Garden Designer and Author Tania Compton spent twelve years as Garden Editor for British House & Garden.
The site-specific ethos that underpins her approach to garden design has been published in many magazines including US Vogue, UK Vogue, US and German AD, House & Garden and Tatler. She has created gardens for clients in Ibiza, Paris, Provence and Greece. UK Projects include the remodelling of the gardens at Fonthill House, the Formal Garden at Longford Castle and consultancy at Reddish House, once home of Cecil Beaton.
Author of Dream Gardens (Merrell, 2007) and The Private Gardens of England (Constable, 2015) which features the garden at Spilsbury Farm that she has created with her husband the Botanist and author Dr James Compton.
One leading gardener has said it was planting a runner bean at school and watching it grow that inspired her love of gardening. What was it that drew you to gardens first and why?
Reading Victoria Glendinning’s biography of Vita Sackville-West when I was twenty planted the kernel that gardening could be a way of life. Why? I think it revealed to me the possibilities and pleasure of a close observation of nature.
If there was to be any plant you would rescue in a fire what would it be?
The albino Watsonia that Jamie found when we were plant collecting in the Drakensburg Mountains, it isn’t in cultivation and this reminds me we should get on and do something about that…
What it the most common gardening question you are asked.
How do you prune wisteria. There is an unfounded fear of failure with wisteria when it is one of the most resilient plants that responds to any form of pruning at any time of year. The three bud rule is a doddle once you get your eye in.
Has people’s taste in garden design altered in any way since Covid and if so in what way?
I don’t think taste in garden design has changed but people’s instinctive understanding of the importance of a daily dose of 15 minutes engaging whole heartedly with nature has been incredibly helpful to people during Covid.
Which garden designer are you most influenced by?
I think the summer I spent working for Penelope Hobhouse in the garden at Tintinhull designed by Phyllis Reiss had an indelible impact on my understanding of well defined space and the importance of water. Penny’s intellectual curiosity and the fact she is putting up a new greenhouse in her 91st year makes her a pretty banging mentor.
Some say that women tend to create softer gardens whereas men prefer more linear structures. Do you believe that to be true?
I do not. Style and personality in gardening, as with everything, bridges the gender gap.
What is your favourite garden or the one that most inspires you?
Luckily that is a moveable seasonal feast that depends on where I have recently been. I was at Kew last week. Total goosebumps of miraculousness.
What is the best item to place in a garden to give it definition?
A well placed tree holds sway over anything made by man.
Spring or autumn? Which season do you prefer and why?
Right now i’d say autumn as I like the sense of release that early darkness brings. In spring i’d say spring because of the joy of lengthening days.
How would you describe your own garden?
Our garden is a world within a world. It is a haven of peace but an instigator of energy and change. It is a delicious collaboration with the forces of nature that bring it into existence. It is a love affair.
What is your top design tip?
Always put in more of everything than you think you need. Layer, layer, layer from bulbs up.
What in your view is the most obvious example of climate change and are you gardening differently because of it?
I tried to dissuade a client from putting an ancient olive tree in her Hampshire garden, she had seen it Chelsea and fallen in love. I thought it was risky. I was wrong. It is thriving.
What is the most valuable example of wildlife in your garden? And does a good gardener make a good wildlife conservationist or are there certain animals like rabbits, deers, mole and badgers that are the bane of your life?
In my mind I am all welcoming and all embracing from invertebrates up but I am aware that I have a very inconsistent hierarchical attitude to the animals who find food and refuge in our garden. Visiting kingfishers and barn owls have a wow factor that trumps over beloved dragonflies or glow worms. We are mercifully too wet for rabbits whose nibbling would be a bane whereas the ring barking munch of field and dormice translates to something that is a pity but kind of cute. There is also a paradox at the heart of my attitude to deer, I love that they come to give birth to their babies in our long meadow grass but I am also happy to consume rose flavoured venison for boxing day lunch.
Which is your favourite shrub and why?
Helichrysum angustifolium. The enigmatic smell of it filling the air after rain on a spring walk in Ibiza spurred me into a lifetime immersed in wonder at the plant kingdom. Its peppery scent in the garden at home regularly transports me back to that same sense of wide eyed amazement and makes it my favourite shrub to prune. With maybe Rosemary coming a close second.
Is a love of gardening on the increase amongst the younger generation would you say?
Through my involvement as a Trustee of the Garden Museum I can see the correlation between environmental concerns and its impact on people in their twenties. Our Young Fronds initiative has a wide group of young professionals and amateurs engaged in horticulture many of whom have an obsession with houseplants in this mad world where none of them can afford outdoor space of their own.