Chelsea gold medal winner Kate Gould tells Maggie Walsh how she is marrying modern lifestyle with beautiful designs to create safe garden retreats in the wake of the pandemic
Post-pandemic gardens need to work harder than ever. Landscape and garden designers are being asked by clients to not only provide a pretty garden to look out upon, but an outdoor extension to their homes where they can relax, exercise, entertain and eat. A haven should they ever find themselves in another lockdown scenario.
It’s a trend that award winning garden designer Kate Gould has noticed over the past couple of years and which has inspired her sanctuary garden Out of the Shadows, which she will reveal to all at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show in May. It is a lesson in how garden design can seamlessly incorporate modern lifestyle demands into a beautiful and inspirational garden space to be enjoyed year-round.
“As we (hopefully) come out of the pandemic, people have certainly become more mindful about creating safe spaces they can hunker down in. They are thinking outside the box in terms of what they want their gardens to deliver when it comes to outdoor living, and they are often not sure how to achieve this within a traditional garden model,” says Kate.
Out of the Shadows’ is a small, contemporary garden which features a state-of-the-art Jacuzzi swim spa for exercising, spaces for seating and relaxation, climbing bars, and a yoga/meditation space all elegantly situated amongst dramatic and exotic, tropical-style planting.
The idea of a functional piece of gym/relaxation equipment such as a large swim spa in a garden might seem at odds with a show garden aesthetic, but Kate has cleverly recessed it within the gardens’ natural wood decking and strategically placed perforated brickwork to let light and shadow break across the water. There is also a social space elegantly diliniated through carefully placed rock seats and a central fire pit, shower and exercise areas. Privacy is created through the use of low hedging, bamboo and decorative brickwork.
“With Out of the Shadows I want to show people that if they want a swim spa for example, or a space to do yoga, they don’t need to choose between having that and a beautiful garden. It doesn’t need to be an either/ or choice,” suggests Kate.
“Have a swim spa, but make it chic. It is as much about coming out of the shadow of the pandemic – and all the ways that has elevated the importance of our gardens – as it is about coming out of quite narrow, traditional views of what a garden needs to be. It can work on so many different levels and clever design choices can marry up lifestyle needs.”
With more than 20 years in the business, Kate was encouraged by her parents to garden from a young age. What started out as simple hobby grew into a successful lifelong career, and she has become one of the most sought after garden designers in London – no doubt helped by her five Chelsea gold medals.
When Kate is not working on her show gardens – “I was grateful for the enforced break due to covid,” she quietly admits, she is busy creating gardens across the capital and home counties.
She loves her London-based jobs as she is a passionate believer in greening the city, and relishes adapting her designs, whether in the town or country, to our changing climate.
“There are plants now that we now use that perhaps we couldn’t ten or 15 years ago because the climate is warming,” marvels Kate.
This summer Kate will be taking in the view of much of London’s skyline as her clients make requests for roof top gardens – another national trend thanks to the pandemic.
“With lockdown still looming in our minds people are willing to spend that bit more money to make sure they have an open space they can go into if we are restricted again,” she observes, noting that some home owners are prepared to pay that bit extra to make sure they have the correct plans in place to construct a terrace on what was once a flat roof.
Managing a client’s vision is also a daily task for Kate, especially when they walk out of a show like Chelsea and expect a show garden creation to be easily mirrored in their back yard. Garden visitors come away with all that is lovely from the show – the blue, purple and white hues associated with spring says Kate. An able gardener, she continues will be able to replicate certain planting schemes from the show, but many clients need their expectations managed.
“I try to produce schemes that work all year around for clients, not just snap shots from a time frame. I have to explain to them that just because they have seen a wonderful hydrangea blooming in the flower shop in mid December (grown in a hot house), they are not going to replicate that in their garden. Instead they will have to put up with a stick like plant until they flower in July or August.”
It is the same for all garden designers – educating a client so they understand plants and what to expect from them. Just like children and animals they – the plants – are not always going to behave. And, all the better if clients take the advice in looking after their newly created plot. It can be sole destroying says Kate for a designer to see a garden ruined a year later by an unruly dog or lack of maintenance.
“You can’t get prissy over what you think is your creation because I do believe the garden is the clients,” she states. But I know that there will have been blood sweat and tears in a garden creation, so when you go back and it’s less than perfect I always feel bad for the guys who have broken their backs to make it.
According to Kate garden maintenance is essential and she will encourage clients to take on a gardener. “It is like an insurance policy,” she explains. “Plants are not cushions, they die if you don’t look after them. It is like horticultural murder!”
‘Cherish the space you have,” says Kate. “You are the custodian of that green space until someone takes it over from you.” A message that will be delivered to visitors to Kate’s Chelsea sanctuary garden this year.
1. Kate Gould working on a 2018 show garden. Credit Helen Fickling Photography
Kate wins gold for her New West End Garden, RHS Chelsea 2018. Credit: Helen Fickling Photography