Have a seat with...

Ann-Marie Powell

A multi-award winning garden designer, Ann-Marie Powell is also a television presenter, journalist and author. She divides her time between designing innovative gardens for private clients, companies and charities, and enthusing people about gardening through her books, television appearances and articles in national newspapers and magazines.

Congratulations on being named one of the top 50 garden designers by both House and Gardens Magazine and Horticulture Week, and thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us.

You’ve won so many awards and accolades, is there one in particular that stands out?

A swing seat in the community garden while the pond was being built

Oh, that’s so very kind of you to say! Goodness, every single one is much treasured and it would be impossible to choose the one that means the most to me. 

You recently posted that you’ve been a garden designer for over half your life now, what got you started on this path?

It was a very conscious decision - my grandfather was a miner and so spent much of his life in the dark down a pit, but his tiny garden in front of his back to back terrace and an allotment were very definitely his light.

He was a quiet man and I admired him greatly for being so calm and collected at the heart of his noisy brood. When I was young he told me that I should do a job I loved so I would never have to work a day in my life.

After spending a year travelling, admiring the wonders Mother Nature has to offer the world, I returned home and started to experiment with plants and planting in the first garden of my own - spurred on by an older and very dear friend Janet.

I immediately experienced the pleasure, joy and magic that my grandfather had conjured for himself all those years ago. I was hooked and signed up for a garden design course as soon as I could. 

I revel in amplifying nature to explore colour, scent and sound...

There is such a huge array of styles in the gardens that you’ve designed, what inspires you to come up with such a range? Do you have a favourite?

My client’s brief is top of the list! It’s always a privilege to be asked to create a garden for someone, be they a private individual, a company or a charity. After that the physical form of the site (light, shade, soil type and so forth) informs the possibilities, and then after that the imagination can begin to fly! 

I revel in amplifying nature to explore colour, scent and sound - really thinking about heightening the garden experience to the maximum. 

Ann-Marie holding a watering can ready to garden in some colourful heels

Colour and wildlife are essential elements - it’s a huge responsibility and my key goal in designing any garden is always enriching the owner and/or users relationship with the natural world.

What are the key changes you’ve seen in the industry since opening in 1999?

So many! Blue pots are certainly not de rigour any longer! Seriously though, when I first began, there really weren’t so many garden designers, and I’m not sure that it was really considered a serious profession, unless you were actually working within the industry.

These days, garden owners and also architects are valuing the connection between built and natural environment in supporting lifestyle, wellbeing and the natural world - there is less hard landscaping in gardens and LOTS more plants which is WONDERFUL. 

Is there any really versatile plant or material that you find yourself weaving into many different garden designs?

Regarding hard landscaping we’re consciously trying to repurpose existing build materials as much as possible in order to create sustainable landscapes, this may be reusing stone or using crushed waste as sub base. Regarding plants, single flowers, plants that are attractive to bees and other pollinators - a meadow always seems to weave its way in somewhere!

Hard landscape is the bones of a design, it’s the frames from which every other garden element hangs - it's most important to get it right. 

The trunk of a Tibetan Cherry tree

You talk about hard landscape in garden designs, something not often discussed, could you elaborate on the importance of this in your designs?

I trained in garden design and hard landscape as I felt it would be useful not only to be able to design, but also to understand how a garden could be built in order to better inform my process.

Be it gravel, stone, porcelain, deck and everything in between, hard landscape is the bones of a design, it’s the frames from which every other garden element hangs - it's most important to get it right. 

You’ve presented with a lot of famous gardeners on screen, off screen have you worked in collaboration with anyone that’s really impressed you or brought forward new perspective?

Goodness, everyone I work with gives me a new perspective!

I can tell you that spending time with Monty Don and his family at his garden in Herefordshire just as I started in garden design back in the nineties were wonderful times.

Monty has a visceral understanding of not just plants, but gardening. His love and understanding of his craft really informed me about the gardener (and designer) that I wanted to be. I was encouraged to work alongside Mother Nature and immerse myself in the wealth of gifts she gives us each and every day. Gardening is good for the soul, personal wellbeing, environment and of course the eye.

What is your average working day like?

I start early and end late! I check my social accounts in bed at around 6.30 am, then once I’ve helped my partner Jules get the children ready for school, it’s straight into email, before starting on my to-do list with the jobs of the day. It could be site meetings, a client proposal, writing, studio meetings, dealing with the accounts, laying out plants, construction details - anything and everything.

I finish at the studio between 6 and 7 pm and after a family supper together (ALWAYS), I’ll work some more on my personal project @myrealgarden - the wonderful Tamsin Westhorpe and I are currently writing a book collating keen amateur gardeners thoughts, feelings, hints, tips and advice into a book to be released at the end of March 2021.

How has this lockdown, and the previous, affected your work? What have you had to adjust?

We’ve had to become much more tech savvy. The whole world went online and we had to up our offering overnight. Our website was redesigned, and our social media improved, alongside holding many more meetings on Zoom and Skype.

It’s been hard work that’s for sure, and it’s difficult as a creative not to be able to work as collaboratively and ‘in person’ as we did before. But hey, we are where we are and will continue to make it work.

At the end of a busy day of work, what do you do to relax?

Friends, supper, drinks, a festival, a concert, gig or party are how I relax! Work hard and play hard is one of many mottos of mine! I really miss the company of people - that warm embrace, the impromptu laughter, the smiles, the love and togetherness.

We will get through this is very much the tone of the country for lockdown 2.0, how are you keeping calm and relaxed through the new restrictions?

There’s no doubt in my mind that I have gardened my way through lockdown, spurred on by the @myrealgarden community, I have been much more accountable for my own garden at home. It has been my saviour through all of this, and I’m so grateful for it. It’s almost like a horticultural shield from the difficulties of 2020. Gardening has kept me calm, kept me going and given me hope. No time to relax really (apart from the odd swing in the hammock!).

What jobs would you recommend for a keen amateur to work into their lockdown plans this Autumn?

Planting for sure - hardy seed, bulbs, more perennials, bare root roses, shrubs or trees, fruit - all of it is growing hope and gives one something to look forward to in the hope of a better spring 2021.

Finally, of all the gardens you’ve visited, what is your favourite garden?

Goodness, so many of them , but if I had to choose just one, I think it would be Waltham Place - the atmosphere, ambience and environmental ethics have stayed with me for years. In fact I really do need to get back there.

Thanks for chatting with us Ann-Marie, all the best! 

Find Out More...

Find out more about Ann-Marie Powell and the fantastic gardens she creates on her website:

www.ann-mariepowell.com

Follow Ann-Marie on her official Instagram or her personal project page:

@ann-marie_powell@myrealgarden

Ann-Marie is currently crowdfunding to publish her new book My Real Garden, full of hacks, tips and tricks from over 100 real people who love to get their hands dirty:

Find out more

The Sitting Spiritually 'Have a Seat With' series takes a look behind the scenes at how we switch off from the bustling modern-day lifestyle. We speak to people of all sorts of backgrounds and lifestyles around the country as we seek to explore the different ways of relaxing and just taking a moment.

Posted on November 30th 2020


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