poldark, aidan turner, scythe, gardeners, gardener, garden people

20 great garden people

It’s one of those things, isn’t it? Along with form filling, pension planning and running up a basic pair of curtains: Gardening. We’re supposed to have grown into it by now. Knowing our biennials from our perennials. Our cold frames from our cloche tunnels. Not to mention the art of planting, pruning and cross-pollination by hand. But HOW, we ask you? How, when we’re too tired to get off the sofa most of the time, are we supposed to know how to nurture a garden? Some of us can’t keep a basil plant alive from one online shop to the next for God’s sake. Come to think of it, we can’t even stay on top of our own landscaping. *feels for chin hairs* *books wax*

Give yourself a break, we say. You’re busy. Tired. A bit stressed. Yes, you need to kick back and smell the roses. But you don’t need to grow them too. Get someone else to do it for you. You’ll be surprised how little it can cost; even a few hour’s help can work wonders. Whether you’re after a massive landscaping extravaganza (natural swimming pond anyone?) or a pretty creeper-filled wall and pots for the postage stamp yard of your rental, we have someone for you. They’re the best we know. So give them a call. Your mother with her green fingers (and withering put-downs) need never know. Good for your soil. Good for your soul.

1. CAN-DO CULTIVATORS: GREEN SQUARE DESIGN (LONDON)

It all started when Natalie Davidson bought herself a house with a garden on a slope. A graphic designer (and self-confessed control freak), she spent a YEAR making 3D models of the garden (and YOU can’t be arsed to water that plant?). Her friend Janet Rapp was going through the same thing (minus the 3D modelling) and they hit upon retraining as garden designers. There followed some hardcore years studying plants (returning to essay-writing wasn’t a highlight), planting, landscaping – and Green Square Design blossomed. Fast forward 10 years and they’re working all over, from London roof terraces to huge gardens. They really love what they do and will pop over to a client at the weekend to check on the garden or trim a yew tree, refusing to charge. As well as being plant pros, they know the best places to source everything from handmade Belgian pots to unique garden furniture. Ideal if you’re paralysed by indecision (and ignorance) as they love Pinterest and will take you through their boards to get ideas or put together a mood board for you. Way better than nodding idiotically while a landscaper nurdles on about herbaceous this and hybrid what-d’ya-ma-callits. Put simply, these ladies are treasures and they will speak your language.

www.greensquaredesign.co.uk / 07808 403 163

2. MR WONDERWALL: LONDON SCHOOL OF DRYSTONE WALLING (LONDON)

It’s as though he’s shouting down the phone from some windswept moor or other… “It’s my passion, is drystone walling. It’s the history. The craft. The simple beauty!” Without wanting to slip into cliché, *slips into cliché* John Holt is a salt of the earth Yorkshire man. He’s proper old school yet he’s the most generous bloke, hell bent on passing on this dying art. The idea with dry walls is that the size, shape and balancing of the stones means there’s no mortar or cement holding them together. Picture those old wiggly walls snaking across the countryside. John builds walls for anyone, anywhere; isolated country spot to small city garden. Cost aside, why have brick or cement when you could have hand-crafted, honey-coloured stone? He’s so passionate he’s set up the London School of Drywalling which runs monthly workshops in London and Bedfordshire. A day will teach you enough to have a crack at your own wall. John just did a day for 20 lasses on a hen do which he took in his stride. A bit of a legend.

www.londonschoolofdsw.co.uk / 07749 032 680

3. THE SHACK MAN: SHACKADELIC (LONDON)

Like many a great man before him, Chris Hodge had his ah-ha moment on the loo. Working as a landscape gardener, he was struggling to do his paperwork at the kitchen table with a one-year-old dashing about and decided he needed an office in the garden. “I was hiding in the loo thinking about it and it all came to me, the idea for a business, the name Shackadelic, everything.” Fast forward seven years and he’s designed and built shacks of every description for every occasion. Recent projects have included a pool house, sauna, steam room and gym. A classroom for a family who homeschool their children. A magical den-inspired hideout. A pared-back garden pub. Check out the projects on his website. They ooze creativity and playfulness. Because a shack is not a shed. Sheds are functional. Shacks are fun. For Chris, every project is different and that’s what he loves; finding out what the client wants, what their dream is. It’s the problem solving, the creativity, the ‘Tree in the way? No probs, we’ll just build the shack around it’ can-do approach. In this chi chi Farrow & Bally, greigey, samey samey world, we love that each shack is so personal and with a real rustic, shacky edge. Plus his gardens are shacking good too.

