James Basson

James Basson

is described by Louisa Jones as a masterful exponent of Mediterranean gardening, which (she noted at our 2013 Conference) perpetuates a long-standing partnership between human beings and their environment, tested… for millennia[1].

In essence, Basson carefully studies local conditions and plants for potential use, and keeps maintenance to a minimum. His dry gardens do not require upgraded soil, plants are chosen for microclimates and are not watered after initial planting. This discourages mosquitoes and boosts native bees and butterflies.

His plans embrace changing seasonal colours in the landscape and he is drawn to the Sheffield School[2] promoting naturalistic, complex planting schemes with no particular regular pattern. But he also points out that such schemes can disregard microclimates, and urges recreating nature with water spilling out from the base of walls .. disappearing into the ground.. or finishing in pools.

Pursuing his passion for sustainable landscapes and planting design, James left England in 2000 for the South of France and set up Scape Design with his wife Helen. They work as a team and with her training in classical civilisations, some projects are enriched with cultural content.

His brilliant plantsmanship and design work has led to a raft of medals and awards. If, like him, you believe that sustainable gardening has to be the future then you will not find a better exponent of the art!




[1] p13 Louisa Jones. Mediterranean Gardens, Model for Good Living (Bloomings Books).

[2] Reference websites of James Hitchmough and Nigel Dunnet. The latter says (we) have established a body of research and practice relating to the naturalistic use of herbaceous perennial plants in a wide range of contexts. Our approach, typified by workable, sustainable solutions for public space, with high public appeal, and rich in biodiversity, has come to be known as ‘The Sheffield School’ of planting design.




1. Lessons from the Landscape: inspiration from local materials, artisans and the natural systems

The natural landscape is possibly the greatest inspiration we can have in creating garden design. Following on from Lousia Jones’ discussions on the ‘Mediterranean Heritage’ in 2013 we will focus on studying specific areas of the South of France to show how we can create spectacular gardens by learning from the natural surroundings – looking in detail at the various components that make up a garden–

  • Hard landscape – how do paths, walls, rocks, ground cover occur in the Mediterranean landscape, historical and agricultural usage and what can we learn from this for modern garden design?
  • Planting combinations – on close examination there are 100’s of individual plants per m2 in the natural environment with several different species, should we move towards this type of planting in the world of design, away from mono block plantings and swathes of a single species? Ensuring that there is always interest, colour and an ever changing landscape within our gardens, if one plant fails another will replace it naturally.
  • Water – pools, courses and use within the natural landscape discussing how these can be implemented in an original fashion within a private garden.

Sustainable gardening has to be the future and by studying how nature has adapted over time we can create gardens that will stand the test of time mixing contemporary ideas with traditional techniques and land use. Meaning reducing irrigation and maintenance, working with nature instead of fighting against it, planting the right plant, in the right place – as Louisa Jones succinctly puts it ‘The logic of Landscape’.

We will examine how the landscape changes through the seasons and how important this is when considering Garden Design. For example – do we really need to have water flow all year round in a garden or should we consider the beauty of a dry river bed in a garden in the summer time as would occur in the natural environment?

This inspiration will then be demonstrated in showing how a private practical garden can be created but also to show how this can be interpreted into a more creative result in the realms of the show garden with examples from the Chelsea Flower Show, Gardening World Cup and Singapore Garden Festival that illustrate how gardens can be a powerful tool for telling a story.

Raising the question -where is the line between a garden and an art installation and what are the implications of this on user enjoyment?

Photos will include a large mix of natural landscapes/elements and gardens both residential and show gardens.


2. Generative Planting Design

We have been greatly inspired by James Hitchmore and Nigel Dunnett with the Sheffield school of thought that explore formulaic planting schemes that work on large scale projects like the example of the Olympic park for the London 2014. But how can we implement these formulae on a residential/private garden scale?

Advantages –

It is a cost effective way of drawing, and of laying out plants because a particular formula applies per m2. For example in a specific given area we can input the variables and use a formula to generate the plant list and quantities that would work in that particular area.

This would eliminate the traditional planting plans that are often very time consuming for the contractor laying out plants one by one according to the plan. Giving them instead a formula that dictates certain plants within the given band but in any order.

The end result is the creation of naturalistic, complex planting scheme with no particular regular pattern making an interesting overall impression.

Disadvantages –

-It is very easy to create broad brush stroke planting schemes that don’t take into account the micro climates of an individual property. eg: certain areas have rain shadow, shade at north side of the house etc

-The level of detail required to produce viable solutions of all the microcosms in the garden, it is not easy to know where the limit lies.

– naturalistic patterning needs a certain volume of size to work, over a 1m bed it could just look messy it potentially needs a minimum surface area to work ie: 10m deep bed, depending on height of plants as repetition starts to make sense over a larger area.

Computational ecology and computer aided mapping systems facilitate the input of data, coping with the variables on a deeper level, there are so many factors to consider when creating planting designs, climate, soil type, aspect, natural water fall, flowering season, height, width, colour (both flower and foliage) that using computer data base tools makes perfect sense.

Pro ‘s of this –rather than be based on a real time study, computer data is potentially rich enough to give us new planting schemes, constantly refreshed plant associations at each turn thus avoiding the danger that planting design will become uniform and stagnant.

Con’s of this – despite a wealth of information available to us that we can input we have to pose the question just how ‘good’ is this the quality of this information?

Is generative art and computational ecology the way to formulate the planting plans of the present going into the future in order to produce sustainable, interesting yet realistic planting plans?


Designer Biography

James Basson BA Hons Garden Design, MSGD, FFP – James graduated with a first class honours degree in Garden Design from the University of Greenwich in 1998 and is a registered member of the Society of Garden Designers.

After establishing a reputation for community and Hospital gardens in London, he moved to the South of France and set up Scape Design sarl in 2000 with his wife Helen in order to pursue his passion for creating sustainable landscapes and planting design for private clients. A strong advocate of dry gardens James is renowned for raising awareness on the importance of working with locally sourced plants and traditional materials, using no irrigation and keeping maintenance to a minimum. His philosophy is a machine-free (minimal mowing, strimming, hedge cutting or blowing) maintenance programme. For pest control his approach is to treat bugs with bugs (using natural predators) not chemicals that leach back into the soil.

James has a regular radio programme entitled ‘Lessons from the Landscape’ that explores the inspiration the natural landscape can give us and how different elements can be adapted to a domestic garden that is in keeping with its natural surroundings. He has given conferences and had papers published based on a Generative Art approach to planting.

James is a member of and regular contributor to the Mediterranean Garden Society (a worldwide association specialising in Mediterranean gardens).He is also a fully accredited member of the SGD (Society of Garden Designers) and the FFP (Féderation Française des Paysagistes)

He has been a finalist for the last two editions of the ‘Victoires du Paysage’ in France and for the last two SGD awards in the UK.

James has won Silver Gilt awards at RHS Chelsea and Hampton Court before striking Gold and Best in Show for the Fresh category at the Chelsea Flower show in 2013. He also won Gold for France and the special ‘Flowers and Peace’ Award at the Gardening World Cup in Japan in 2012. Following this with a Silver in 2013. In 2014 at the Philadelphia Flower Show the largest indoor show in the world he won the Governor’s Award for the most innovative garden over 100m2 and the special award for the most thoughtful landscape design. Then going on to win gold, best construction and best indoor lighting at the Singapore Garden Festival in 2014.