The Casual Gardener: Dunmurry man Colm shines on Chelsea Flower Show debut

Colm Joseph's recent career change has proved a massive success with his Perennial Lifeline Garden winning a Silver Gilt Medal at this year's Chelsea Flower Show. Here the former Dunmurry man explains the journey so far and his future direction

Garden designer Colm Joseph. Picture by Britt Willoughby Dyer

:: You’re fresh from winning a Silver Gilt Medal at Chelsea – how does it feel?

It feels wonderful, it's been quite a ride. I created the initial design for the garden in June 2018, so it's been a year in the making. We had just 11 days on site to build and plant, so it has been exciting and exhausting in equal measure.

:: You’re a newcomer of sorts to garden design – tell us about the career transformation?

I worked in international development for 12 years, mostly delivering economic support programmes in East Africa. I've always loved gardens and landscape and wanted to do something more creative, putting this at the heart of my life rather than as a hobby. I took the plunge to retrain in garden design in 2017, studying at the London College of Garden Design, based at Kew Gardens. I managed to graduate with the highest overall mark the college has ever awarded. That was a great springboard and affirmation that garden design is something I’m good at.

:: Have you always been interested in gardening and how has your interest blossomed over the years?

I’ve always been interested in the natural world and landscape. I’ve also gardened all my adult life. My mum is a keen gardener and my grandparents were too. I’ve also followed garden design for years and had a sense that it is something I might be good at. I love the process of creating gardens, using space and materials to create something that people can love for many years.

:: So you now have your own garden design company?

Yes, I now run my own garden design business near Cambridge in the east of England. As well as the Chelsea garden, I have a good portfolio of client projects at different stages. These include a small 8m x 8m back garden in Cambridge we’re starting to build next month, and a much larger site in rural Cambridgeshire, where I’m designing the landscape around a new statement piece of modern architecture.

:: How would you describe your approach to garden design?

My approach to garden design is modern and contemporary, while sensitive to the place I’m designing in. I like to explore ways to connect people’s homes and gardens to the wider landscape and natural environment. I also like to explore the contrast and balance between relaxed, naturalistic planting and bold, restrained hard landscaping.

:: How does designing and building a show garden differ from a real garden?

It differs in lots of ways but the main one is how temporary a show garden is relative to a client’s garden. In both cases the challenge is to design a space that works in its layout, materials and planting. However, a real garden has the added dimension of how things will develop and change over time, which is an aspect of a show garden design that doesn’t get tested.

:: What did you make of Chelsea?

It was a great experience, as much for what I’ve learned as for the outcome. It’s the greatest garden design show in the world, so it was a real honour to be there and soak it up. The level of endeavour, creativity, skill and energy on site during the build-up is something to behold. It was also a privilege to design a garden for Perennial, the horticultural industry’s benevolent society, who are at the heart of the industry, helping anyone who hits difficult times.

:: Any pet gardening hates?

My main garden design hates are the use of artificial materials, like plastic grass. Linked to this, I much prefer gardens that engage with nature and are not too sterile or manicured.

:: What projects are in the pipeline – any other show gardens?

I may look at another show garden next year or the year after. For now, though, my goal is to get cracking with my client projects and build my portfolio of work. I’m also excited to continue learning my craft, a learning process I expect to be engaged with for the next 30 or 40 years!

:: For more information and images visit

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