A Conversation With Pollyanna Wilkinson

A Conversation With Pollyanna Wilkinson
Portrait of Pollyanna Wilkinson
Industry expertise

Pollyanna Wilkinson

Pollyanna Wilkinson is the founder of Pollyanna Wilkinson Garden Design, a multi-award-winning design practice based near Hampton Court, Surrey. Polly is passionate about design and her beautiful work saw her win the People’s choice award and a Silver medal at RHS in 2019, and a Silver gilt in 2018. The studio works on everything from petite courtyards to inner-city roof gardens and sprawling country estates. We chatted to Polly about her influences, work and an exciting project Designed by Woulfe is working with her on.

Pollyanna Wilkinson Designed Country Garden
RHS Hampton Court Show Garden by Pollyanna Wilkinson
Starting Out In The World Of Garden Design

Firstly, we’d like to take it right back to the beginning...how did you get into garden design and what sparked this interest?

I fell into a career in marketing after university, but I’ve always been very passionate about design and knew I eventually wanted to work in a creative industry -  but it wasn’t until I moved to London and rented a flat with a tiny balcony where I grew tomatoes that I caught the gardening bug. I soon realised that pursuing a career in landscape design was the perfect marriage of design and horticulture.

Pollyanna Wilkinson Designed Garden With Pool
Upcoming Garden Design Projects

Can you tell us a bit about some of the particularly exciting or notable projects which you’ve enjoyed working on?

I’m working on a gorgeous project in the Cotswolds where an old hunting kennel is being converted into a beautiful, modern-style farmhouse – the views are fantastic and we will be including lots of stone walls – I adore the tones of the Cotswold stone. We’ve also got a large build in Haslemere soon to commence, where we are slowly developing a plot on several acres.

Pollyanna Wilkinson Designed Garden Terrace in Godalming
Searching For Inspiration

Where do you look for inspiration?

I get a lot of inspiration from travel, which I’ve missed a lot over the last 18 months! For residential spaces, my inspiration is often drawn from the client, their home and the genius loci of the site. I spend a lot of time with my clients to understand their lifestyle, as well as their personal aesthetic and this can steer the direction of the design too.

What do you love the most about your job?

Well – it has to be said that I am completely obsessed with plants. So designing with them, and knowing that they are going to benefit not only the client but the landscape and wildlife too, is a huge reason I love my work. That said, I also absolutely love that I get to work with a wide range of people, from the wonderful clients to the landscapers, architects, interior designers and artisans I have the privilege of collaborating with.

What should homeowners take into account when considering the lighting scheme for their garden?

Less is more in my view. We don’t want it to be lit up like Heathrow. Lighting in a garden helps to eliminate the ‘black mirror’ effect which is so common when inside the house (particularly given our long dark winters).  But it also serves to highlight some of the key focal points of a garden – there is something so inviting about uplighting the stems of a multistem or casting light across a pathway.

How has the demand for Landscape Designer/Architects in the UK changed in the last 5-10 years?

Without question – and even more so in the last 18 months. Covid has seen a huge surge in interest in gardens and I’m delighted to hear that people are falling in love with their gardens, which may have been previously overlooked.

Portrait of Garden Designer Pollyanna Wilkinson
Garden Design By Pollyanna Wilkinson
Top Things To Consider When Selecting Garden Materials

What are the top things to consider when selecting the materials to use in a garden?

The garden is in conversation with the house, so when choosing materials I always look at what’s happening in the interior. We want it to flow, to feel like a natural transition from house to the garden. Weathering is another factor; what looks good on day 1 may well age and change, so it's important to consider what the materials will look like in the long term to make sure you are happy with that aesthetic.  The sustainability of materials is of course now also a key consideration when choosing materials.

Are there any materials you particularly love incorporating, and others you steer clear of? E.g. natural v manmade, etc.

I am a huge fan of good quality natural materials, and in particular, I love Limestone and Yorkstone for paving, both in the buff and pale grey tones. I must say I am not a fan of artificial turf, which you can’t recycle and does nothing for wildlife.

What are your top three garden must-haves for a seamless indoor-outdoor living?

