We caught up with Sally from Cornflower Blue Gardens to gain an insight into her passion for horticulture.
Who or what inspired you to set up your business?
My passion for gardening and rural landscapes has always been a huge part of my life but was rather pushed aside in my twenties for a completely different life in London working in an office of serial entrepreneurs who invested in a whole range of businesses from restaurants to tile retailers and dentists. In my thirties I escaped to a tiny village in West Sussex and found my way into horticulture as a career via working as a hands on gardener part time and a Communications Officer for the rest of the week. I decided to go to horticultural college but in the way of the best laid plans, got married and moved to Germany instead. Later divorced and in my forties it was finally time to go to college and I spent two years studying Horticulture and Garden Design part time.
My love of gardening started as a child, I have fond memories of helping my father prick out tiny candytuft seedlings in the greenhouse and helping him deadhead pinks edging the long border. His green fingers were legendary and I still have some plants he grew as cuttings in my garden today. Perhaps the courage to start my own business came from working in London and the fearlessness of the entrepreneurs I worked with there. It also came from the classic balance of work and family and being self employed felt I could be more in control of the balance.
What do you love most about your work?
These days I feel so lucky to be a garden designer. It’s hugely varied, from wandering around a garden talking roses, to sourcing paving, from backbreakingly planting hundreds of plants to being sent photos from delighted clients. People are so passionate about their gardens and it’s a privilege to be a part of their enthusiasm.
What does a typical day in your life look like?
There’s no such thing as a typical day in the office as a garden designer. Normally I start work about 7.30am with several obligatory mugs of Earl Grey tea whilst I catch up with paperwork. Most days I’m on site in some way, measuring up a garden, meeting a potential client, presenting a design, planting up or coaching. My car gets a real battering, lots of miles and forever full of plants or measuring wheels. Probably half my time is spent out and about and half in my studio designing and I love the balance of having both sides of my job. Having permission to be creative is also hugely satisfying as growing up the eighties the culture was so focussed towards achievement and academia.
What do you think is the secret of success?
The secrets of success are really hard to pin down but perhaps it’s important to have a go in the first place. Also, I’ve never been afraid to say that I don’t know something but will look it up, like many industries, in horticulture typically the more you know, the more you realise you don’t know! For instance I don’t claim to be an expert on vegetable cultivation and can’t remember the planting distance of a broad bean but there are so many sources of information out there these days and the RHS website is a wonderful tool www.rhs.org.uk.
Who or what can’t you work without?
For gardening I couldn’t live without my Sneerboer Cape Cod Weeder, it’s a strange looking tool, with a lovely wooden handle and a right angled head but it’s brilliant for getting under weeds, hoeing and even earthing up potatoes. However I also couldn’t live without getting outside and gardening itself, my longest running client and I have been gardening together for six years and we get outside most weeks for some general gardening, pruning, planning, or bulb planting as well as a good natter and a laugh, it’s such a good tonic even if it’s cold or grey.
What advice would you give to others thinking of starting a business?
For someone thinking of starting their own business I’d say go for it. Take any opportunity to learn what you can and don’t be afraid to go back to college. I made some great friends at college and we still keep in touch. I’ve also been on lots of courses, my favourites were probably at David Austin Roses where I’ve been a few times and you learn so much on professional training days. Also, go and visit some gorgeous gardens where you can get wonderful ideas and inspiration.