A Gardeners world - Garden designer and author, Ann-Marie Powell talks to Sarah Peters
PUBLISHED: 01:16 15 April 2011 | UPDATED: 19:11 20 February 2013
Garden designer and author, Ann-Marie Powell talks to Sarah Peters about the joys of Hampshire meadows, designing for Chelsea Flower Show and the New Forest ponies trampling her tent!
Ann-Marie Powell lives in the village of Sheet, near Petersfield, with her two little sons and her husband. She is one of the finest garden designers in the county and has appeared on well-known gardening shows such as Garden SOS, Chelsea Flower Show for BBC1 and co-presented the Channel 4 series The Great Garden Challenge. When she graduated from Londons Capel Manor College she did so with a Distinction in Hard Landscape Studies and Garden Design and within four years she had set up her own garden design practice. She has written extensively on garden design and plants for magazines, published three books and this year Ann-Marie is the designer of the British Heart Foundation show garden at the Chelsea Flower Show. But is her own garden a show-garden?
I love the National Gardens Scheme, we often go along to have a nose round other peoples gardens, have a chat to them and see what they do. There are some amazing gardens in Hampshire
Not at all! she says with a laugh. We have a semi-detached house and two small children. Its planted up specifically with them in mind so its far from a show garden. Its full of plants so we cover lots of ground and that keeps the weeds down. If we do get weeds we dont really notice them because they are choked out by all the other plants.
When Ann-Marie moved to Sheet, she chose a house with the biggest garden she could find. It is now practically full and there is literally no more space for any new plants or vegetables.
Its dreadful! We really do need to move house so I can have a bigger garden. Its amazing what you can stash away in even a small garden plot. We tend to grow a lot of vegetables mixed in with pretty perennials. I have lots of purple French beans dispersed within my flower beds, they look really great growing up Hazel poles and it creates an interest that I like. Potato plants fill gaps in my boarders too. They always look fab.
Ann-Marie has two sons, Gilbert who is nearly two and Archie who is six and a half and despite all her efforts neither of her children show the slightest bit of interest in gardening.
I like to invite all my friends over for a big meal in the garden. We have a fire pit and its great for cooking big barbeques. We always cut a few hazel branches from the bottom of the garden so we can toast marshmallows.
My children are so not into gardening! One day recently I decided Archie and I should plant an apple tree together. I prepped the ground, dug the hole and waited for him to come back from school. I had this idea we would do it together... a bit of mother-son bonding but when he got home I called to him to come and help and he just stood on the deck and shouted back to me, No thanks, Mummy, you can do it. Can I play on my DS? Marvellous!
Ann-Maries children are still young and while they may not be inclined to help Mum in the garden, they do like exploring other, perhaps more exciting back yards. Living in a small village so close to the countryside, and in indeed the New Forest, its easy for the family to visit local National Trust properties and private gardens.
Hinton Ampner and Mottisfont are both wonderful National Trust gardens that I love to visit but, I have to admit that smaller, private gardens are more appealing to me. When you go to a large formal garden its on a very different scale. They are great to explore, but in a real persons garden its more interesting because you come away with some genuinely great ideas of what people are doing in their own homes. I love the National Gardens Scheme and we often go along to have a nose round other peoples gardens, have a chat to them and see what they do. There are some amazing gardens in Hampshire and you often get a really nice piece of cake too which is all rather nice.
The British Heart Foundation approached Ann-Marie to design their show garden at Chelsea having been so impressed with her Gold Medal winning garden last year for Green and Blacks. This years design is inspired by the human heart and the garden features a bold, swirling design using striking red arches and dramatic foliage in shades of green.
I jumped at the chance to do it, she enthuses. I had never worked with a charity before and they have a really important message to get across this year about their Mending Broken Hearts Campaign. They are really such a fun, life-filled charity which meant I could be quite wild with my designs; something eye-catching and funky. The garden is bold and punchy and Im hoping the red element will really sing out. I am being quite experimental and that is exciting, after all, if you cant do it at Chelsea where can you do it!? Its an opportunity to really go wild.
In the gardens she designs for her customers, Ann-Marie has to be slightly more conventional but she likes putting a contemporary twist on traditionally rural spaces. Using natural products in a slightly quirky way she manages to create something unusual yet within the customers brief.
I am very much inspired by the wider environment and where I live here in Hampshire. I am inspired by the native meadows that are all around the county; even if I dont create a meadow in a garden design, I still tend to use some of the characteristics and will create what looks like a natural meadow in a managed way so that it blends into the environment.
When she is at home, Ann-Marie says her house is busy, animated and full of noise with children rushing about, kettles boiling, doors slamming and always music playing.
I love music; I listen to everything. I studied music at school so I played a lot of classical pieces. I played piano and trumpet and I was in the choral society. I listen to all sorts; Two Tone, House, Dance, Folk, Guitar, we have music on the whole timewe must be terrible neighbours!
When it comes to eating out, Ann-Maire has a clear favourite restaurant, Annie Jones in Petersfield.
It is my most favourite restaurant ever! I am vegetarian and I dont eat fish but I always enjoy the vegetarian food there. The atmosphere, the service, the dcor and the food is always excellent. I used to go out for dinner to enjoy the wine and the company, but with restaurants like this a vegetarian can actually enjoy the food too!
The Harrow in Steep is a very different style of restaurant but on cold winter days its a snug and homely place to dine; in summer theres a glorious garden. Ann-Marie explains, Its home-cooked, classic food at its best. The owners are fabulous and it hasnt changed since the 1950s. They have no till and they dont take credit cards and it has been in the same family for generations. I love it! Flowers from the garden are all over the place and its really quirky and eccentric. They even sell local wine.
Hampshire is famous for its farmers markets and locally sourced produce which is something Ann-Marie is very aware of and she tries to eat, shop and cook local food as much as she can.
I really care about my food and where it comes from. We have an organic vegetable box delivered and go to the local farmers markets. I find I actually end up spending less than if I went to a supermarket because I only buy what I actually need.
She mentions Durleighmarsh Farm as a great destination for buying farm foods.
They stock a huge range of locally produced food and even have Food Miles signs up around the shop and great pick-your-own fields. I love it there! We also go to the Farmers Market in Petersfield each month.
Life is certainly busy for Ann-Marie but when she does have a day off, she likes best to be at home with her family and friends.
I like to invite all my friends over for a big meal in the garden. We have a fire pit and its great for cooking big barbeques. We always cut a few hazel branches from the bottom of the garden so we can toast marshmallows. We are very sociable.
When she has time off with the family they enjoy camping, especially in the New Forest. Ann-Marie loves the idea of children running around in the fresh air having fun and getting lots of exercise. She continues, Being outdoors is the best thing in the world! I love camping my other half hates it as I seem to take everything but the kitchen sink with us! We have camped in the New Forest and its brilliant except for the wretched horses. They eat everything; they nick all the food supplies and stand on the tents! They obviously know that where theres a tent there will be food and so they scrump it all, Charming!
For more information on Ann-Maries garden designs visit: www.bhf.org.uk
Or her books, Hardscape Hard landscaping for the garden, Urban Gardens and Recipes for a small garden