Harry and David Rich know their Dianthus gallicus from their Primula japonica and could talk all day about flowers and plants from around the world, but start a conversation about luxury fashion brands and they will tell you that they only know one, ‘the French one: Chanel’.
The brothers, originally from Brecon in Wales, were commissioned by the fashion house to create a garden at its ‘Mademoiselle Privé’ exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in London at the end of last year.
No previous exhibition at the Saatchi had made use of the 1,500 sq m approach to the Duke of York’s HQ on King’s Road, where the gallery has its base. The Rich brothers (professionally known as Rich Landscapes) would have quite liked their haute horticulture to become permanent, not least because the build was a logistical nightmare – deliveries and collections were only allowed within a one-hour window each day.
However, they are used to temporary triumphs. Last year, they took a gold medal at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show – a sort of Cannes Film Festival for the green-fingered, which takes place just down the road from the Saatchi every spring – for a garden featuring a moveable shack on rails. ‘You work so hard to make a space for people to enjoy and then if it is an exhibition or show garden it has to be dismantled,’ says David.
The three ‘garden rooms’ they created for the ‘Mademoiselle Privé’ exhibition represented key influences in Coco Chanel’s life, including her lover and muse Boy Capel. ‘It is a subtle interpretation,’ says Harry. ‘If you look at the finer details within the garden, you can see the points we were drawing on.’ The hard landscaping comprised steel, charred oak and bound gravel, and the brothers cleverly wove together a chevron pattern from a Chanel handbag design with the brand’s interlocking Cs. Some 200 trees and shrubs were installed and a natural meadow knitted together the rest of the planting.
The Rich brothers would like you to believe they are simply geeky garden folk, but they have become the most fashionable thing in horticulture. The connection with Chanel has simply underscored it.
They are blessed with rugged good looks, which helps and may well be the reason they’ve recently had a TV production company knocking on their door; they like to use naturalistic planting styles, which happen to be de rigueur at the moment – for the ‘Mademoiselle Privé’ garden they mixed up the looseness of grasses with formal hedging; and every other aspect of their lives feels like it could be the work of a stylist.
They cycle to their east London studio on fixies, with Harry’s black Labrador, Darcy, bounding alongside. David plays guitar in a folk band in his spare time, Harry plays jazz trumpet. ‘He’d rather stay at home practising than come to meetings with me,’ says David. ‘You can always tell when he’s been practising and he does turn up, because he has geisha lips.'
Harry and David, 28 and 25 respectively, grew up in a nature-loving household. Their father was a forester before founding the peat-free compost business Vital Earth. Both boys were creative and their father helped steer them towards a career in landscape architecture. ‘I graduated and started the business [in 2011], which until last year was based in Wales,’ says Harry. ‘David went off to study the same degree I did [landscape architecture at what was then Leeds Metropolitan University], but spent a lot of his time helping me out.’
Last year’s Chelsea Flower Show gold medal was the pair’s second (they’ve also had a silver-gilt), and they are the show’s youngest exhibitors to have won a gold on its Main Avenue. They will have to give Chelsea a miss this year, because they are too busy. ‘We are very lucky to have a wide range of work,’ says David. ‘We have two new big private residential projects at design stage – an organic farm in Devon and the garden of a contemporary concrete home right on the seafront in Wales.’ Meanwhile, developers have brought them on board to work on the outdoor elements of projects such as London’s 31-storey Canaletto tower. They have also been approached about the landscaping of a 500-acre site in Yangshuo, China, with a view to creating British-inspired gardens. ‘It is still at the early concept stage,’ says David. ‘The development will have boutique hotels and private residences, but 70 per cent of the space is gardens.’ They are thinking walled gardens and oak trees and have plans for a horticultural education centre on site ‘to teach people about the culture of British gardening’. It’s a culture they are already imparting. And with some force.
As originally featured in the March 2016 issue of Wallpaper* (W*204)