"Kingsbury's garden writing is among the best you will find in the English language."
From the blog View from Federal Twist, August 2, 2009, James R. Golden
I am internationally known as a writer - about plants, gardens and the environment. I am now doing an increasing amount of teaching and lecturing, and am also available as a garden/planting designer and horticultural consultant. Best-known for my promotion of what is broadly called an ecological or naturalistic approach to planting design, I've written some 25 books on various aspects of plants and gardens over the years, four of them in collaboration with Dutch designer and plantsman Piet Oudolf. I have also written for Gardens Illustrated, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Garden, Hortus, The New York Times and many other publications.
I do consultancy work in the fields of garden maintenance and development, have advised on roof greening and other aspects of 'green architecture' including collaborations with artists working in the public sphere. I've been actively involved in the promotion of quality public planting for many years now, having worked as a design consultant on several projects with Bristol City Council, as well as on private gardens.
Research is a key part of my approach. In the mid-2000s I undertook PhD research with the Landscape Department at the University of Sheffield, into the ecology and behaviour of ornamental perennials. I have followed this up with further research into questions of long-term performance. You can find out more about this by looking at the Links and Research page.
Over the last few years I have become increasingly involved in education; my first career in fact was in adult education, I am passionately interested in improving the way we communicate knowledge and skills within the horticulture and landscape professions. Having had a very successful course on perennials up with MyGardenSchool for a number of years, I developed another one with Piet Oudolf last year, and am now working with the company in helping facilitate other colleagues develop courses to provide comprehensive learning opportunities for both amateurs and professionals. With designer Annie Guilfoyle, I have also launched Garden Masterclass, which runs day workshops throughout the British Isles.
In addition to working within horticulture, I am very keen that those with an interest in gardens and landscape engage with the world beyond the garden walls - the worlds of art, society, politics, philosophy, economics, and of course the wider natural environment.
I also have an interest in food and farming issues. Hybrid - the History and Science of Plant Breeding was published in autumn 2009."Reads like a novel" said one reviewer (Neil Lucas).
I have been professionally active in horticulture since 1986, having been a keen gardener since childhood. The story of my ‘bunking off’ school on Tuesday afternoons to visit the Chelsea Flower Show has become something of a legend.
During 1986-1993 I ran a nursery near Bristol, growing herbaceous plants and tender species suitable for conservatories. An interest in the latter put me firmly in the vanguard of ‘The New Exoticists’, a young generation of gardeners who were interested in pushing the limits of what it was possible to grow outside and recapturing something of the spirit of adventure of Victorian horticulture.
Undertaking a number of garden design projects during the 1990s, I began to explore the possibilities of growing plants in ‘artificial ecosystems’. The problem was: "people were wanting wildflowers, but often had a hopelessly romantic notion of what that meant. The fact is that we (in Britain) have very few garden-worthy native plants, indeed we have a pretty restricted native flora anyway, so I began to be interested in combining natives and non-natives, in combinations which would require minimal intervention from the gardener".
Recognising that there was very little knowledge about such planting in Britain, despite William Robinson having been a pioneer in doing just this back in the 19th century, I looked overseas, to see what the rest of the world was doing. "1994 was the year everything changed, I went to Brazil, and met the great Roberto Burle Marx, to the US where I formed a friendship with James van Sweden, but seeing what was happening in Germany was a revelation, where gardeners and landscape architects were learning from this incredibly rich tradition of what translates as 'plant sociology' Places like Westpark in Munich just blew me away, all the plants there were familiar with but used in totally different ways, all informed by ecological science. This was also the year I met Piet Oudolf in Holland, whose combination of real architectural design with a passion for plants has continued to be an inspiration".
A close association with planting ideas from Germany and Holland has been a central part of life ever since. The whole field of ‘ecological planting design’ also drew me into working with the department of landscape at Sheffield University, a world centre for the integration of ecology, landscape and horticulture. In 2009 I was awarded a doctorate for research on long-term perennial planting.
From 2008 to 2013 in collaboration with fellow garden writer Tim Richardson, I chaired the 'Vista Debates' at the Garden Museum in London, interviewing notable people from the garden and landscape world across a wide range of topics, with an audience with whom we than sat down to a good supper from the museum's kitchen.
Picture at top - our garden at Montpelier Cottage, Herefordshire, England, in late May.
Below: portrait shot by Amalia Robredo, with students at Dryadas, St. Petersburg, Russia, waving a Bergenia at a workshop at MacPlants, Scotland and with Czech colleagues in the garden at home.