www.shackadelic.co.uk / 07855 689 429

4. GOOD KIWI KARMA: KIWI LANDSCAPES (LONDON)

It was nearly 6 years ago but we still talk about it like it was the Summer of ‘69. The Kiwi summer. Big, strapping Kiwis, all tanned legs and battered boots. Cheery, chilled and endlessly chatty. Pitching up every morning with their flat whites and banter. They sledgehammered our concrete monstrosity of a garden, got rid of it and built a beautiful, simple, new one. Way too quickly. Nothing was a problem. The old shed was in a stupid position. “No dramas we’ll shift it in a jiffy,” as they hoisted it up and flipped it around. They hilariously saw off the nosey neighbour who’d taken to skulking on his roof to spy. Their lingo is eternally upbeat, everything is ‘sweet’, ‘good as gold’, ‘magic’. They’re surprisingly skilled craftsmen, charming company and after two weeks of staring through the sitting room window at them we were gutted to see them go. The result? A beautiful garden, the envy of the neighbours that’s as good six years down the line as it was the day the Kiwis left. *sobs at the memory* Plus when we had any follow up stuff like queries about maintenance they dropped in at the drop of a hat.

www.kiwilandscapes.com / 0208 843 9795

5. POSH PLAYHOUSE PEOPLE: THE PLAYHOUSE COMPANY (HEREFORDSHIRE)

With her leaky roof and rotting window frames, one Midult bemoans the fact that her kids’ playhouse is better made than their actual home. Admittedly she bought it on Gumtree. Which is lucky as she’d have had to sell her house to buy the playhouse new, they start at over a grand. But if you’ve got the cash, these are the ones to buy. Beautiful, well thought out and they last for years. Top quality wood, interlined walls and a membrane under the roof. You could drive a truck at this thing and it would stay standing. A hedge-funder Midult we know had the same company knock her up a treehouse for an eye watering £20,000. It was a thing of magic and beauty.

www.theplayhousecompany.co.uk / 01544 387 100

6. DIAL-A-MOVER: FANTASTIC GARDENERS (LONDON & NORTH WEST ENGLAND)

About as far from your old-style jobbing gardener as it gets. You dial the switchboard where efficient young things quiz you about what exactly you want and book a team of two to come round. They arrive on time, blitz your gardening jobs and disappear leaving order and no mess. No hobnob breaks, no chat. After years of battling to get the shitty mower out of the shed, rummaging in the understairs cupboard to find an extension lead, all to cut the rug-sized ‘lawn’, this is a revelation. Basically the outdoor equivalent of booking an agency cleaner. Which they also do by the way. And ovens. Also amazing. You can go for a one-off (they do bigger stuff like landscape design and tree planting, though we’d stick to the maintenance stuff for this lot) or you can sign up for a once a month keep-the-garden-in-check. Great for pressure washing decking and shifting garden rubbish too. For a fee, they make you feel like you’re on top of your shit and for that, we salute them.

www.fantasticservices.com/gardening-and-outdoor-maintenance/ / 0203 404 2272

7. WONDER ON WHEELS: PLANKBRIDGE LTD (DORSET)

Beautiful wagons of wonderfulness. What’s the appeal? It’s a Wendy house for grown-ups. A hideaway. In the English landscape. They’re beautiful to look at, less kitsch than a gypsy caravan, more pared back rusticana. Think Gabriel Oak sitting on the steps, shirt billowing in the wind, cutting an apple with a pocket knife. The added bonus is that because they’re on wheels you don’t need planning permission for them, and they’re cheaper than having an extension if you want a spare room. As their maker Richard Lee explains, “There’s this bucolic English side to them. Somewhere you can have peace.” We love his corrugated steel ones as they’ve a more authentic feel and while Plankbridge does have its high-end customers (Highgrove, Hampton Court and various statelies) it also caters for urban dreamers and has hoisted the things over rooftops with a crane to get them into city gardens. The pictures on their website gallery are enough to make you weep with longing. True escapism.

