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The Galium Garden

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When Samantha Brown began as a garden designer, it was for a love of gardening and a talent in drawing that led her teacher to suggest she go beyond horticulture. What she's seen over the twenty years of her career has been a change in landscaping as sustainability and a younger generation are coming to the fore. From London to Powys, the BBC to the National Trust, here's how Sam is playing a part.


What does your business offer?

My knowledge of plants and design. I have a love of design as much as plants.


It's the whole package. There are people who specialise only in the plants. I'm more of an all-rounder. I know how construction works and how to deal with different professionals such as builders and architects.


I like to think I've gained a lot of experience from the years I've spent designing gardens. I've been doing it since 1996 so that's over 20 years now.



What are your values?

Honesty, fairness and increasingly

sustainability. It's hard in this job because,

plastic plant pots aside, there's a lot of concrete that goes in.


I've designed natural play areas for the National Trust. These use timber and no-dig policies (a method protecting the natural cycle of nutrients in the soil). I'd like to be able to translate that into garden design and build.


I always plant to encourage wildlife and a lot of my clients have taken that on board now. Clients are increasingly asking for areas to grow herbs and vegetables.




What are the key elements of a sustainable garden?

The sustainability's in how you look after it, what you're putting into the soil and how you're using what you've got. This could mean taking cuttings, dividing up plants and generally working with nature.


Every piece of land is so different - even from one side of a garden to another. A lot is in the soil and knowing what to plant and where to plant it. Use native plants.


I've managed to get away without using pesticides for years. I'd rather dig down and pull something out than spray it. I prefer to use natural organic fertilisers.


In terms of hard landscaping, you can visit reclamation yards for materials.


Use local materials and source from nearby quarries. Bring in a local vernacular to your garden, especially if it's in the countryside.


If you live in town, then you can be a bit more adventurous with your materials as there are so many visual references to draw on - glass, steel, brick, etc.



What's the local vernacular in South Wales?

Even in South Wales it completely changes. You can go minutes out of Cardiff and be in the Valleys. There you'll find slate and different shades of grey stone going lighter as you go further north. Wales has an industrial side as well as a beautiful green side - it really depends on where you are.


I've designed very contemporary gardens in towns. There is a garden in Cowbridge where I used modern landscaping with porcelain stone close to the house to reflect its modern interior and large glass windows. I then used more organic and native stone as the garden edged away from it, blending into the countryside.


I tend to use large swathes of planting in my designs - not little bits and pieces. A garden has to be quite bold in its planting to blend into the landscape.



The Cowbridge garden, blending the home into the countryside

Tell me about a project you're proud of.

There's one that I spent a lot of time on. It was a manor house broken up into six townhouses. There was a walled garden within the manor house which formed the front garden to each new home.


I designed each garden in a way that made them individual, but also allowed them to blend into each other. There were no divisions between the gardens and a cottage on one side - lots of different elements.


I was going there back and forth for a few years. It was nice to see the garden evolve over time.


I often don't get the chance to go back and see how the gardens I designed are changing. Sometimes I come back and help with odd jobs like deadheading once a season, just to see the garden and take some photos.


I have to explain to clients that the garden is going to change. Some people are very specific - I have even been asked for 'only evergreen foliage and white flowers' - but gardens do evolve.



Chew Magna Manor garden

How has your business changed and learnt over time?

You never stop learning.


Everything's changed with the whole issue of sustainability. I've changed - I moved from London to the middle of the countryside. I've met different people with different values, particularly in the South West and Bristol. Living in Powys, the landscape inspires you and changes how you work. It slows you down.


Back when I began in London, people had ridiculous amounts of money and would throw it at their small outdoor spaces because it would increase the house price. New TV series such as those by Alan Titchmarsh and Grand Designs made people more aware of their home and garden.


Now, I want clients to take it slower and not throw everything into their garden at once.


People used to think of landscape as just for 'ladies who lunch', but younger guys and girls are coming into the business. We don't do it for the money - landscaping is one of the poorest paid industries. I absolutely loved gardening. That's why I went into it.


I had an art background and my partner was into herbal medicine. I went to a horticultural college to study. At the interview, the teacher looked at my drawings and told me I had to do garden design. It started there and he became a friend.



What's your local tip for working on your garden?

Just be patient. You've got to be patient with your garden and just nurture it.


A lot is about common sense and getting to know your small space. Don't just cram everything in. Let your garden grow.


If you have a new garden, simply don't do anything to it for a year. Just watch it and see what grows each season. I'm doing that with my new garden.


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