This week we caught up with Tom Massey (@tommasseyuk), the man behind Tom Massey Studio, gold medallist RHS Chelsea Flower Show garden designer. Tom’s penchant for sustainable gardening goes beyond his own home and into the design work he does for both private gardens and public spaces, taking into account the context of the site, sourcing materials and plants locally and working with the landscape to enhance and boost the local environment. We were lucky enough to meet Tom at IQL Stratford ( @iql_stratford ) opposite the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and see some of his work for ourselves, including the Hothouse (a collaboration with Studio Weave for LDF 2020) and Mobile Orchard Tom designed for the space.
Tell us a bit about yourself, and your work.
I’m Tom Massey, a garden designer. I work mainly in private residential gardens, but my practice is beginning to move into public realm design too. I have exhibited at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show a couple of times and I was on a BBC 2 garden design television series. My work covers a broad range of styles and themes, but all my gardens encourage people to get outside and connect with nature. A big focus of my work is sustainability and designing for the future, planning gardens that are adapted and resilient to climate change.
How did you get into gardening and garden design?
My mum was a very keen gardener, we had an allotment and a small garden in south west London, where I grew up, so I spent a lot of my time outside. Whether it was rain or shine we were forced to go to Richmond Park and spend time outside. I think that early connection with nature stayed with me. However, in between I did quite a few other things such as promoting music events, running a cafe and co-working space, and working in animation. I came back to garden design a bit later in life and retrained at the London College of Garden Design based at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew. It was such an inspiring place to learn and immerse myself in the world of garden design.
What is your approach to a new project?
With every new project, the first thing to get to know is the site; how much sun and shade it experiences, what the soil type is, what kind of plants grow well there already. Really immersing yourself in the site and understanding that context, and then seeing what materials might be available locally and trying to keep it as low impact and local to that site as possible.
Where do you find inspiration for new projects?
Inspiration comes from all sorts of places for me, whether it’s art galleries, natural landscapes or the Olympic Park where we are now, just really looking at everything and seeing how plants grow and how natural ecosystems intermingle and mesh. Particularly inspiring for me is how nature reclaims cities, when you get a brownfield site or an area that is left to its own devices, what kind of plants arrive and how that changes the dynamic and the ecosystem that exists there.
What is most important to you when designing a garden or landscape?
I think it’s really important to understand the context of that site. If you want to design something sustainably, you need to know the soil you’re working with and you need to understand the conditions that the site is going to experience now, but also in the future. With the rapid effects of climate change, designing for the future is becoming more and more relevant. We need to understand how the climate is going to alter and change over the next 10, 20, 30 years or more. It’s quite shocking really but scientists predict that London is going to be more like Barcelona by 2050 (within most of our lifetimes!), and this means that certain plants will struggle as the climate changes.
How do you think that being outdoors a lot affects your style when it comes to clothing and getting dressed?
I think because I am outdoors a lot, what I’m wearing is really important. I like to layer up, making sure you’ve got waterproof clothes, clothes that are dry and warm particularly when outside planting in the Winter. I wear clothes that are quite practical and quite rugged but also, being a designer, I like to wear clothes for aesthetic purposes as well.
Have you got any new exciting projects or big moments coming up next year?
I’m doing the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, it will be my third time at the show. This time for the Royal Entomological Society so the garden will be all about the study of insects, and insect science. And then some exciting projects which I can’t share just yet, but hopefully soon…
The line up for Chelsea Flower Show has just been announced and you are doing a garden themed around insect science, can you tell us a bit about what it’s like to exhibit at Chelsea and what it takes to compete?
So, I’ve been working on the garden for a year already. The build itself is 3 weeks of madness really. It’s a time full of frenetic energy and frenzy, there’s hardly any sleep, you just have to get it done. There’s no possible delay on the deadline, it all has to be ready for the show opening on press day. It’s really high pressure, but really exciting too. You can see why people get addicted to doing it, it definitely draws you back!
Lastly, what is your favorite flower or plant or tree and why?
That’s so hard as there is so much choice! I’ve got loads of memories of climbing majestic Oak trees in Richmond Park, and I think the European Oak tree is so resilient and stoic. It has so much symbolism associated with it, and it’s just such a magnificent and grand tree.