Getting to know Charlotte Rowe

Charlotte Rowe Garden Design

We sat down with Charlotte Rowe leading landscape and garden designer and Gold Medal winner at the Chelsea Flower Show to take a deeper dive into what inspired her to become a garden designer.

Charlotte Rowe’s portfolio of work ranges from small contemporary courtyards and roof terraces as well as more traditional large-scale country gardens and landscapes.  Her work is recognized for its strong, architectural lines, generous planting and elegant styling.


What’s your earliest memory?

Two things come to mind immediately – my grandparents’ garden in Guernsey in the Channel Islands where I lived as a young girl.  I had my own area in the ‘Secret Garden’ where I was allowed to grow things I liked – and this included flowers, fruit and veggies, my favourites being loganberries and sweet peas . I also remember picking the amazing Muscat grapes that we grew in our large Victorian greenhouse or Vinery as we called it in the family.

The other great early memory is going on my first overseas holiday with my mother and friends of hers. We went to Tangier in North Africa and I vividly remember arriving on the boat from Gibraltar and seeing all the horses and carriages lined up waiting to collect passengers.  We were then taken to our friends’ traditional Moroccan house or riad where the large gate in the wall was opened to let us in and inside there was the courtyard and fountain so typical Moroccan houses.  Unforgettable for a six year old.  I have returned to Tangier many times since.

Many years later, memories of this trip came back to me when I designed three Moroccan gardens, one in Northern Italy, one in California and one as a show garden in London.

What was teenage Charlotte like?

A bit of a good time girl!  I was a London girl so I was very lucky to be able to go to some of the great pop and rock concerts of the 1970s – The Stones, Jefferson Airplane, Blind Faith, Led Zepperlin, Jethro Tull, Ike and Tina Turner, Frank Zappa to name a few

What did you do before garden design?

I worked in a number of roles after university and finally went into marketing communications in my late 20s in which I worked in London and Sydney over a period of 17 years. Firstly on the agency/consultancy side – for some very large PR consultancies on major international brand names followed by five years working in-house for the London Tourist Board and finally as Director of Communications for the Greater London Authority and the first Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone.

Barnes Common

At what age did you decide “I’m going to be a garden designer”?  How did you transition? What courses/qualifications did take?

I had a total change of heart in 2003 and started a one year post-graduate diploma in Residential Garden Architecture in Oxford.   I was in my 40s.  It did not come from nowhere – my first degree had been in History of Art and Italian but I had originally intended to study architecture at university.  Then before going into marketing communications, I worked in a plant nursery with the intention of going on to study Garden Construction, an idea which I finally abandoned. So there had always been a strong interest in design and plants

When was Charlotte Rowe Garden Design conceived?

I started my company the moment I finished my course at the end of 2004 and was lucky enough to have got four projects under my belt in the first six months.  Then I was recruited by Channel 4 to take part in a one hour programme made about me over the period of a year.   It was one of a few programmes called ‘Life Begins Again’ and followed people who changed direction late in life, as I had.

What is your typical project?

There is not really a typical project. We built our reputation on small to medium sized London gardens but now just under half our work in outside London where the scope is much larger.  We have designed over 300 gardens over the past 18 years but I think the favourites for me and my team are still the London gardens where one can see the results so much quicker. Our gardens are viewed as classic contemporary spaces rather than traditional English style gardens.  Increasingly we are keen to encourage people to have less lawn, more plants and less hard standing areas

In your professional career, what’s been your biggest success?

In this second career – landscape design – I think there are two strands that stand out.  One is to have won Gold Medal for a large show garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2014 – I was the first Chelsea first-timer designing one of the large Main Avenue Show Gardens to win a Gold medal.  So as Chelsea is the Olympics of our profession, that is pretty important.

However, although it was fantastic doing Chelsea, I am much prouder of all the great transformational spaces we have made for our clients – our real gardens!

Addison Grove, Chiswick

Holland Park Gardens

Are you married?

I am married to a former Cavalry Officer who is now a military historian, a very busy writer and a magazine editor.  We live in central London and until recently had a house in Wiltshire.

How many people are in your team?

Currently we are six people including two freelancers

Favourite holiday?

My 60th birthday with 14 friends on a sailing boat on the Nile.

How many projects do you typically work on and juggle at any one time?

Currently, like all people in our business, we are very busy – we have 19 live design projects at the moment, all at different stages but it does mean that the studio is humming!  In addition to a number of London gardens, we are also working on gardens in the Cotswolds, Surrey, Hampshire, Herefordshire, the Island of Jersey and Ibiza.

What’s been your best investment?

Good people, in particular my Design Director Tomoko Kawauchi who has been with me for most of the last 16 years – sponsoring her visa to the UK was a pretty good  move!


If you could relive the 1970’s, 1980’s or 1990’s, which decade would you chose and why?

1970s were really fun from some points of view (particularly the birth of disco music) though the economy and world security were terrible so I would probably choose the 80s.  I was young and starting out in my (first) profession, pretty independent and travelling a lot.  I ended the decade living in Sydney which was fantastic.

Favourite nightclub or venue from back in the day?

We all went to Tramp and Annabel’s in the early days. Would not know where to go now!

Describe your dream client?

Someone who thinks things through carefully and then briefs us well, makes quick decisions on design directions and choices and then lets us get on with the job creating a lovely garden which works for them.

Favourite part of London town?

Oh what a question!  I know London very very well not just because I am a born Londoner but also because as Director of Comms at the LTB and the GLA and on the government’s London Millennium Committee, I have been lucky enough to get to most places.  But London has now moved East which is great and it has really opened everything up which is exactly what was planned in the 1990s when I was working in the London environment.

But I would say that there are now three things which single London out from other World Cities:  the diversity of its cultural offer; its green spaces – no other city can boast 18 per cent of the city being public green space; and last but not least its food offer! The UK spent centuries being the underdog on this but now we have enormous breadth in terms of our culinary offer.


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