Over a cup of tea, Transform Landscapes Managing Director, Simon Gray, told us how his passion for horticulture started with growing watercress as a child, why he thinks Gertrude Jekyll is one of the most inspirational garden designers of all time and reveals his top two favourite local gardens to visit.
What made you decide to have a career in horticulture?
My interest in gardening started from a very early age; I used to grow watercress and vegetables as a child. At the age of 17, promoted by a family friend, I began my horticultural career which was the right choice as I love being outside and not being sat at a desk in an office.
Where did you train?
I began by working for George Baileys of Petersfield which had an excellent reputation for building large-scale Arab gardens in the late 70s and 80s. I then went onto to study at Merrist Wood where I gained my National Diploma in Landscape Design and Construction.
What has been your biggest challenge yet?
Apart from keeping the staff under control - only joking - the most memorable project was cutting out a hillside and creating a tennis court garden. It was a huge challenge as there were constant changes to the initial plans but we worked closely with the client and achieved stunning results over a six-month period. The project stood us in good stead as there are lots of hillside gardens in Haslemere which customers want levelling.
As a garden designer who has been your biggest inspiration?
I would say Gertrude Jekyll; she designed landscapes which captured the essence of English gentrification. I used to work with a local designer, John Carter, who incorporated her style of garden design and planting schemes – the results were stunning. I just love the fact that her designs were simple yet there was a free flow of colour without any formality. I prefer this style of planting as it creates a more relaxed environment.
If you could give a top tip about garden design what would it be?
Think of your garden in its whole entity, not as parts. It is like planning the interior design of a room – you look at it as a whole rather than in sections. A beautifully designed garden adds value to your property and can give it the wow factor.
What is your favourite garden to visit in the area?
I love Mottisfont and the walled garden which is home to the National Collection of old-fashioned roses. The best time to visit is June, these roses smell wonderful. My other favourite place is West Dean Gardens in West Sussex which is lovely in spring. If you visit later in the year you will be treated to a fantastic sight in their Kitchen Walled Garden; it has an impressive range of fruit and vegetables.