Forget expensive holidays, yoga and massages: according to Tony Woods, what you really need in your busy urban life is a garden. “Plants have a hugely calming effect,” says Woods, the Design and Operations director of urban landscaping company Garden Club. “Where better to escape to after a tube journey home than an outdoor extension of your home?”
Where indeed. But green spaces pay off at work, too. By investing in roof gardens and lush green courtyards for their staff, Garden Club’s commercial clients have seen a reduction in sick days and “natural interactivity via social media”. And the benefits don’t stop there. Gardens also create a sense of place, help prevent flash flooding, clean the air and reduce the urban heat island effect.
All very well if you have the space, I hear you say. But Woods specialises in turning even the most cramped balcony or patio into a jewel-like oasis. He’s even co-authored a book for the Royal Horticultural Society called Big Ideas, Small Spaces.
How does he do it? “Our philosophy is to start with a planting concept and work backwards form there,” says Woods. “It sounds crazy but getting the planting right and then dropping in the required hard landscaping is what makes our gardens truly special places.”
Woods set up Garden Club in 2012 after three years working as a project and operations manager for a landscape contracting company. A year later, at the age of 27, he won both a prestigious RHS Gold medal and the RHS Young Designer of the Year award — accolades that put him and Garden Club firmly on the horticultural map of London.
To date his company has completed over 120 projects, ranging from tiny back gardens to a pop-up on the rooftop of John Lewis on Oxford Street to installing “living walls” as the backdrop for the Guardian Environmental awards. He now employs 14 full time staff.
Our clients can come in and meet us in a professional environment that’s slightly more laid back — exactly on brand for our business
Tony Woods, Garden Club.
Garden Club moved into Workspace’s Chester House at Kennington Park in February 2014 before moving to a larger unit at Vox two years later. For Woods, Vox is the perfect combination of smart and relaxed. “Our clients can come in and meet us in a professional environment that’s slightly more laid back — exactly on brand for our business,” he says.
Initially Garden Club was self-funded but when Woods decided it was time to “push the button and grow” he sought finance from Funding Circle at Workspace’s suggestion. “The proposal was accepted within a day and we got the money in two weeks — far more efficient than going to a bank.”
Vox’s “close-knit community” has also provided a fertile environment for collaboration. After moving there, Woods managed to cover the rent for a few months just on word-of-mouth business from other customers. He also commissioned Spoke, a media company based on the floor above, to produce films documenting some projects and has recently appointed another Vox neighbour, Jory & Co, to redesign the company’s website.
The location also makes perfect sense. Vauxhall is within a wheelbarrow’s wobble of New Covent Garden market — crucial for his team’s early morning trips to buy plants and containers – while the nearby American Embassy quarter, part of the huge Nine Elms development taking shape between Vauxhall and Battersea Bridge, is teeming with prospective clients. “There’s so much potential there for roof garden design,” says Woods. “People are hitting Google and finding that we’re the closest urban landscapers to the embassy.”
What’s next for Garden Club? Expanding the residential business, which Woods hopes will
include “winning a few more awards and exhibiting at Chelsea in the future”, but also doing more work in the public realm off the back of a notable recent project.
In May, Garden Club completed London’s first floating “pocket park”, a privately funded one-of-a-kind project in 730m2 of public space at the head of the canal at Paddington Basin. It’s a series of decks and walkways, grassed areas and planting that floats independently on a pontoon system. The idea was to create a new public garden to connect the different communities of the area, and so far it’s been a huge success. “As soon as the sun shines the space is full,” says Woods.
So not only can gardens make people happier and calmer: now, thanks to Tony Woods, they can even float. Is there anything he can’t make them do?
If you’d like a whole community of neighbours like Garden Club, why not find out more about Vox Studios, our trendy South East London business centre?