www.plankbridge.com / 01300 348 414 

8. EASY PEASY GARDEN: EASIGRASS (LONDON)

True, when our Midult had the Easigrass put in she didn’t want the neighbours to know (she still hasn’t told her dad… “Is that GREENGROCER’S GRASS on your LAWN?”) But it’s grown on her. Or rather it hasn’t grown at all. Or muddied. Or gone bare. It’s like having a gorgeous carpet outside and at least one person we know does the full Hyacinth Bucket and takes the vacuum to hers. A good landscape gardener will opt for Easigrass over other fake grass rivals as it’s the crème de la crème in the fake stakes, but you can cut out the middle man and go straight to Easigrass who will do it themselves, supplying and fitting (it’s a detailed process of digging down, layers of prep, fitting, securing). They also do more extensive landscaping if you want them to do more than just the grass. It’s not for lawn snobs and not ideal for wildlife. But how blissful that you need never mow (or pay someone to mow your tiny square patch) and it’s as comfy and cosy as lying on your bedroom carpet. Roll up, roll up.

www.easigrass.com / 0208 843 4180

9. SCENIC SWIMMING: GARTENART SWIMMING PONDS (LONDON)

Do the words ‘natural swimming pond’ cause you to shudder? Romantic for the hardy ones. Grim for the rest of us with visions of hyperventilating in freezing murky waters, feet tangled in weeds, slimy toads ‘a skulking. But Gartenart’s ponds are on a whole other level. They’re lined, landscaped, filtered and can even be heated. The videos on their website say it all: surprised swimmers who were plainly expecting the bitter pill of outdoor swimming in Blighty (don’t you feel wonderful when you get out, all shivery and… yep, pleased it’s over) and instead found themselves immersed in a deliciously other-worldly experience. Most of the ponds are more country – you need at least 12m by 8m for it to work, with landscaping around. It’s the domestic version of wild swimming; when you put your foot down (you can see the bottom), it’s onto a solid base not slime and though you will get the odd pond skater it’s far from soupy. These guys are so good they’re called out all over, from Jersey to Italy, Greece to Yorkshire. Compared to a bright blue, chlorine filled rectangular swimming pool these ‘natural’ pools are things of beauty.

www.gartenart.co.uk / 0207 183 3333

10. BORDERS IN THE BORDERS: GARDEN OPTIONS (SCOTTISH BORDERS)

It’s not so much whether you like Garden Options, it’s whether they like you. Or rather your garden. Hamish Henderson explains, “I come and look at your garden and tell you if it’s the sort of work I want to do. It sounds cocky but we’re just two teams and we want to be proud of every job we do so we are selective about what we take on.” They’re fairly high-end so if you’re wanting to rip up your mature garden and replace it with gravel and fake lawn, maybe not for you. But if the project’s right they’ll do anything from a day’s work to a four-month project. Based in Melrose in the Scottish Borders, they venture down to Northumberland, up to Edinburgh and further. Particularly good with natural stone – lots of projects for Historic Scotland, listed buildings and so on. Based where they are, they go for a natural country look, understatedly classy. They also have a large retail business, Hendersons, on Melrose High Street, full of beautiful antique garden bits ranging from old stone urns to lovely outdoor furniture at not bad prices, so you can pick up a piece of classic gardenware even if you live on the other side of the country.

www.gardenoptions.com / 01896 820 630

11. SMALL GARDEN SAVIOURS: THE URBAN GARDENERS (LONDON)

She’d rather keep it under wraps but one desperate Midult found these guys when her green-fingered (and did we mention just a teensy bit critical?) mother was due to visit. She’d managed to kill all the plants her mother had tastefully planted in an antique stone planter the year before as a housewarming gift (yes, water would have helped) and a colleague recommended these guys. Sure, they’ll totally redesign and replant a large south London garden if you’re lucky enough to have one of those, but if you only have a postage stamp, a terrace or even a poxy ledge, they won’t laugh at you. This Midult’s Ma was thoroughly impressed by her blooming pots and left none the wiser (not without suggesting the Midult’s dress would benefit from support knickers though…). Toby’s at the helm and his skill lies in proving that no matter how small your space, you can create an outside area “that’s beautiful and a life enhancer”. They’re good on the follow-up, so if you’re the type who doesn’t know her planting from her pruning, book them in for a bit of regular maintenance.

www.theurbangardeners.co.uk / 07971 900 064

12. OUTDOOR FIXER-UPPERS: OAKLEIGH MANOR (UK WIDE)

As its name suggests, not cheap-as-chips jobbing gardeners this lot. Some of their jobs even cost upwards of half a million. However, they also do smaller jobs and their selling point is that they incorporate everything into the business. So instead of getting the gardener to do the plants and then a mason to do the wall, an electrician to do the lighting, these chaps will do it all. Want a base built for a hot tub? A new garage? Electric gates? Tree planting? Garden room? They have it covered. Set up 22 years ago by Ross and Stuart, they go far and wide, from Oxfordshire down to Brighton. Their imagination knows no limits and they do the most innovative of projects, from outdoor kitchens with underfloor heating (in the garden!) to a recent spa-inspired pool lined with Italian porcelain and a self-sealing cover. The key, Ross explains, is to create a flow from inside to outside, so your garden is part of your home rather than an empty grassy space you use five times a year when the sun’s out.

