Chelsea-winning garden designer reveals how it all started for him in Devon

PUBLISHED: 11:52 29 September 2020 | UPDATED: 13:17 30 September 2020

Hugo and Charlotte at RHS Garden Bridgewater. Photo: RHS/Mark Waugh

Hugo and Charlotte at RHS Garden Bridgewater. Photo: RHS/Mark Waugh

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Hugo Bugg from Axminster travels all over the globe creating stunning gardens for his clients

Hugo Bugg’s show garden at the Chelsea Flower Show 2016. Photo: Marianne MajerusHugo Bugg’s show garden at the Chelsea Flower Show 2016. Photo: Marianne Majerus

Hugo Bugg’s career takes him all over the world from the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to Chelsea Flower Show, but his love of gardens springs from a childhood spent in Devon.

From the age of four, Hugo spent every spare moment working with his father in their three-acre garden in the village of Musbury, situated between Axminster and Seaton.

“I grew up working with my dad in the garden, clearing it and making a place to grow vegetables, and building a grass tennis court with hand tools,” he explains. “I’ve always had a love of nature, being outside, and gardens.”

Hugo’s rise has been nothing short of meteoric. In 2008, within months of graduating from Falmouth University in Cornwall with a first class degree in garden design, he was named Student Garden Designer of the Year by the Society of Garden Designers.

The walled garden at RHS Garden Bridgewater designed by Harris Bugg. Photo: RHS BridgewaterThe walled garden at RHS Garden Bridgewater designed by Harris Bugg. Photo: RHS Bridgewater

He quickly established his own business in his home county, and set his sights on building up an enviable portfolio of show gardens. Within two years he’d been crowned RHS Young Designer of the Year and had four show gardens under his belt. A gold medal at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show followed in 2011, and in 2014 he became the youngest ever Gold medal winner at Chelsea Flower Show.

Today, Hugo works from his studio next to his home in Exeter on projects in Devon and beyond, from large estates and smallholdings to coastal holiday homes, town gardens and roof gardens.

After merging practices with London-based designer Charlotte Harris in 2017, Harris Bugg Studio has gone from strength to strength: Hugo and Charlotte were recently named in Gardens Illustrated magazine’s top 30 most influential people in gardening.

READ MORE: Why you need Astilbe in your garden

“That’s the driving factor behind our designs - how do we improve? We love continuing to learn and push the boundaries,” Hugo says.

Harris Bugg’s clients include some of the world’s leading botanic gardens and the Royal Horticultural Society’s Bridgewater, historic grounds of Worsley New Hall in Salford, which is one of Europe’s largest gardening projects.

But they are also passionate about working on domestic garden projects, including technically challenging sites and gardens in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Much of this work comes to the practice through word-of-mouth recommendations.

“We’re increasingly working with architects on new builds for people building their dream home - getting involved at an early stage so that the house and the gardens are designed in harmony with one another,” Hugo explains.

In his spare time, Hugo loves exploring the countryside with his girlfriend Thea, a family solicitor, and their working cocker spaniel, Ramson. “I love Devon and always wanted to remain working here: there’s just so much diversity in its landscapes - from the East Devon pebble beds to the red cliffs near the coast at Sidmouth, not to mention Dartmoor, Exmoor and South Hams,” he says.

Hugo credits Devon’s landscapes with offering a rich seam of inspiration for his designs: “When you are in remote rural landscapes you can immerse yourself in the seasons and the native plants, and so Charlotte and I are always thinking about the durability of our planting schemes and what can flourish in different locations.”

The pair also pride themselves on fostering great relationships with clients, starting with a detailed brief that meets their vision, through the design and construction process and beyond as the finished garden matures. No surprise, then, that Harris Bugg has been listed in Country Life magazine’s Best Garden and Landscape Design Practices in Britain for three years in a row.

One client, Jo Bacon in Dorset, found working with Hugo and Charlotte was a transformational experience. “Every step has seen the garden opening up, giving structure to the views, respecting the existing trees and transforming the planting. As the seasons change this garden keeps offering up some new focus, colour or texture,” she explains. “There is not a day goes by when we don’t reflect on what has been achieved.”

While many modern gardens feel as if they could be anywhere, Hugo and Charlotte ensure Harris Bugg’s designs sit comfortably in their particular landscape. “We work on the local vernacular of materials and construction techniques so we have a sense of place. We always work with talented local craftspeople, artists and nurseries so the end result is a well-crafted, memorable garden,” Hugo says.

And with such talent on display, Devon looks set to benefit from many more beautifully conceived and crafted Harris Bugg gardens.

Find out more here about Hugo and Charlotte’s work

HUGO’S HORTICULTURAL HAUNTS

Deer Park Farm, Chudleigh: take a guided walk through restored flower-rich grasslands on a traditional farm. facebook.com/50wildlife.deerparkfarm

The Agroforestry Research Trust, Dartington: this forest garden taught Hugo and Charlotte many of the planting combinations they used in the walled gardens at RHS garden Bridgewater. agroforestry.co.uk

New Wood Trees, Totnes: this tree nursery specialises in field-grown, multi-stem trees, so is fantastic for naturalistic gardens. newwoodtrees.co.uk

The Lychgate Cutting Garden at Hill House Nursery, Landscove: it may be tucked away, but this beautiful pick-your-own flower garden situated at a small nursery is worth a trip to buy plants, cut flowers and cake. lychgatecuttinggarden.co.uk

Stone Lane Gardens, Chagford: a spectacular woodland and water garden on the edge of Dartmoor National Park that’s home to the National Collection of birch and alder trees. stonelanegardens.com

FIVE KEY HARRIS BUGG GARDENS

1. Hugo started work on a large rural garden in the West Country six years ago, designing a tennis court, meadows, ha-ha, herb garden, topiary, nuttery and extensive ornamental planting.

2. Harris Bugg worked with architects McLean Quinlan to create a contemporary coastal property and garden on a challenging site with fantastic views over Polzeath Beach in Cornwall.

3. The Royal Horticultural Society’s fifth public national garden is currently the largest gardening project in Europe. Harris Bugg have designed the walled kitchen garden at the heart of RHS Bridgewater, due to open in May 2021.

4. During the last two years, Hugo and Charlotte have been working on a country estate within The Chilterns AONB. The beautiful garden includes an ornamental herb garden, topiary lawn, architectural water features and extensive ornamental planting.

5. Hugo’s debut garden at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2014 was an unforgettable experience, earning him a gold medal and many happy memories.

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