As Creative Director of global shoe brand Jimmy Choo, Sandra Choi’s daily job is all about focusing on the intricate, demanding details of creating the A-list’s favorite ‘Choos’.
Yet at weekends, when she escapes with her husband Tam, an artist, and daughters Phoenix and Cyan to the family’s property in the Cotswolds, tucked away at the top of a verdant valley with the lights of Bath twinkling at night across the horizon, her garden is an altogether more relaxed affair.
Spread over 65 acres of steep, sometimes tricky, terrain which extends all the way down to a burbling brook running off the nearby River Avon – the terraced garden is surrounded by ancient woodlands, wildflower meadows and orchards.
The previous owner, a botanical artist, created many of its garden ideas and much of its structure, including sequences of terraced garden, divided by steps created from old sleepers; long tunnels wound with hazel; arches overhung with old roses; and vibrant borders filled with large balls of box, lavender, alliums, peonies and foxgloves, constantly infiltrated by bee flies busily buzzing through the blooms.
1. Creating a home for wildlife
The space is packed with wildlife garden ideas. From the first moment Sandra and Tam arrived seven years ago, ‘we have always thought of ourselves as custodians rather than owners of the land,’ Sandra enthuses.
Dedicated to preserving the property for the many future generations of badgers, foxes, deer and birds which already pass through the property on a daily basis, they recently welcomed volunteers from the local Avon Wildlife Trust who planted a ‘wildlife corridor’ – including a new orchard and mixed species hedgerow – to provide shelter for insects and small fauna.
2. Taming unkempt areas for family use
Working with Bristol-based gardener Matt Croucher – ‘Mr Meticulous’, says Tam – the couple have also respectfully tamed some areas of the garden, previously left wild, for family use. Like flattening out and grassing over particular patches for the girls to play on, because otherwise ‘everything is on a slant,’ says Sandra.
At the same time, they removed some of the existing fencing, erected to keep the previous owner’s chickens safe, so that the garden could flow from one section to the next more freely.
A sitting area is the perfect sun trap throughout the year, bordered by rambling roses, magnolia trees and Hydrangea petiolaris.
3. Growing edibles in a kitchen garden
Enviable kitchen garden ideas have also been created, overseen by a very dapper scarecrow, dressed in an outfit of bleached, aged denim, complete with flat cap, the remnants of Tam’s former life as a fashion designer.
Here they have experimented with everything from peas and French beans to salad leaves, chillies, beetroot, artichokes, and different types of potatoes – some for mashing and roasting, some for salads – as well as tomatoes, cucumbers, and edible plants such as marigolds and nasturtiums in rainbow shades.
4. Choosing plants to provide color all year round
The flower bed ideas, a constant blaze of color throughout the seasons, sweep from early new year yellows – including daffodils and euphorbia – to pale pink cherry blossom in the springtime.
There are the blues of Forget-me-nots, 'Jack Frost' Siberian bugloss and wisteria cascading generously across the front of the family’s 18th century farmhouse, to the riot of ‘deep reds, burnt oranges and vibrant pinks in the autumn,’ Sandra enthuses.
‘Nature is always super inspiring – it never gets the way colors blend from one to the next wrong.’ A path at the front of the farmhouse features sculpted Buxus sempervirens interjected with hits of color from flowering plants
5. Embracing the restorative effects of nature
Permaculture gardening has a place too. Fervent swathes of stinging nettles provide safe haven for butterflies to lay their eggs; vast tranches of cow parsley are encouraged to grow in abundance, ‘if quietly controlled rather than just wild,’ Sandra says.
It is a constant work-in-progress, with plenty of trial and error, not least because ‘I’m not a traditionalist – I like to have surprises – so I tend to give everything a chance, learning as I go,’ she laughs.
Sandra cuts roses from the garden to fill vases and old watering cans that she dots around the farmhouse. Ultimately, Sandra and Tam have created a family retreat that restores mind, body and soul, and where they can spend ‘quality time making memories,’ says Sandra.
‘When I'm in London, everything is hectic, it’s a little like being on a treadmill,’ Sandra reflects. ‘But here, I look out across this valley and nothing else matters. It’s a true hidden gem.’
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For more than two decades, lifestyle journalist, international contributing editor and author Fiona McCarthy has been covering interiors, gardens, fashion, beauty, food and travel for leading newspapers, design titles and independent publications around the world, especially the UK, Australia and US*. Whether it’s writing about a designer or owner’s thought process behind creating a unique interior, the ethos for a new table or chair, or the incredible craftsmanship of an artist or maker, Fiona’s particular passion is getting to the emotional heart of a story, understanding what makes a new idea or space relevant, and important, for now. Australian-born but London-based for almost thirty years, Fiona’s constant curiosity, love for learning and lifelong interest in architecture, history, art, music, dance, theatre, food (both dining out and cooking) and all areas of design helps to bring her stories to life by connecting the past and present with inspiring thoughts for the future.
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