On Sunday 18th June I attended Gardener’s World Live for the first time. It felt timely, as it was also the programme’s 50th anniversary. It was a special day because not only was I surrounded by plants and nurseries, but I went with a friend from work and I met a new friend! Annabelle, whose blog is called Life at No 27, lives near the area I will be moving to shortly, so we decided GW Live would be the perfect time to meet. And it is thanks to her that I am able to put together this post today.
She had the amazing opportunity to interview Frances Tophill at Claudia de Yong’s show garden “Romance in the Ruins”. I tagged along to help her film, and was awestruck by the garden she had created taking Beeston Castle as her inspiration. I regret not taking more photos of the garden, but I simply enjoyed the moment of standing there, taking in the colours and smells; wondering how on earth the team had managed to make it look so… timeless.
Claudia de Yong won Gold for best show garden and you can spot on the telly talking to Frances Tophill about her inspiration for the garden. She has been kind enough to do an interview.
You have a background in design and retail. How did you get to your first flower show?
My first dabble into flower shows came after a chance conversation with the gardener of my old neighbour. Her gardener had a very good friend who ran a water garden nursery and was looking for a design for a show garden at Hampton Court Flower Show and I said I would love to have a go at doing one, despite never having done one and had only really been doing balconies and small garden projects for a year or so on my own.
For us non-designers, how does one get a “garden show gig”? Does the designer reach out or is it a company or charity who has a call out? Or do they simply contact the designer directly?
There are several ways of getting a garden show gig. You can either try and enter a design yourself which you self fund, you can approach a prospective sponsor, or you may get asked by a sponsor or be put forward by the RHS or other show organisers to tender for a sponsor that has asked them for recommendations.
Do you approach show gardens and normal commissions in a similar manner?
A show garden is approached very much like a job would be and there are similarities although, you will be normally working on a flat site without as many logistical and access problems. It is team work and you also have a great rapport with other contractors and designers on site, sometimes forming good friendships although some people do fall out too!
You’ve won over half a dozen RHS awards. How has your method changed throughout the years?
I don’t think my method has changed. You are always learning and prices have altered a great deal; transport can be more of a problem.
Mark Lane described your garden as romantic (I know the word was in the title!), your website also describes your style as such. What is a romantic garden? What qualities does it have, in your opinion? Have you developed this style or have you always… had it?
I think I have always been a romantic at heart. I like the more naturalistic style of planting and gardens that are not too heavy on hard landscaping. In my opinion, a romantic garden has certain elements in it like soft planting, water, trees, hidden areas, seating areas, brick paths, garden hideaways etc…
How important is it to use British growers and craftsmen/women?
I would love to use all home grown plants but that is not always feasible and I try wherever possible to include handmade local craftsman made products to support our wonderful local regional talent and keep products as natural as possible.
Water features heavily in your designs. How so?
I love water and I think it adds so much to a garden not only does it attract wildlife, it also helps to soothe you when sitting near it, reflects the landscape and helps to mask unwanted noises.
As a gardener, which is your favourite plant (and why)? Is there anything you just can’t seem to be able to grow or keep alive?
I don’t think I can name just one plant! I am like a child in a sweet shop with plants. Roses, nepeta, astrantias , even the common chive; I love them all. But, above all, I love trees. I have more problems with house plants than anything and seem to kill most of them!
You can read Claudia de Yong’s journey with Romance in the Ruins on her blog. Why not follow her on social media as well!?