Ellie Edkins is a Garden Designer for Brett Hardy Landscapes based in Bath. She was recently selected as a RHS Young Designer of the Year Finalist and will design a garden for this year's RHS Flower Show at Tatton Park (21st - 25th July). After hearing about her nomination and after seeing her design, I had to get in touch!
Hi Ellie, so you are a Designer for Brett Hardy Landscapes - can you explain what you do?
I’m a garden designer working on projects ranging from small town courtyards to large rural gardens, based in Bath and the surrounding areas mainly. I work closely with our clients to understand their brief and the existing space inside out, and then produce a design that takes into account their lifestyle and what they want to get from the garden. The main inspiration for each garden comes from the existing space and the client’s individual story. The result is always a direct response to the architecture, the local landscape and the people within it.
Being based in Bath I'm sure you've worked on some magnificent properties. Is there a favourite that springs to mind?
Bath is such a wonderful place, and the countryside surrounding it is just amazing. I never get bored of finding new places to walk my dog and stumbling upon fantastic gardens in the process! I have worked with some amazing properties, my favourite so far is an old farmhouse near Solsbury Hill. It's a totally enchanting old house with beautiful views in an elevated location, and we are working with the client to break up the garden which at the moment feels quite stark and is often battered by the wind. A series of courtyard style seating areas will be broken up by swaithes of soft, ethereal planting, with different surface finishes that each complement and relate to the house adding detail to each space.
A sketch of our upcoming work at the farm house.
So what was your journey to where you are now?
I have come to garden design quite recently! The first lockdown really inspired a change in my outlook, garden design has always been my dream job and being sat at home on furlough with enough time to think, really gave me that push to just do it! I had been an interior designer for 5 years, working on commercial projects. I enrolled in horticultural college, reached out to garden designers I admired to get advice and ask for mentoring, and basically said I’ll do anything I can to help I just want to learn! I felt I had the right communication skills (hand drawings, creating visuals, plans etc.) and my spatial design skills were ready to go, so for me it was about developing my plant knowledge (not hard when you’re super passionate about it!) and understanding the hard landscaping in more detail. I was so lucky to get some freelance work with some local designers, and eventually got my job with Brett Hardy Landscapes. I’ve been working in the industry now for almost a year - it’s been AMAZING so far. Still so much to learn - but I love that, a constant learning process is what keeps a career interesting!
Do you have any advice for someone young who is thinking of going into Garden Design?
There are so many avenues into garden design! There are the traditional routes such as a degree in Landscape Architecture (I’ve heard Edinburgh is amazing for this course!), and of course the dedicated garden design courses. I would recommend doing lots of research into design schools and courses before you commit. But also, don't be put off if you’re coming to the industry from a totally different angle. For years I felt I could never make the leap from designing interior spaces to gardens, because I was never in the right place financially to quit my job and commit to a full time garden design course. I did an evening course in Bristol to start with, I loved this because I could do it around work and I met so many lovely people. Don’t feel like an imposter if you are coming to garden design from something totally different. There are so many times I’ve applied knowledge from my past jobs to garden projects. Another piece of advice would be to ask as many designers and horticulturalists as many questions as possible, and dont be afraid to ask what you think are stupid questions - everyone I’ve met in the industry has been so helpful and welcoming!!
It would be criminal not to ask you about your upcoming work! The space you’ve designed for your RHS Young Designer display at Tatton Park is titled 'The Dreamscape Garden'. Are you able to give us an insight into what you have in-store?
Yes! I’m still in shock and can't quite believe I am a finalist of the Young Designer of the Year award, it just feels mad. I am so excited and can’t wait to start the build in July. I really wanted to create something that felt wholly positive and was just joyful, it came out of a period of time during lockdown when everything seemed quite bleak in the world around us because of the pandemic. So this garden is a response to that really, and is all about imagining a dream like space, where anything is possible!
A 3D render of ‘the Dreamscape Garden’
What was the inspiration behind your concept?
I was really inspired by Luis Barragán, a mexican architect - his use of colour and forms I just find mindblowing! I’m also really interested in folk-lore, and I’ve tried to create a garden that you can imagine stumbling upon and thinking, how did that get here? Then stories form around that initial bewilderment. It feels magical in a way, and dream-like, hence the name.
The Architecture of Luis Barragan - Image courtesy of dwell.com
Do you have a signature? Looking at your Dreamscape Garden design, along with some of your previous posts on Instagram, pink appears to be a reoccurring colour! Is this just a coincidence, or have I noticed a subtle theme?
I think I just love using unexpected elements in the garden, I think this comes across especially in my show garden design. I love using colour to create surprises in the space and pink does seem to have become a bit of a theme, yes!
Looking forward - Are there any current or future trends we should be aware of?
As we become ever more aware of our impact on the environment, I certainly think plastic and peat free methods of growing are going to become ever more prevalent. I think as we spend more time at home our outdoor spaces have become so much more precious to us, and we have definitely seen an upward trend for indoor gardening for those without direct access to their own outdoor space. I would highly recommend Harriet’s Plants - the UK’s only peat-free commercial house plant grower - for those looking to green up their indoor space in an environmentally friendly way.
Do you have any special Period, or more modern, properties you like to visit? I'm a sucker for Dyrham Park!
I am obsessed with historic properties and before the pandemic I spent a lot of free time at National Trust and English Heritage properties and gardens, it’s a huge source of inspiration and I can’t wait to start making those visits again. My favourite local one is Brockhampton - a stunning medieval manor house with sixty five acres of orchards, it is definitely worth a trip!
Brockhampton - Image courtesy of the National Trust
Some quick fire questions…
Contemporary or traditional? Traditional!
City or countryside? Countryside, definitely!
Formal or informal? Informal, I’m so inspired by wild overgrown spaces
Containers or borders? I’m going to say containers because as a keen gardener in a rented property I live for container gardening, so I can pick it up and take it away when I move!
Water feature or sculpture? Sculpture. Yes, it is unlikely that I’ll ever have a Barbara Hepworth in my garden but a girl can dream.
Colour or texture? Colour!
Do you have any favourite plants?
I love using ornamental grasses in my planting schemes and I’m hugely influenced by the new perennial movement which is all about contextualising gardens within their local landscape and being inspired by naturally occurring habitats. I’m also a huge fan of Ammi majus - an annual flowering from June to August with an irresistible cloud like formation and dainty white flowers. The bees love it too!
Ammi majus - image courtesy of Crocus.com
And to finish up... describe your ‘dream’ garden!
I don’t know if you’ve heard of The Newt in Somerset or been to visit, but the gardens there are pretty much my dream garden. It is a horticultural feast!