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Michael Lote on making his design and build debut at Malvern

by | 04 Apr 24 | Domestic Landscaping, Garden Design, Long Reads

Michael Lote

It’s Michael Lote’s year, with an APL Award and the Matthew Bradley Memorial Cup already under his belt and his first design and build show garden still to come 

Against the jaw-dropping backdrop of the Malvern Hills, Michael Lote will be returning to build a show garden at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival this year. He’s already done so twice before, picking up the Best Construction Award both times. But this year will be the first year that Lote will be constructing a show garden that he has designed.

“The last garden I built at Malvern was in 2022 for another designer, and the seed was kind of sown from there – I wanted to design one for myself. Then straight after Malvern, I went to quote for a couple of jobs on a new housing estate, and it seemed as though they were all asking for the same thing: a patio, artificial grass – which is a big no – and brown fences with pleached trees. Firstly, it’s boring as everyone is doing the same thing. But it’s also increasing the carbon footprint of a new housing estate and not bringing back any biodiversity.”

So, the idea for this year’s garden – ‘It doesn’t have to cost the Earth’ – was sparked from his own client work and a desire to “get people to love plants and be more creative with their gardens.” New housing estates are now required to follow biodiversity net gain legislation, so developers need to leave the site at least 10% more biodiverse than it was prior to development. But there are opportunities to encourage even more wildlife into the gardens of new homeowners too, which Lote will be showcasing at Malvern, building a garden for clients who have just purchased a newbuild property as the design brief.

He will also be showcasing sustainable construction methods and products. Take the sub-base which, instead of being quarried aggregate, will be a recycled foamed glass gravel called Glapor, a product that has “never been exhibited at an RHS show before”.

Michael Lote

The visual for ‘It doesn’t have to cost the earth’, designed by Michael Lote

The landscaping industry can be “stuck in our ways” of using traditional construction methods, says Lote. “We’ll put down hardcore for paving, but there’s already hardcore on site if we bring in a crusher and make our own sub bases. So, it’s about trying to use what’s already in the garden.”

No cement will be used in the garden either. Lime mortar will be used for the paving, whilst a 3.8m Corten steel helix sculpture from UK manufacturer Weather It and a bespoke boundary fence made from Corten steel and Douglas fir timber offcuts will both be secured in place using ground screws.

“We’ve designed the fence so that it will bolt onto the ground screws, which is a bit of a prototype for the company that’s manufacturing it. The ground screws minimise soil disturbance so there’s less carbon being emitted into the atmosphere, and they avoid the use of cement.”

Researching more sustainable solutions for his Malvern garden has been a “big eye opener”. “A lot of these building products are already out there but people don’t know about them or are put off as they can be more expensive and that cost has to be passed on to the client. So, we need to shout about them and promote these products, and hopefully the demand will increase so that the price might level out.”

After Malvern, Lote is hoping to continue putting these practices in place, and already has a project after the show where the client has been supportive of a more sustainable approach. There can even be cost savings. Lote worked on a large project recently where he hired a crusher for around 40t of rubble, avoiding the need for hardcore and reducing the need for skips. “It’s trying to think about little changes that we can make to help reduce waste.”

The longevity of materials is key too, says Lote. “For raised beds, we could have brought in railway sleepers, but the reality is we’d have to replace them in about six years’ time because they’ll have rotted. So, we’re using Corten steel which has a lifespan of 100 years and is 100% recyclable.”

Michael Lote

Michael Lote and Nadine Charlton. Credit: Oliver Dixon Photography

There’s no sponsor for the garden, so Lote is working with supporters who are gifting or loaning products for the build. Friends and colleagues are also volunteering to help him with the construction and planting. “We’ve got a really good team behind us; everyone who is supporting it certainly believes in the concept of the garden.”

Following the show, a few of the products and plants will be returned to the suppliers, whilst the trees, perennials, paving and the sub-base are going to Woodoaks Farm, which is owned by the Soil Association Land Trust, to be repurposed into an educational hub.

Building his first self-designed show garden is the next step in what has already been a stellar year for Lote, who not only picked up an APL Award in March but who also received the prestigious Matthew Bradley Memorial Cup, which recognises landscaping excellence.

It’s a worthy award for someone whose passion for being in the garden was kickstarted after his mum was diagnosed with cancer when he was 16 years old. She wanted a pond in her garden, so Lote decided to build one for her. He went on to gain a BA Hons in Landscape Architecture in 2006, and the following year set up his own company, MJL Garden Design, focusing on design and construction as a one-man band.

This year, his mum will be able to see him make his design and build debut at Malvern, with the help of Nadine Charlton of Home Spring Gardens, who is running the project. Trialling more sustainable solutions is a risk, but Lote is someone willing to use the show’s platform to make a difference and, with two Best Construction Awards already in hand, who better to try?

RHS Malvern Spring Festival is taking place from 9-12 May at the Three Counties Showground.

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