www.oakleighmanor.com / 0800 023 1310

13. NICE AND NATURAL: GO WILD LANDSCAPES (OXFORDSHIRE)

True, they have the gardens of Oxfordshire at their disposal (all that gorgeous honey coloured Cotswold stone) but Go Wild’s online gallery reads like the pages of Country Living magazine, all biscuit tin thatched cottages, aged garden sundials and artfully ‘natural’ flower beds. Throw in an apple orchard and a wildlife pond and we’re hooked. They really are in the business of creating the gardens of your dreams. They know their stuff and are big on soil quality and creating a garden that has plants flourishing at every time of the year. But they’re also big on the idea that a garden has to look as if it’s grown that way. Not too ‘cultivated’. Nothing blingy or gimmicky here. Their patios and decking use top notch materials, the garden buildings use natural woods and are absolute classics. The consultation is good. Clients can feel exhausted by the research stage where you’re quizzed within an inch of your life about what you want from a garden, how the kids will use it and so on. But when you see the exquisite drawings detailing the proposed layout, plants and materials, not to mention the end result, you won’t be complaining.

www.gowildlandscapes.co.uk / 07802 720 652

14. FRUIT TREE FOLK: SUFFOLK FRUIT AND TREES (SUFFOLK)

Dan is a fruit tree legend. His website will sell you anything from a simple apple tree to all manner of heritage varieties. Seriously, if you’re after your own tree (or small orchard?) don’t muck about with the big chain garden centres, these guys will sell you more mature ones which fruit a year after planting. Dan’s list of heritage varieties is jaw dropping, beautiful sounding Sops in Wine, Chivers Delight, Blenheim Orange not to mention plums and gages with names like Czar, Avalon and Marjories’ seedling. They’ll send these anywhere in the UK and don’t panic, if you can’t keep a basil plant alive let alone a fruit tree the man himself will come to your place (for a fee) and in his slow, methodical way, explain to you all about how to make it thrive, from checking the soil quality, to drainage to making sure varieties cross pollinate well. He is truly passionate about fruit trees. It’s a long term investment. Do it well and it will give you pleasure for 40 years or more, he says. Better still, if you get the thing planted and hit problems down the line, Dan will come and put you back on track, treating, advising and nurturing. Dan’s the fruit tree Man.

www.realenglishfruit.co.uk / 01379 870 759

15. TECH TITANS: WARNES MCGARR & CO (WIGAN)

There were differences of opinion. Where our Cheshire Midult grew up, gardens were all mud lawns, crazy paving patio and a barbecue made out of a pile of old bricks. Until she married hubby from Down Under. He’d set his sights on greater things but he had to bring in Warnes McGarr & Co to convince her. It worked. Who wouldn’t be swayed by this lot? They turn everything we thought about a British garden on its head. Outdoor kitchens involving not only wood burning stoves but also outdoor fridges and outdoor weatherproof televisions. Yet, in spite of all this, they’re big on biodiversity and every garden they create is designed to let wildlife thrive. And if it’s something simpler like a more traditional lawn and raised beds scenario you’re after, they can do that too. But really they want to bring you something a bit more high tech, that’s their thing.

www.warnes-mcgarr.co.uk / 01257 696 012

16. SERIOUSLY SWINGING: SITTING SPIRITUALLY (LYNE REGIS)

We can thank the National Garden Scheme (a charity that helps owners open up their gardens to the public) for these swings. “They asked us to show our garden,” says Martin, “but said it needed something to occupy people. I’d always wanted a swing seat like the ones in American films but I couldn’t find one anywhere, so I sent off for a blueprint and made one myself.” (He is a carpenter) Everyone who visited his garden asked about the swing. Soon after, he was swinging (‘meditating’) and when he opened his eyes a friend was standing there. He asked, “Have you finished sitting spiritually?” Bingo. Martin dashed inside, bought the domain name and by the end of the year he’d given up his job to make swings. Now 14 years on he has five joiners and a range of products. You’ll struggle to find a sturdier more beautiful swing whether you’re after one to hang from a mighty oak or a seat swing to squeeze onto your tiny yard. They’re simple, stylish and way more comfortable than other swings. (“Most garden furniture is made to sit at 90 degrees which looks great but that’s not how we sit. We make ours at 105 degrees angle which is way more comfortable.”) And the floating bench is big among designers. Genius.

