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Sunday Times first prize

Sunday Times Garden Design Competition 1992: Winner

Walled Garden, Formakin Estate, Bishopton, near Glasgow


The House, park and gardens at Formakin were designed by Sir Robert Lorimer (1864–1929), one of Scotland’s most distinguished architects in the early 1900’s and a contemporary of Sir Edwin Lutyens and Charles Rennie Mackintosh. In 1912, the client, the colourful John Augustus Holms, a wealthy Glasgow stockbroker lost the bulk of his fortune and was unable to complete the house, which remained an empty shell. The parkland and gardens however had been laid out before building work began and were well established. Unfortunately, after his death in 1938 the gardens fell into neglect for 50 years until the 1980’s when a charitable trust was set up to restore the estate.

By this time the gardens were completely overgrown, but much restoration work was achieved by reference to old plans, photographs and plant lists. However, one area, the southwest walled garden, was something of a mystery – no plans or photographs survived – only a mention in the records of an “Oriental Garden”. Another theory was that it had been a kitchen garden but this was thought unlikely, as the house was never lived in.

Rather than rely on guesswork the Trust chose to hold an open design competition, which was organised in conjunction with the “Sunday Times”.

The Competition Brief

The Trust placed no constraints on entrants in terms of style, only that designs acknowledged that the competition garden was one of a series of linked “garden rooms”. Although no budget was set entrants were advised that the Trust would have to raise funds to implement the design. Over 300 entries were received from as far a field as Germany and Australia.

The Winning Design

Although complimentary in terms of materials, the new design contrasted with adjoining gardens through internal sub-division, achieved principally by “extension” of existing wall buttresses in the form of hedging, and level changes to create a variety of spaces. This was reinforced by planting of different character, for example the “Rose Walk”, “White” and “Yellow” gardens.

Judges Verdict

"The great merit of the design, apart from its excellent detailing and fine presentation, were felt to be its appropriateness to the site and the harmony with which it will marry the house and the surrounding gardens. It was also felt that it resolved imaginatively and economically, several problems. For example, a collapsed wall will be replaced by a “viewing mound”, formed from excavations to create a sunken lawn. It was felt that a feature such as this would have pleased the flamboyant Holms”. Graham Rose, Gardening Editor, Sunday Times.

Post Script

Unfortunately, the trust could not raise sufficient funds to realise the design or indeed to continue to maintain the estate. The property was sold to a developer and the mansion house converted to luxury homes and apartments but the garden was not restored.

Interestingly in 2008 the new owners of the walled garden contacted Helen Taylor to start discussions on implementing a garden design in the walled garden.

Sunday Times first prize
Sunday Times first prize