I’m lucky enough to live in a place I adore. We’re connected equidistantly to both land,
the Sussex Downs, and the sea, which is just a couple of miles away. Both aspects,
together with the vibrant colours and intricate textures of our garden, play a huge part
in my life as a designer.
Like many of you reading this, over the past 8 weeks I have become increasingly
aware of any time spent outside—taking in the open air and the vastness of the sky as
if I’d never seen it before. Each morning at 7am I ride my bike across the Downs, then
onto the coast, and it feels as though life is being breathed right into me. Everything
seems sharper, the colours more saturated and the sound turned up to the max.
While the view from my window as I write this is of a quintessential British country
garden, my connection to the great outdoors is much more primitive. As a child, I spent
a great deal of time outdoors. We lived in the countryside in Kent, close to Ashdown
Forest, the real-life stage for A. A. Milne’s Winnie The Pooh. Much like Christopher
Robin and friends, the pleasure of the wild open space and many pooh stick races still
remains with me.
As an only child, my outdoor pursuits were often solitary, making up my own fun and
generally finding something less than pleasant to fill old yoghurt pots with which I
then gifted to my ever-patient mother! I could ride before I could walk; we had stables
which made for great places to hide in, and when my mother imported Russian
horses into England, we travelled widely together. Unquestionably, these formative
adventures into the most untamed landscapes seeded my connections to nature.
As an adult, whenever I travel, I still find myself drawn back to rural, remote places,
where nature is most untouched and can be appreciated for its intricate details
and textures. I find it remarkable how certain plants and flowers have the power
to transform a setting with their form and scale or colour and scent. It makes me
conscious of how we respond to the beauty of nature and what a basic instinct it is for
us to have a connection to the earth in some way.
So, it’s no surprise that annual spectaculars such as the Chelsea Flower Show make
for an almost religious pilgrimage for people of every walk of life and from across the
globe. The time and energy which goes into each space, whether small or large, is
always breath-taking. I see some of the same processes in my own work: how a simple
shape or texture can inspire an entire collection, telling a story of a faraway land or a
moment in time. The appreciation the gardeners and designers have is palpable. The
gentle and considered way they work with the plants, each one having its moment of
glory, is, like my own work, an emotive journey.
Here, in my garden, I aspire to a setting which is bold and fun, a place for parties and
impromptu suppers on a Friday when the kids and their friends descend on us. The
garden itself is a labour of love and something that has been developing for the 25
years we have lived here. My connection to gardening has definitely grown over that
time and I have been lucky enough to have had lots of help from a brilliant all-female
team. One of my favourite times is in Winter, pottering in the greenhouse, planting
seeds, and preparing and cleaning the garden ready for the growing season. There
is something about being on the edge, waiting for the first signs of Spring that is so
joyful and expectant, reminiscent of childhood.
Each year, and this year more so, the arrival of Spring seems like the first, the beauty
and riot of colour filling the trees and lawn, announcing the much-awaited rebirth after
Winter. The tulip with its gorgeous tonal colour and delicate form is something I have
always adored and have periodically encapsulated in 18ct Gold, so that I can enjoy
them all year round!
It is obviously very unusual to have so much time to spend in my garden at this time of
year. Pressing pause on the hustle of life, while disconcerting in many ways, has also
been such a pleasure. So much about life and gardening is about being industrious,
there is always something to do, but I have come to realise more recently that it is so
important to take the time to enjoy it too. Whenever I have taken the time to truly be
still and relish the simple pleasures, like the perfectly articulated form of a beetle, or
the texture of a seed, it has often resulted in something wonderful. The fairly recent
additions of 12-foot topiary trees I shipped back from a farm in Nantes, in South West
France, were the inspiration for my recently launched Garden Party
when I look at them, I am transported to a childlike place, their scale making me feel
small, like Alice In Wonderland; their scale and graphic shape cast a psychedelic
pattern across the lawn. I love how nature has that transformative quality.
I know when ‘normal’ life resumes, our pace will quicken, and we will all feel the tug
back to old habits. I am trying to find ways of tethering us to this time and the simple
pleasures which might escape us when the shops re-open and we can travel again.
Our greenhouse is a project I hope to develop into a beautiful place to be in the day,
but also in the evening for a gorgeous dinner party—an intimate space for supper with
family and friends we are missing so much. I plan to revisit Arne Maynards wonderful
garden at Allt-y-bela, a stunning Renaissance farmhouse nestled in a Welsh valley
with rolling lawns that seem to just disappear into the surrounding landscape, a place
John and I spent a memorable weekend with friends. I hope to incorporate water into
the garden somehow—time spent by the sea in recent weeks has felt invigorating
and life-affirming, and I would love to find a way of bringing that feeling closer to
the house. Most of all, I want to bottle what we have right now – an unprecedented
moment, probably never to be repeated, a global pause to listen and see nature in all
her glory—all while sipping a large gin and tonic at the bottom of the garden, with my
dogs at my feet.
BEHIND THE COLLECTION