A sterling year for Lavenham's Silver lady
PUBLISHED: 17:40 16 August 2010 | UPDATED: 17:42 20 February 2013
Garden designer Janey Auchincloss has had a busy and successful year, firstly moving into her innovative new home, and then winning a Silver award at her first attempt at the Chelsea Flower Show. Pippa McLardy went to meet her
Garden designer Janey Auchincloss has had a busy and successful year, firstly moving into her innovative new home,and then winning a Silver award at her first attemptat the Chelsea Flower Show. Pippa McLardy went to meet her at her hillside hideaway with views of Lavenham Church, and found her torn between the demands of creating a garden for herself and partner John, and finishing the decorating inside the house
As my tour of her extraordinary house comes to a close and storm clouds hover over Lavenhams Church of St Peter and St Paul, standing proudly centre stage of the panorama across ripening fields, I wonder if I detect a slightly wistful note to garden designer Janey Auchinclosss observation: Its been a very exciting year.
So much has been achieved since August 2009. Firstly, she and her partner John have moved into their rebuilt home, set on five rambling acres on the outskirts of Lavenham. Next, she received the wonderful accolade of a Silver Medal for her first attempt at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, creating a bee-friendly courtyard garden. And to top that, among many other famous visitors who stopped by to admire her work, she was chosen to meet the Queen when the monarch made her customary visit.
Her Majesty remarked that the gardens engraved slate wall quoting Einsteins alleged saying If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, man would have only four years of life left, was a frightening statement, but Janey was too over-awed to strike up much of a conversation!
Now, though, while the initial euphoria of the move and the show success may be over for the time being, theres still a lot of work to be done at home, and the prospect of another Chelsea Show next year to work towards, so I sense any wistful nostalgia will be short-lived.
Once you have a Silver, the urge is there to try for a Gold, Janey explained, although next year my entry will be more plant-based.
Sponsored this year by Global Stone of Little Tey near Colchester, who supplied slate, inky-black limestone and sandstone for use in the design, and with plants from Holly Cheeses Bee-Friendly Plants nursery at Drinkstone, the garden relied on a fair amount of hard landscaping. This was designed, for free, by architect Paul Hammond, a partner at the Hadleigh firm of Wincer Keivenaar, and was a first time opportunity for him as well as for Janey and Holly.
Originally trained as an illustrator, Janey (now 46) knew she had to find a new career when, around 14 years ago, divorce left her with two young daughters to care for. Courses at Otley College and Writtle led to an invaluable year in the Cambridge University Botanical Gardens, when she reluctantly enrolled her daughters into childcare while she studied.
Having established herself in garden design, she and John met Paul when they were searching for an architect to work on an extension for the secluded 1970s cottage they bought on Lavenhams outskirts in 2006. They had admired work done on Lavenhams Pharmacy, and obtained contact details for Wincer Keivenaar from the owners.
Soon, plans for an extension were superseded by plans to replace the whole building, while retaining the basic A-frame shape, and a long period of negotiation with the local council planners ensued. But first, the tree-laden hillside site needed to be opened up, and the fabulous views exploited. A cherry tree avenue was among the casualties, but after a year of seasoning at Suffolk Tree Services, the wood was put to good use in the impressive kitchen, hand-built by Lavenham Joinery.
Four years on and after a year of building, the house is finished on the outside, and is a wonderfully striking mixture of curves and angles, tall windows, balconies and terraces, all combining wood, glass, slate and wildflower-strewn roofs. Inside is a work in progress, as Janey and John decided quite early on to tackle the final finishes themselves, to ensure they didnt rush into decorating decisions they would come to regret.
Passing an ornamental pond, home to several species of newt and an original feature of the former property on the site, the front door opens to a light entrance hall, from which a curving staircase rises to the main reception room on the uppermost floor. The walls of the hall are of gleaming polished plaster that few can resist running a hand over.
A further staircase descends to a wonderful basement area, consisting of a large utility room and a spectacular guest suite of bedroom, with floor to ceiling curving windows opening to a covered terrace, and a large bathroom.
The main floor starts at ground level, but then the ground falls away so the terraces and balcony are raised to first floor height. From the hall, oak doors open to the glorious kitchen/dining room/Janeys studio, again with a bank of curved windows opening out in one direction to the curved balcony with panoramic views, and in the other, to a triangular east-facing terrace. With the main structure of the kitchen units in home-grown cherry, the doors are of spalted beech, its natural patterns created by a fungus running through the wood. Worktops are honed granite, and the floor is clad in mackerel-effect porcelain tiles from the Emirates.
Surprisingly, the next door off the hallway opens to a passageway leading into the master suite of bedroom, shower room and walk-in wardrobe. Cow Parsley wallpaper by Cole and Son lines the passage and one wall, and the under-heated floor is of black walnut. Colours are largely organic, and here the shower room has tiles of an algae-like hue.
The second and third bedrooms, each with its own differently-styled shower room, also have feature walls of Cole and Sons wallpaper. Furniture is an eclectic mix of styles and ages 60s pieces seem at home here, Janey remarks. But every piece comes with a meaningful tale as to its provenance and history.
Up in the not-quite-completed main reception room at the top of the house, a leather sofa which once belonged to her late father-in-law is particularly precious as she has memories of her two daughters bouncing on it as toddlers.
By the time of reading, the room should have been finished with a purple-grey paint on the chimneybreast, and the rest in Farrow and Balls clunch shade. Janey plans a needlecord carpet from Crucial Trading to offset her furnishings, which include two striking lamps from Coco at Lavenham, topped by Habitat shades.
Top floor terraces open to front and back, with the front one coming complete with open fireplace. The terraces are linked by a stretch of Lindum wildflower turf, which will need scything and clearing in September, and gives a strange illusion that you are still on the ground, looking out over a burgeoning meadow.
The five-acre garden will take time to complete, but already has its designated areas; structured gardens being developed close to the house, lead on to an orchard area called Middle Earth, leading in turn to the Wild Wood. A hedged enclave is the Inner Sanctum, while the hill in front of the house is called (some might think, aptly) the North Face. And perhaps to some with less energy, the whole project may indeed seem like a mountainous task; but to Janey, I suspect, this is just a slight incline on the uphill climb.