  • Plenty of places to sit. Rather than keeping all seating spaces by the house, I like to include several different areas to sit in a garden to encourage you to use more of the space at different times of the day.
  • Focal points are key. Views from the key windows and doors in the house are critical, as you’ll spend a lot of time looking from those particular angles. I want it to look inviting whether you are indoors or out.
  • Reasons to use the garden. The garden needs to work for you and be tailored to your specific needs  - so it's worth thinking about how you will actually use it, rather than just focusing on what it will look like. If you like to entertain, we need to make sure you have enough space to host. If you like to cook, we’ll look at outdoor kitchens.

What do you feel are the advantages of working with an Interior Designer/Architect on a project?

The main advantage, without question, is that the design of the house and garden will be harmonious, with elegant transitions from inside to out. Planning the outside at the same time as inside means views are considered and planned for as part of the design, rather than as an afterthought.

What’s your favourite public garden in the UK and why?

Great Dixter in Kent. I am an enormous fan of Lutyens and find the planting absolutely enchanting.

Pollyanna Wilkinson Designed Outdoor Dining Space in Godalming
Illuminating A Garden

How would you set about illuminating a garden for a distinct evening ambiance?

My very favourite thing to do is uplight specimen trees in the garden to cast light on the beautiful stems of the trees and canopies. Of course, we use light to provide visibility for access and dining, etc, but really I want the focus to be on highlighting the beautiful elements of the garden, such as the planting, sculpture, and water elements.

Garden by Pollyanna Wilkinson
Starting A New Garden Design Project

What is the first thing you do/take into consideration when approaching a new project?

The client brief is always first and foremost in my mind. Paired with that, I take a lot of time to consider the genius loci of the site. Genius loci, without wishing to sound ‘woo-woo basically means the spirit or feel of a site – so when designing, I try to capture the inherent qualities of the garden, working with the landscape rather than against it.

Pool view of Spur Point Mansion in Haslemere, Surrey
Spur Point, Surrey

Designed by Woulfe are lucky to be working on a number of projects together with you, including Spur Point in Surrey. Can you tell us a bit about what you have in store for the gorgeous gardens at this luxury property?

I’m so excited to get started on this project! At present, there is a lot of hard landscaping in place, (and a fabulous infinity pool!) but the garden needs softening down with planting to bed the hard landscaping into the space. The views are quite spectacular, so the planting will be designed to complement the view and lead the eye, rather than trying to compete with it.

Pollyanna Wilkinson Designed Garden in Godalming
Considering Climate When Selecting Flora & Fauna For Your Garden

How does the climate here in the UK influence your choices when selecting flora and fauna?

All the plants that I select are carefully considered to withstand the UK’s rather unpredictable weather. All plants are classified by a hardiness rating, so this is always considered when putting together planting plans.

What should homeowners consider if selecting outdoor plants for their garden?

A very common mantra in garden design is – right plant, right place. It’s so important to understand the soil in your garden. Plants have specific requirements when it comes to soil, from preferred PH to the structure of the soil and it’s important to do your homework and make sure that you have the right soil for the right plants. To add to this, they also need the right amount of light – some need full sun, some need shade.

Lots of homeowners are investing in their outdoor space post-pandemic. How has this influenced what people are looking for when designing their gardens?

Most people now want their garden to be another useable ‘room’. Whereas before the priority was usually for something that looked good and was relatively low maintenance, I have seen a huge demand in making the garden more useable, whether by adding swimming pools, outdoor kitchens, home offices, even a skate ramp in one! Many city dwellers have roof gardens or terraces as opposed to ground floor gardens.

What design advice would you give those who wanted to elevate this kind of space?

The key with smaller urban spaces like this is not to go small with the elements in the space. Far better to go for large pots and planters which allow for plenty of planting, than small pots, which can feel cluttered. You can still have a really lush space on a roof terrace by introducing trees and large shrubs in oversize planters, to create your own oasis. The trick with roof terraces, which are exposed to the elements, is to think Mediterranean in your planting – so drought-tolerant planting such as Pines, Lavenders, Grasses, and Herbs for example.

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