Meet Alistair Baldwin, the landscape garden designer who has opened the first school of garden design at Harewood House

Award-winning landscape garden designer Alistair Baldwin has opened Yorkshire’s first school of Garden Design at Harewood House. Catherine Scott meets him.

There can’t be many more inspiring places for a budding garden designer than the grounds of historic Harewood House. Alistair Baldwin, believes being surrounded by the legacy of Capability Brown and garden designers who have followed in his wake, makes Harewood the perfect location for his Yorkshire School of Garden Design.Baldwin, an award-winning Richmond-based garden designer with a word-class portfolio, is launching the school specifically to train designers for northern landscapes.

“The Yorkshire School of Garden Design was born out of my passion for great art, combined with a long-held deep seated belief that the north of England is crying out for such a school,” he says.

“For too long the budding designers of the North have had too little choice when looking for a learning experience to broaden their skills and launch them into the profession.

Alistair Baldwin

“We do things differently in Yorkshire and the school will reflect that.

“More often than not, students have had to make the journey to London to find the right course and I thought that needed to change.

“I have lived and worked in North Yorkshire for over three decades and have developed an acute understanding of how the terrain, geology, even climate and the way of working is very different in this part of the UK.

“The process within which gardens are designed and built in this magnificent landscape is very different to the south of England – so I want to share everything I have learned over the last 35 years and inspire a new generation.”

Alistair Baldwin

Baldwin, who launched a Richmond-based landscape and architectural design consultancy AWB Associates over 15 years ago, says it’s time for a school which teaches budding new designers of the future how to work in the beautiful terrain of the North.

London-born Baldwin travelled extensively with his family as a child as his father was a diplomat. It meant he grew up amongst the varied and deeply memorable landscapes and cultures of Spain, Italy, Syria and the Lebanon, and his work today is influenced by a passion for architecture and the natural world.

In particular, his work reflects a fascination with the way in which horticulture can affect the mood, scale and spirit of a place through the manipulation of scale colour and texture.

He trained in garden design in Leeds and since graduating has never left the county – working and building his award-winning landscape design practice in North Yorkshire, which delivers high-spec public and private gardens throughout the UK as well as internationally.

Alistair Baldwin

“I was really drawn to Yorkshire,” he explains . “There is an honesty and grit about the landscape and the history which I think should be reflected in the gardens.”

Having spent 12 years teaching landscape and garden design at Leeds Beckett University, while also running his practice – Baldwin became somewhat disillusioned with what traditional educational establishments had to offer the budding garden designers of the future. He says: “Building a garden design school which uses practising designers and professionals to deliver its courses was an incredibly important part of the process for me,” he says,

“I got fed up with the educational establishment that just seemed to teach the theory rather than the practice. That’s not how I work. I want students to be out there, putting what they learn into practice and what better place to be inspired than Harewood House.

“What is the point in designing a garden if you don’t get involved in seeing it come to fruition? I like to walk somewhere and think that’s one of my gardens”

As we wander first through the formal terraced gardens at Harewood and then work our way down to the seeming wilderness of the Himalayan Gardens, it is clear Baldwin is in his element.

He had a hand in the redevelopment of this mysterious and enchanting part of Harewood, which is in stark contrast to the formal terrace gardens most people see. He has also been involved in designing gardens at Raby Castle, Lowther Castle, Bowcliffe Hall, Grantley Hall, Wynyard Hall, and York Gate Garden.

He is excited about passing on his knowledge and passion to others.

“The course offers an experience that is second to none in the North, a course which I have written and carefully designed and which I will be running with contributions from not only my own team of designers but also from my local network of designers, horticulturists.”

The Yorkshire School of Garden Design is based in the Grade 1 listed Courtyard overlooking the Capability Brown parkland and internal courtyard and cafe. Students will be free to walk the gardens and grounds at Harewood during breaks and will benefit from guided tours with tutors.

Trevor Nicholson, head gardener at Harewood House said, “We are absolutely delighted that the Yorkshire School of Garden design will have its base at Harewood House – which we think is a fitting and inspirational venue for a school, which hopes to train the design professionals of the future.

“Harewood House has a history of nurturing classical landscapers and garden designers with its parklands and gardens, and I am incredibly excited to welcome guests and inspire them with Harewood’s beautiful landscapes.”

Baldwin, who ran a nursery at Newby Hall, also believes that the pandemic has made us fall back in love with our gardens as we started to look at them as extensions of our homes.

“Covid saw so many people working from home and their gardens, if they were lucky enough to have one, became a break from that. The short courses are for people who really want to develop their knowledge of garden design as well as professionals.”

As well as its year-long Professional Diploma in Garden Design course, which follows the academic year and begins in September, The Yorkshire School of Garden Design will offer a full programme of short courses for both professionals and budding amateurs.

Its first, ‘Capturing the Garden’ – is a masterclass by renowned garden photographer Eva Nemeth on August 26 or 27 at York Gate Garden.

Eva has photographed some of the best gardens in the world for renowned publications like House & Garden, Gardens Illustrated and Country Living and this full-day workshop will allow students an opportunity to learn about all aspects of garden photography – from useful techniques, to how to capture the garden at its best, as well as brilliant tips on lighting and editing.

“This course is suitable for photographers at any level. I will be spending time with each person individually to establish the types of imagery they want to take and help them to create the desired photography for their current or future portfolio,” said Eva.

“The North is a fascinating place for garden design because of the beautiful landscape and open spaces. The light and mood are different due to increased rainfall and less direct sunshine. This adds to the opportunity for more magical and atmospheric photography.

“If you are a garden designer already working in the field, and you want to be able to showcase your work more professionally, or you are just an amateur who enjoys garden photography, then this course is for you.”

For further information on the Yorkshire School of Garden Design and all its courses visit https://ysgd.co.uk/