Award winning garden designer Janey Auchinloss in her own back garden
PUBLISHED: 09:30 19 July 2016 | UPDATED: 09:31 19 July 2016
Gina Long talks to the presenter of Britain's Best Back Gardens
What are your earliest memories of gardening?
My mum was always pottering around in our garden, and to be honest, as a little girl I thought it was all rather boring. I’d rather have been climbing a tree.
What made you decide you wanted to pursue it as a career?
In my early thirties, divorced with two young daughters, I realised I needed a career which would enable me to work whilst bringing up the girls. Garden design sounded as if it would fit the bill, and I embarked on my first course at Otley College. Four years later, after studying at Writtle [college] and a year out at Cambridge University Botanic Gardens, I realised I’d found a profession which enabled me to use my creative talents as an illustrator, and discovered that, despite my earlier protestations, I loved gardening. Twenty-two years on, my enthusiasm is yet to wane .
How would you describe your own garden?
It’s a blank canvas as present, as we’ve just moved. I’m really looking forward to creating something really special, for myself for once.
What was it like being in front of the camera on Britain’s Best Back Gardens?
Initially it was daunting, but I quickly found my feet chatting to gardeners from all over the UK about their gardens. We filmed on average for 14 hours a day, then travelled to our next location before falling into bed in yet another B&B. Life as a TV presenter could hardly have been described as glamorous! One of the funniest moments happened when I walked into an electrical retailers when the series was being screened and saw myself on at least 50 TV screens. A very strange experience.
If you had one simple tip for any gardener of any expertise, what would it be?
Always hoe on a hot day. The weeds have no chance of survival then.
I was intrigued to learn that you’ve designed the gardens of a Moscow summer house.
Yes, James Soane, director of Project Orange, an award winning architect and design studio, and I have developed and overseen the implementation of the design of the house and gardens over the past three years. What is essentially a very English garden sits just outside Moscow, on the edge of a forest which was once the hunting grounds of the tzars.
Designing a garden thousands of miles from home, working with people who are so culturally different, in a climate with a temperature range of 40 degrees, was always going to be challenging. Not least because of the language barrier, and the constant need for an interpreter. Luckily, we quickly found that we spoke a common language – that of plants and plant names. Thank goodness for the universal use of Latin. The garden continues to develop in the safe hands of Mizar, the Tartarian gardener, and his team, guided by my regular emails.
I have wonderful memories of my trips, of the interpreter who loved to chat about translating for Thatcher and Gorbachev, and being driven at breakneck speed through Moscow by Sergei and Sergei, our client’s bodyguards, feeling like an extra in a Bond movie.
How important is the planning stage of any garden project?
Incredibly so, although of course many gardens simply evolve over time. Engaging a garden designer can prevent expensive mistakes being made, and maximise the use of space. Most people know what they want from their garden, but just don’t know how to translate it into reality. A designer can identify the best place for your veg garden, or the perfect G and T spot!
You won a Silver Award at your first Chelsea Flower Show. Did you think you had a chance at winning such a prestigious award?
I’ve always been very competitive, and having a garden accepted at Chelsea, arguably the world’s most famous flower show, became an ambition. Winning the silver medal was as the culmination of six months planning and 10 days of build up, where we rode a daily roller coaster of emotion. I would have loved my team to have won gold, if only for the dedication they showed, but silver was an incredible achievement for us bunch of newcomers from Suffolk.
During the show, you met the Queen. What did you talk about?
As anybody who knows me will confirm, I’m normally not exactly stuck for words. Her Majesty was very interested in the wording carved into the slate wall of the Bee Friendly Plants Garden, which read: If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would have only four years of life left. “That’s a rather frightening statement isn’t it?” she said. To which I replied: “Yes it is, isn’t it.” And then promptly froze!
What’s the Chelsea Flower Show like?
Crowded! I think that’s what most surprises people. The site is actually really compact, a riot of colour, scent and sound. I always head straight for the Artisan Gardens. These are tiny spaces, which I think relate most closely to the majority of our gardens, and there’s always a clever idea or two to take home.
One possession you treasure the most?
A tiny wooden pony, which I found in my Christmas stocking, 47 years ago. He’s now my lucky mascot, and travels around the world with me, to interviews, and even to the dentist
What makes you happy?
Seeing the swifts screaming around the Market Place in Lavenham. I get stupidly excited when I see the first ones returning in spring. And of course watching my daughters, Emily and Lucy, follow their own successful pathways in life.
I really can’t tolerate rudeness, and it makes me sad to see people who have no consideration for the welfare and feelings of others.
Your teenage crush was?
Slade. I even had my fringe cut like Dave Hill’s. And no, I don’t have a photo!
Your favourite smell is?
Plant related of course. There’s a scent for every season in the garden. The stunning orange Ballerina tulip smells of orange, and in summer, crushed Lemon verbena leaves are heavenly. In autumn, the leaves of Cercidyphylum drift to the ground wafting a hint of caramel, and even in the depths of winter the perfume of Sarcoccoca, or Christmas Box is all pervading .
What Suffolk gardens are a must-visit?
I love exploring the gardens of Wyken Hall. There are so many quirky elements within the design. But some of the best kept horticultural secrets can be found behind the garden gates in our beautiful villages during the open gardens season. I might be biased, but the hidden gardens of Lavenham and Chelsworth contain some absolute gems
The top three things on your bucket list?
To see the Northern Lights. According to my husband I’ve seen them, but a faint green glow on the horizon spotted from our rooftop terrace in Lavenham doesn’t count for me. To go wild water swimming or coasteering. To visit Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens in springtime, which hopefully I’m going to do this November.
Where would you most like to be right now?
Actually I’m quite happy in my new home in Lavenham. I’m looking forward to getting on with designing my own dream garden
Your guilty pleasure is?
Lindt chocolate, in particular Lindor. Luckily our fab grocer in Lavenham, Heeks, stocks it!