Rebecca Smith - Garden design & consultancy

The Beginning

January 2014.

We are here in my office and it is raining. So much for the weather so far today, there is rather loud thunder is crashing over my head, which is making me question not just the wisdom of my choice of this attic room for an office, but my occupation as a whole. Garden Designers, you see, spend a lot of time outdoors. All year. No matter what the weather.

I used to have an inside job.

I wore ‘dry clean only’ clothes, high heels, make up and even dried my hair properly. Like a grown up. It was a glamorous job in the world of Fine Art in London, of black-tie evening auctions where I (only once I admit) spent over 3 million dollars on something rather fabulous for a buyer on the other end of a phone line, in another time zone, who didn’t speak English as a first language. We were ‘girls in pearls’ and it was all rather fabulous, exciting and fun.

But there was something missing…

Two small children later, after decamping from the smog of South Kensington, we found ourselves in a house on the edge of the Downs overlooking the Milland Valley. It was a rather ugly house with a fabulous view and so we moved in, changed the windows (instantly creating a better looking house) and looked at its setting. A flat grass field edged by a drive, the house, and then the land fell away. An empty space, used by the previous owners and their four boys as a football pitch, met my eyes from every window. All colours of green but nothing else.

A change was needed. Start small.

We created a terrace on the south side of the house for our table so that we could host dinners for the many weekend friends down from London. The terrace looked bare so I planted a rose against the wall. It needed a friend. So I planted alchemilla mollis at its feet. It needed a friend. So we planted bulbs. And delphiniums. And peonies. Plants that I remembered from childhood but had not thought about since childhood. Box balls defined spaces. Pots were found for annuals and yet more bulbs. I even grew some peas.

Spring 2002

We found long forgotten fruit trees at the base of the south-facing retaining wall when we had to clear to install a new septic tank. There were gooseberries! I had never ever in my life had eaten a gooseberry before we lived in that house. There was a peach tree against the wall of the shed which we converted into my office. Peaches! And so it grew (hahah) from there. I learned, the hard way, that daffodils like to face the sun, after planting 1000 narcissus in the orchard below the house. Not a single cheery flower face looked north to the house! But there were bucket loads of cut flowers, even now the sweet smell of narcissus reminds me of that first house.

The ground elder and knot weed at the front of the house was turfed over and eventually gave up the ghost after several seasons of being mown weekly with the ride-on mower that my husband was weirdly excited to buy. I have since learned that this is normal for men who move out of London. We made a lawn where the football pitch had been. A Wendy House arrived from a kind relation and had its own tiny garden and wee window boxes. The children spent days with their miniature wheelbarrows playing at raking and clearing leaves and ‘helping’.

We did not stay in that little house for very long; only a few years before selling to yet another young family, just down from London. We moved on to a bigger house in the same town with a mature, well established garden. But that is another story.

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