www.sittingspiritually.co.uk / 01297 443 084

17. TOP FOR TREES: RUSKINS TREES AND LANDSCAPES (ESSEX)

We never really thought about trees. Until we talked to the good people at Ruskins. We’d heard they know all about trees and not just in an ‘Yes, that’s an oak’ kind of way. They know which tree should be planted next to that tree, how far away, in what soil conditions. They can source and plant the trees for you and offer advice on maintenance, or they can swoop in and help you plant a tree you’ve sourced yourself. Up to you. A big part of what they do is tree moving. Yes they’ll actually lift a whole tree from your garden and replant it in another spot – in a completely different location, if you wish. They do this a lot for people who want to take a memorial tree with them when they move. Oh and they make superb play equipment out of massive fallen tree trunks too. Way nicer than a tatty metal climbing frame out back. If you’re not close by they have experts across the country who they can refer you to take on your job.

www.ruskins.co.uk / 01277 849 990

18. STYLE GURUS: GARDEN CLUB LONDON (LONDON)

These guys are all about creating a flow from the house to the garden. They’ll study what your style and décor is inside and try to give the garden the same vibe so your living space spans indoors and outdoors. It takes a lot more skill and planning to make a tiny city garden look amazing than it does a rambling one, though Tony tackles minimalist roof terraces and south London country-style gardens equally well. He’s been doing it for six years but gardening since he was 15 and has a true knack for plants. Which is a real bonus as so many landscapers simply chuck in a load of plants, hit you with a weekly maintenance contract and nothing lasts, he tells us. He aims to visit your garden just a few times a year to prune, plant bulbs and so on, once the landscaping is done. But, he says, never feel guilty about calling in help with the garden, no matter how small your space is. “Often the people who sneer at someone with a small garden calling in a garden expert are retired with 18 hours to spare on their hands each week. Most of my clients don’t want to have to spend even an hour on their garden.” Tony, we love you.

www.gardenclublondon.co.uk / 0203 126 4994

19. THE DESIGN GENIUS: PHILIP NIXON (OXFORDSHIRE)

Designer, outdoor architect and plant specialist all rolled into one, Nixon is about as far from a ‘gardener’ as Leonardo was a painter decorator. His website explains it best: “We believe excellence in design is the thread that ties together landscape, sustainability, architecture and art. We seek to constantly explore the relationship between inside and out, between art and design, and between the natural and the created landscape.” When you see the gardens he helps create you’ll get it. They’re creative, stunning, artistic. Dramatic yet simple, imaginative yet horticulturally exciting. If the project is worth it, he’ll go there; New York, Russia, Sweden… And he takes Chelsea Flower Show by storm every year. Tiny gardens aren’t for him simply because it’s not worth it if you’ve only £20,000 to spend. He works in the same way as an architect, designing, drawing, not actually building the thing himself. “But we’ll oversee the whole project,” he says, “right through to handing over the keys.” These are beautifully choreographed gardens where every detail is planned and bearing in mind how exclusive the business is, Nixon is charmingly open-minded and approachable.

www.philipnixondesign.com / 01451 828 282

20. THE INSPIRATION QUEEN: YORKSHIRE GARDEN DESIGNER (YORK)

“I’ve a bee in my bonnet”, says Sally Tierney (must be all those beautiful flowers). “It’s what I call the garden equation.” Hit us with it Sally. “The time it takes to look after a garden HAS to be equal to the amount of time the client is willing to spend working in it. You’d be amazed at how many designers create stunning gardens which need hours of upkeep when the client only intends to do the bare minimum.” We love the Inspiration Package she offers. Rather than committing to a massive garden redesign when you’re not sure, for £500 Sally will spend a few hours in your garden finding out what you want, working up ideas, doing drawings and devising a plan to put into action or sit on for a while, your choice. So many designers don’t ask the right questions, she says. Or ANY questions. (“Ah, so you want to grow your own vegetables that’s nice… you’ll need to be out there every day for 6 months of the year, are you OK with that?”) She’s chatty, sparky, full of great ideas, will go all over Yorkshire and her book The Garden Equation is a great starting point for anyone wanting to know where to start without going the whole Alan Titchmarsh.

www.yorkshiregardendesigner.co.uk / 01904 623 343

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