We are huge fans of Polly Wilkinson at H|M and love to follow her brilliant insights into garden design via her instagram account where she engages with a loyal following of garden enthusiasts covering everything from what bees need in a garden to advice on choosing limestone vs porcelain for outdoor flooring.
We were thrilled to catch up with Polly to share this Q&A:
Was there a catalyst moment where you decided to switch from a career in marketing to garden design?
As with many women, it was having children that made me readdress my career goals. I was very conscious that if I was going to be a working mother that I wanted to do something that I really loved and derived a great deal of satisfaction from. Whilst marketing provided me with an excellent grounding in business, it didn’t scratch my creative itch, so after much consideration I realised that combining my love of design with horticulture was the ideal solution. I retrained shortly after my second son was born and set up the studio soon after.
What would you say inspires you most when it comes to a new design?
For residential spaces, my inspiration is usually drawn from the client and their home. A garden needs to be in conversation not only with the house and its interior; but with its surroundings, so the design will also be informed by the location – whether it be town or country for example, can have a huge bearing on the appropriacy of a design.
I spend a lot of time with my clients to understand their lifestyle, as well as their personal aesthetic and this can steer the direction of the design too.
Can you talk us through the design process and the service you offer?
We start with a consultation. This is where I come to site and meet with the client. We have a cup of tea and tour the garden, and talk through likes and dislikes, their lifestyle, aspirations, and how they expect to use the space.
From there we arrange a topographical survey, measuring up the site to captures all levels, utilities and features so that we can get started on a scaled design.
Next up is the concept design. This is a 2d layout plan and 3d visuals, along with moodboards of the look and feel of the space. This is where we focus on the actual layout of the garden – what will go where and how the garden will flow as a space.
Once this is agreed we move on to the developed design, where we focus on the materiality and finer details such as laying patterns, grout colour, lighting etc.
Then it’s on to the technical detailing. This includes all the information the contractor needs to build the garden, whether it be technical specifications on building retaining walls or pergolas, to setting out plans for the overall garden.
And finally – the very best bit – the planting plans. This is a map of every single plant to be included in the garden – as well as moodboards and plant schedules which list every plant, pot size and quantity for ordering and setting out.
This is all packaged up and sent to the contractors to quote for the work and once appointed, we kick off the build!
Do you have any advice for anyone who is looking to re-design their outdoor space? And what sort of things should they think about prior to engaging a garden designer?
My most common piece of advice for those doing house works, is to consider the garden design at the same time as planning the house. I am very used to collaborating with architects, to make sure the designs are cohesive, and in an ideal world you want a plan in place for the garden before building works get under way to avoid any rushed decisions. The house and garden are in conversation, so having a plan in place, even if not executed until later down the line, means they will feel like two parts of a cohesive whole.
For those that are solely looking at garden works, I recommend taking your time to find the right designer for you. There is a temptation to rush these things to be ready for the summer, but gardens can take several years to mature and so as with any build works, it pays to get the right team in place.
In the meantime you can spend time taking notice of how the light moves in the garden – which areas you are drawn to and how you want to use the space.
We are designing more outdoor kitchens than ever before at H|M, do you have any advice for planting / design for projects including an outdoor kitchen?
They are very popular aren’t they! I would say outdoor kitchens are on almost every brief I receive at the moment. My main tip is – if your outdoor kitchen doesn’t include a fridge, keep it near the house. You are far more likely to use it if it’s near the interior kitchen so you can shuttle food out easily.
Alternatively, it can be lovely to have a dining space further away from the house so that it becomes a destination in its own right, rather than an extension of your kitchen, and in which case I recommend including a fridge so that you have what you need to hand rather than adding a journey back and forth to your interior kitchen.
Also remember, I highly recommend you have more than one seating space in a garden, so if you have a dining space, don’t be afraid to add in a more relaxed seating space elsewhere – that way you have different areas for different purposes which means you will almost certainly use more of your garden.
Even pre-pandemic, we found our clients at H|M wanted to create a seamless flow between indoor and outdoor spaces with an emphasis very much on natural materials, lots of light and space for both private family time and entertaining on a bigger scale. Do you have any top tips for creating a seamless flow from inside the home to outdoors?
I have found exactly the same. I spend a lot of time looking at the materials used inside the house and I will echo them outside to make sure the garden feels harmonious with the house. For example, it’s not uncommon to extend limestone tiles used in a kitchen outside into the garden, or use the same paint colours from the interior on exterior timber work.
To create a seamless flow I’ll think about how the space is to be used. Wherever possible I want to draw people into the garden, rather than stuffing everything right by the back door, so for me a lot of the work is looking at the space and designing how we can maximise its use, rather than have a small portion that’s used a lot, and a large portion that goes unused.
Do you have any new exciting projects on the horizon this year?
I do indeed! I’m working on a fabulous estate in the Cotswolds with build due to get underway in 2022, as well as various residential projects in London and Surrey. I hope to design another show garden in the not too distant future too – watch this space…
To see more of Polly’s work, click here to visit her website.