Q & A with Adolfo Harrison | Inspiring Garden Design


Adolfo Harrison has been creating award-winning private and public gardens since 2006. From the very beginning, the ultimate aim for each project has been to create not just a beautiful space, but an emotional connection between clients and their gardens. Working on projects of all shapes and sizes, Adolfo Harrison push their client’s brief to its full potential, ensuring the end result is a garden that endures and improves with age.

Designing spaces that emphasise the delicate balance between man and nature, Adolfo Harrison’s work is pure genius. We recently caught up with Adolfo to find out how it all began…

A Day In The Life | Adolfo Harrison Garden Design - Humphrey Munson

You began your career as an artist and curator, what inspired you to pursue a career in landscape architecture?

I was in many ways quite lucky starting out due to being half-Spanish, as Spanish design is so different to English design. From early on I was interested in a designer called César Manrique, who has a good understanding between both man and nature. His work (particularly) in the Canary Islands caught my attention, each island is so different and presents different challenges and opportunities for design. César managed to understand the balance theatrics to design, whilst keeping his designs naturalistic – he quite simply pushed his ideas to next level. English gardens tend to pretend they are natural, whereas César and other Spanish designers push boundaries more which is something I love and really connect with.

A Day In The Life | Adolfo Harrison Garden Design - Humphrey Munson

What would you say inspires you most when it comes to a new design?

My team and I can be inspired by the strangest and most awkward of spaces. The weirder the better! The client is definitely the most interesting thing and is always at the centre of the brief.

You have to consider other factors also such as ‘why would this garden be better in 10 years’ time?’ or ‘what happens if you sell the house?’, because every house will eventually have a new owner. There’s a saying that sticks with me and that is ‘you never own a garden you just look after it’. You have to think about not just the present client but the fact it will need to be a universal garden for future users, so it’s an art to try to balancing those two. We also keep in mind that whilst we (at Adolfo Harrison) design gardens all the time, most clients only get the chance to design a garden once. With this in mind, we push to make it the most incredible garden it can be.

One issue with designing gardens is everything degrades the moment you take it outside, but whilst this is problematic, it’s also a poetic element of what we do. What most people don’t realise is that gardens you love in magazines are just a snapshot of what you see. Getting clients to understand that you are playing to a potential long-term process is important especially in the beginning stages.

What are the beginning stages of a new project? 

In the very beginning, something quite unique that we do is a design day with our clients. It is full-on but we start like that when possible. This involves spending a day in a client’s garden or potential garden space and work on 3D drawings / renders of the new design. I have to say my colleagues are like Jedis to work so quickly!

This is vital to how we work as a company as you don’t have weeks of going back and forth in the beginning with drawings and changes. It puts a stop from unnecessary work to both parties later on. You work through what both you and the clients visualise there and then. Meaning the client is involved in the design from the get-go. It is an intense first day, however the gain for that one day is that they already know the direction the garden will go to and trust us to take it to the next stage.

It doesn’t matter so much then what happens in design later on as the client is aware of the alterations and understand why there has to be slight change. There’s a bigger level of trust in the process and they really are part of everything. Years down the line they really feel like it’s their garden too, rather than a linear space. This process is also really useful if you’ve got multiple contractors such as architects etc – it can get quite messy with everything going on for the client.

A Day In The Life | Adolfo Harrison Garden Design - Humphrey Munson

Do you have any advice for anyone who is looking to re-design their outdoor space?

It all depends on the space. If we presume everyone has an immediate space outside, I would then say think from the interiors out. The best way to start is to think of spatial design first, details come later. Try to repeat a special rhythm inside to outside, that then becomes more accentuated at night time and makes the ground floor feel larger. You’ve then got to make sure you are generous with the flow when inside or moving about the garden. Always need more space outside rather than in, as now more than ever as people’s homes and gardens have become a safe haven.

Look for clues to the interior palette that can be translated outside, keeping the same floor surface or fence to keep colours and materials the same. One you do this you start to see a lovely continuous flow. You also need to consider a platform to then enjoy the garden, perhaps a large place to sit and eat outside. Every garden needs that threshold – that’s where I advise you begin.

A Day In The Life | Adolfo Harrison Garden Design - Humphrey Munson
A Day In The Life | Adolfo Harrison Garden Design - Humphrey Munson

You have created some truly incredible outdoor spaces, both private and commercial. What would you say has been your favourite project so far and why?

I always try to ensure the next project is the best, however Bamboo and Mirrors in south London stick particularly in my mind. It’s a very awkward triangular space which are far more enjoyable to design due to their quirks. The client was very adventurous which is often the case with children in mind.

The space we designed is a beautiful space for adults to enjoy but children will see it in another way. Every detail was considered. For example, boulders are placed just the right distance apart so that children can jump from one to the other, there’s benches to run along, monkey bars and wendy houses. It’s a joy to create an outdoor space that will inspire the children and be part of their beginning years.

We also included seasonality in the form of plants on the living walls. It’s very important that a house brings the seasons especially in London. Designing gardens for the child within us is a pure delight, as adults we don’t realise how much our eyes will run upstairs, or down a garden path, grown-ups can be just as inquisitive as children.

A Day In The Life | Adolfo Harrison Garden Design - Humphrey Munson

Do you have any particularly exciting projects/ plans for 2021?

We are so busy with gardens which is very fortunate! Across the current projects we have four garden rooms that we are currently designing. Over the past 6-7 years we started designing outdoor kitchens and living areas, however there has been a shift; people are now appreciating the value of garden rooms. I really enjoying designing these outdoor rooms there’s so much opportunity, whether you want it to go to the end of the garden as a refuge away from the house or create a focal point, each one is really different. It’s so exciting and a real joy, especially when clients are happy to push the boat out!

To find out more information, or to make an enquiry visit the Adolfo Harrison website here.

Images: Mischa Haller Photo

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