I was creating. This was the moment I first considered Garden Design, it made perfect sense to utilise my core skills in an entirely new field of expertise. I had the creative drive and design was always going to be a big part of my life, so learning a fresh and new way to design filled me with a hunger to start immediately.

Knowing also I wanted to set up my own business, I had to make an informed and considered decision choosing the right course that would give me the qualification and vocational skills necessary. Garden Design School came up on my searches time after time with notable high praise, together with the credentials that Robin and Moira provide, made my decision very easy.

From the very outset, I found the course incredibly rewarding, interesting and fun. Every week was packed
with remarkable knowledge and direction that continues to build and provides you with the confidence to complete the course in an accomplished manner to a very high standard.

This course was for me, perfect for obtaining everything I needed to start up my own garden design business.

I am now in my third year of trading and enjoying every minute. My recent projects include a large family garden in Hampshire, a steeply terraced garden in Oxfordshire, a ‘fruitful’ garden in the Cotswolds and commissioned work with the RHS providing plans and sketches linked to some of the Chelsea show gardens.

phil stovell

Tamsin Varley

I studied at Garden Design School in 2007 just before relocating to Portugal. My first task there was to redesign my own
garden, which was laid mainly to lawn and very boring and I have spent the last two and half years doing just that. Now all the major works are completed but I still have plans for some “wilder” areas away from the house, creating some more remote sitting areas and building a tree house! There is also a large area of land below the house I have planted some olive trees with wild flowers. My biggest challenge was learning the plants suitable for the climate and also working with a very limited choice of materials and styles. Challenging at times, but encourages me to think ‘outside the box’

I love it that visitors gasp in amazement at our garden and we now have a reputation for having a superb garden - so much so, that we are beginning to get requests from people to come and visit and get ideas.  I also write articles for local newspapers and magazines on gardening, plants and a tour I did of some gardens around Lisbon in 2009. I am really enjoying the journalistic side of gardening as well as designing and getting my hands dirty!

Tamsin Varley

Bruce Dorey


Having studied the at Garden Design School for the Diploma in 2004/2005, I had to leave the course one week early to move to Southern Spain with my family and all our possessions, to a small mountain village about 45 minutes inland from Marbella and the Costa del Sol. With a dilapidated village house to refurbish and hardly being able to speak a word of Spanish I had I a lot to do! Especially as I also needed to earn money and as yet had not had my first garden design client.

Six years on and after much adventure, I have established my business there, and built up some really good contacts such as architects, project managers and estate agents. We have just returned to the UK for family reasons, but I continue to work in Spain, traveling back and forth every two or three weeks as I develop a new garden design business here in Devon for UK projects.

The challenges in Spain are very different with outdoor living being an integral part of the way of life, often involving the design of swimming pools and large architectural outdoor living spaces. The climate is harsh with scorching heat from May to October, baking the clay soils as hard as concrete, really limiting your plant selection. Finding good contractors, hard landscape materials and still working on the language have all added to the frustration at times but I very much enjoy all things Spanish and intend to continue working in both countries. It exposes me to a different climate and culture and the projects ensure that my portfolio remains fresh and exciting...

bruce dorey

Gillian Sandham

As a passionate gardener I had long intended to take a course in garden design - but for my own interest, not with intention of setting up my own business. Training at the Garden Design School changed all that, and, not knowing whether I was being completely foolhardy, in 2006 I gave up my teaching career and set myself up as a novice garden designer.

My first commissions were from personal recommendations but within a year the majority of enquiries were coming from the website, and these days constitute about 80% of new enquiries. I work mainly in London and the South East., and in Northern France, so my work varies between town gardens and rural locations.

Occasionally I work further afield, and little dreamed when I started out that I would be asked to help develop gardens in
places like Toronto, New York and Sydney. I think I am living proof that taking a course at the Garden Design School can lead to all kinds of undreamt of opportunities – so take the plunge!

gillian sandham