Have a seat with...

Clive Nichols

Named Britain's best garden photographer by Canon Photo plus magazine, Clive Nichols is also a lecturer for the RHS and has over 30 years of experience.

Claus Dalby Garden, Denmark

Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions, firstly, what got you into photography?  

At university in Reading, I was studying Human Geography and I had a friend called Aidrian who was taking fantastic black and white pictures, so I asked him how he did it and he showed me how to operate an SLR camera. 

Tulipa ‘La Belle Epoque’ – Arundel Castle Gardens
Tulipa ‘La Belle Epoque’ – Arundel Castle Gardens

After Uni I worked as a chef in an Italian restaurant to earn money, but I dreamt of travelling and taking photos like the ones I had seen in the National Geographic Magazine.

So, I saved up money and started to travel in my holiday time, writing about the places I visited.

After a year or two I decided that few people were photographing flowers and gardens, so I switched from travel to gardens and have never looked back!

Sounds like it was meant to be!

What made you professionally specialise in garden and flower photography?

I literally saw a gap in the market – I walked into Smiths newsagent one day and started looking through the magazines and I realised that there were a lot of garden magazines so I thought ‘I can do that’ and began immediately to take garden photos. 

It was autumn, and I went to Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire, took a set of photos and sent them off to Homes & Gardens magazine and they bought them off me. 

A great success from day one, fantastic! Which aspect of an average photoshoot do you enjoy the most?

I certainly don’t enjoy getting up at 2am which I sometimes have to do to drive to a garden for sunrise! But when I am there I am in heaven – especially if it’s a beautiful warm morning and the sun is shining.

The first hour on your own in a magical garden can be like stepping into the Garden of Eden.

The overhanging gardens of Marqueyssac, Perigord, France
The overhanging gardens of Marqueyssac, Perigord, France

Of all the flowers, plants and garden designs that you’ve photographed abroad, what elements would you love to see more of in the UK?  

Foreign gardens have a better structure than English gardens, which often rely a little too much on flowers for their impact. French gardens for example tend to have more hardscaping and topiary in their designs – there is nowhere like Marqueyssac in the UK for example.

The first hour on your own in a magical garden can be like stepping into the Garden of Eden.

Malverleys Garden, Hampshire
Malverleys Garden, Hampshire

With over 30 years of experience in garden photography you must have seen some eccentric gardens, what’s the most bizarrely beautiful shot you’ve taken? 

I think the huge horse head sculpture in frost by Nic Fiddian-Green at Malverleys in Berkshire is probably the most extraordinary beautiful thing I have photographed.

Pettifers, Oxfordshire

We’ve read that dawn light is great for outdoor photography, but what other times of day bring their own rewards to the photographs you take?  

Yes, dawn light is the best – especially the first hour or so when the light is low and raking across a garden scene.

In the morning on a sunny day there is usually a lot of moisture around, so plants are often at their best covered in gossamer cobwebs or emerging out of mist. Evenings are good too but usually the moisture levels are lower because of the suns effect.

Morton Hall, Worcestershire
Morton Hall, Worcestershire

Dawn light is the best - especially the first hour or so when the light is low and raking across a garden scene.

Tulipa ‘Amazing Parrot’ – Morton Hall
Tulipa ‘Amazing Parrot’ – Morton Hall

Which flower or plant would you consider the most photogenic? 

My personal favourite is the tulip – there is something about their shape, sheen, habit and colour that makes them extra special and incredibly photogenic.

They are beautiful. Have you still been able to largely continue working through the pandemic?

Yes, for sure – as I am able to work in gardens with no one around it has been fantastic. Most days however I am in my office processing pictures or answering emails.

As we're all spending more time at home, we'd like to know about your garden. Have you been so taken with anything that you’ve photographed that you’ve recreated it in your own garden? 

Yes – one of my favourite gardeners is a guy called Claus Dalby wo lives in Denmark. He has a massive following on Instagram and plants thousands of tulips in container displays at his house.

I have stayed with him and photographed his incredible pot displays and I tried to replicate them on a small scale in my own tiny courtyard garden.

How do you like to relax when you’ve been especially busy? What space are you in, what can you see, smell and hear?

If I am in a garden that I have been photographing I like to just relax by walking around listening to the sound of birds and smelling the flowers. I have a very good sense of smell and it’s amazing just how many flowers are fragrant. If I am at home, I like to watch sport – cricket and rugby especially.

Morton Hall, Worcestershire

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

There are several – one is Pettifers – a garden which I visit often as it is in my village. I am also fond of Morton Hall garden near Redditch, Wollerton Old Hall in Shropshire, Silver Street farm in Devon and Tresco on the Isles of Scilly, a very special place.

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 March 24th 2021


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