Man-made in heaven: Futurescapes highlights the world's most imaginative gardens


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The Independent Online

Tim Richardson is one of the world's premier historians of confectionery. Well, that's according to his Wikipedia page, anyway. Day to day, though, he's more usually found writing about gardening – his books range from titles on 18th-century Arcadians to catalogues of hi-tech 21st-century horticultural snazziness, and in summer 2012 he will debut his latest brainwave, a "Chelsea Fringe" festival of urban gardening, to run alongside the world-famous flower show.

One of his biggest passions, though, has always been the landscape itself. He's one of the few people I know dedicated enough to have already seen the planting at the Olympic site: "Though for security reasons we had to go round it in a minibus, which had misted-up windows, so we were all trying desperately to see what they'd been doing out of a little six-inch clear square," he laughs.

His latest book, Futurescapes (Thames & Hudson, £24.95) is a grand lesson in the level of his dedication. (When I asked him how he made his selection of the 50 landscape-design firms worldwide whose work fills the book's pages with crazy, spectacular and brilliant schemes, he answers in all seriousness, "Well, first, I looked at the website of every accredited landscape architecture firm in the world.")

The finished product is a whistle-stop tour of the most imaginative landscaping projects currently on view around the globe: a US prairie on a Paris rooftop, a garden of wild flowers set among a former German coal mine, and a titanic Gujarati wedding venue for the ultimate in Bridezillas, able to cater for as many as 10,000 guests. (Yep, that's 10 with three zeros.)

Being truly superficial myself, I was hypnotised by the number and range of absolutely breathtaking swimming pools. A lap pool in a Californian olive grove; a circular pool high on a Chilean clifftop; an indoor-outdoor basin of water in Lebanon that should win some sort of prize for jaw-dropping luxury. Of course, in each, vegetation and landscape are woven together in a seamless scheme, with gnarled bark, old stones and native plants all playing their parts.

It's fascinating to read a book so focused on contemporary practice and wonder how future generations will look back on our current horticultural obsessions. The same species of tall grasses pop up in almost every continent of the world, as do little silver birches, and that ubiquitous rusty Corten steel which in the coming years will date a garden precisely, I can't help thinking.

But it's the projects in the Bric countries – Brazil, China, Russia and India – which seem to me the most fascinating. Possibly for Richardson, too: "I'm really glad the Qinhuangdao garden [a new botanic garden in northern China] is on the cover," he says, and the book has parks and gardens made on the sites of former Chinese shipyards and slums, and even on the roofs of shopping malls. As a mango orchard blooms on the site of a run-down brewery in Daman, India, it's impossible not to reflect on how green growth regenerates and renews, turning everyone's minds towards the future.

To participate in the 2012 Chelsea Fringe or find out more, visit

Three to see in this country, by Tim Richardson

1. Kim Wilkie's 'Orpheus' at Boughton House, Northamptonshire

"A major intervention in an existing landscape." Open intermittently, check for details at

2. Trentham Gardens, Staffordshire

"A wonderful chance to see work by Piet Oudolf and Tom Stuart-Smith. An all-singing, all-dancing place with even a fairly nice shopping centre." Open every day except Christmas,

3. The Olympic Park, east London

"Not going to be open before the Olympics start, so that will be an exciting moment." With planting schemes by Chelsea-medal-winner Sarah Price and Sheffield wildlife gardener Nigel Dunnett.