Cambridgeshire gardener Robert Barker to present latest design at this year's Chelsea Flower Show
Robert Barker began his formal training in horticulture studying with the RHS (the Royal Horticultural Society) at Capel Manor College in Enfield, which then led to him being trained at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew.
His original career choice, however, was something altogether different.
“I was a struggling singer/songwriter and I did that until my early 30s,” revealed Robert, “and I was living in London with my girlfriend at the time – who’s now my wife – and because I didn’t have a garden I became more and more interested in gardening and horticulture.
“In 2010, my wife bought me a ticket for the Chelsea Flower Show and we went together. I stood there and completely fell in love with a particular garden, and right there and then I thought: ‘This is what I’m going to do’.”
As a clear indication of how far he’s come in a relatively short space of time, in 2016 Robert showcased his first show garden at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show and was awarded a gold medal.
He said: “I like everything [in my gardens] to come together as a whole and for there to be purpose with almost every item within the garden.
“Everything is deliberately picked and catered for the client. For example, if I was designing your garden and you wanted a sculpture, I wouldn’t just go and buy a sculpture and plonk it in your garden – it would be relevant to you, your family and the garden itself. There would be purpose behind it.”
Robert, 40, who was born in Mill Road in Cambridge, and is based in Little Paxton, has done work for smaller residential gardens, as well as at much larger sites such as the Wilshire Park estate in Hertfordshire.
“I’ve done a hospital in Surrey and I’m actually doing a school near St Neots, so I do commercial projects as well, working with architects,” he said.
On the Chelsea Flower Show, Robert said: “There’s a part of me that thinks that elements of the Chelsea Flower Show should be a bit more like London Fashion Week, where it’s really great that the RHS are encouraging people to take elements of gardens home with them, but at the same time I think there should be room for showing people what they can’t have in their garden.
“Just like the catwalk at London Fashion Week: you don’t see those clothes on the high street. But it really is an amazing show.”
Robert described the garden he’ll be showcasing this year: “It’s a garden called ‘Skin Deep’ and it’s for a variety of sponsors – the main sponsor is Harley Street Skin Care.
“I have created a sculptural garden that is made up of nearly 200 concrete blocks, varying in size. As a collective, they look almost like a cityscape.
“As a collective, it’s a very tough, very strong sculpture but when you get close to them you realise that each one has its own skin condition, each one represents a face – just like human beings, they’re fragile and they have flaws.”
More by this authorAdrian Peel