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Robert Barker Design – Cambridge Based Garden Design

Skin Deep Illustration - Low Res 2.jpg

Skin Deep Blog

Skin Deep Final Plant List

Robert Barker


Acer capillipes


Hydrangea quercifolia


Hakonechloa macra

Luzula sylvatica


Asplenium scolopendrium

Blechnum spicant

Dryopteris dilata

Dryopteris filix-mas

Gymnocarpium dryopteris

Osmunda regalis

Polypodium vulgare


Aquilegia 'Ruby Port'

Aquilegia vulgaris ‘Alba’

Asarum europaeum

Asarum splendens

Astrantia Shaggy

Boehmeria platanifolia

Cornus canadensis

Digitalis purpurea f.albiflora

Epimedium youngianum 'Niveum'

Farfugium jap. 'Aureomaculatum'

Geranium phaeum 'Album'

Geranium phaeum 'Samobor'

Geranim sylvaticum album

Hosta Devon Green

Iris sibirica 'Papillon'

Pachysandra terminalis

Podophyllum 'Spotty Dotty'

Pulmonaria 'Sissinghurst White'

Rodgersia ‘Irish Bronze’

Kelways Visit #2

Robert Barker

It's always a pleasure to travel all the way to Somerset to see Dave and the team at Kelways. This particular visit was really exciting because after such a tough winter there are real signs of life. Some plants have really come into their own and some that were on the 'maybe' list are now fully planned to star in the garden and may even take centre stage. 

Work In Progress #2

Robert Barker

A lot of action has been taking place behind the scenes. I wish I could show you more about the amazing things Carl and the team are doing at Chiltern GRC and what Jamie of Terraforma Landscapes has been working on but that will have to wait until the big show in May. 

It has been another period of traveling up and down the M1 and up and down the train line form Cambridgeshire to London but all part of the process and all worth while. 


Robert Barker

A very good friend of mine is a keen climber and he recently explained to me that he was taught that while climbing there are different types of fun. Type 1 fun is instant “wow, isn’t this amazing” type fun and then there is type 2 fun. Type 2 fun is delayed fun, for example when you are climbing a cliff face in unpleasant conditions you are putting in the hard work because you know that when you reach the top your going to see a breath taking view and then at that moment you forget about all the hard work that got you there. When creating a show garden you certainly experience both type 1 and 2 levels of fun. There has been the instant fun, such as going to the press launch, which was an honor to attend and spend time with such a talented group of people but then there is the type 2 delayed fun spending countless hours in front of the computer wading through admin, spreadsheets, health and safety forms and organizing to make sure every member of the team will be at the right place at the right time. Just like anything in life, it can’t all be fun and in many ways it’s the fact that it is hard at times is what makes it special.

I am very lucky because I have such a talented team around me but until the garden is completed in late May, we are all obsessing over jigsaw pieces that hopefully will all fit perfectly together. To help me get a grip of the sheer size and scale of the jigsaw puzzle I built a model of the garden. I sometimes do this for clients with large projects but I will always create a model for a show garden. It is common for a designer to create computer-generated visuals from a two-dimensional plan but actually building a model gives you such a clearer view of size and scale. Being able to touch something also makes it that much easier to imagine yourself within the space and how the space will work. After a trip to my local craft store I built a model of my garden with foam board, modeling scenery foliage and then created the sculpture out of floral foam. It took time to do but I enjoyed doing it.

May is quickly approaching and whatever the type of fun I experience along the way I can’t wait to see all of the jigsaw pieces come together and see the garden full size in all its glory. 

Block #1

Robert Barker


It started with a block

From now until after the RHS Chelsea Flower Show I will be documenting the design process, the lead up to the show, the build and my experiences during the show. It will be a pleasure to share this adventure with you and to show you sneak peeks of the garden as we get closer to May.

Designs can start in a variety of ways. A finished design has usually been precided by a number of versions and Skin Deep is no exception. The garden is constantly being tweaked and changed. I can't tell you how many redesigns I have created and how many plants have been deleted from plant lists, then added and then deleted again!

For Skin Deep, at first I created lots of sketches, computer images and layouts but it didn't really become alive until I held this block (see below). When we were lucky enough to get Chiltern GRC on board, Carl sent me one sample block to take with me to meetings with sponsors and I carried this block all over London. This small tactile cube represented so much. The garden has evolved drastically since the start but this block has been present almost every step of the way and will always be important to me.

Skin Deep

Robert Barker

Skin Deep Illustration - Low Res 2.jpg

I am very proud and excited to announce that I will be show casing the Skin Deep garden at this years RHS Chelsea Flower Show. 

Skin Deep is a conceptual garden and has been created for an established UK skin care company. Concrete blocks have been used to represent different human faces and skin conditions. Each one represents a different condition that could affect any one of us over a lifetime.

Our outer layer reflects our life story and reveals to the world our joys, stresses and worries in the form of everything from birthmarks to wrinkles. It is a window into our genetic past. This concept is echoed in the garden’s textural planting scheme.

The plants used have been chosen for their form and texture, reflecting different skin conditions. Small pools of water add a reflective quality and are symbolic of the necessity of water to maintain healthy skin. The path leads through a virtual cityscape sculpture to an area for contemplation on the story our own skin tells.