Summer seems to have finally arrived and we’re in the garden with our latest Cefinn Siren Polly Wilkinson, garden designer, RHS People's Choice award winner and founder of her namesake garden design studio.
Exploring her greenhouse and studio, we discussed career changes, starting a business as a new mother and her love of garden design.
Plus some tips on developing your own green fingers.
Tell us about how you started your business and what sparked your interest in landscape design?
I didn’t grow up knowing I wanted to be a garden designer and spent a decade in the city in marketing before arriving at the realisation that a more creative career was what I craved. I have always known that I wanted to work in design (with a brother and mother as interior designers, I suspect it may be in the genes) and as with so many people my love of gardening only really started when I had a garden of my own. The marriage of design and gardens seemed like the perfect solution.
Have you always wanted to start your own business?
Yes – I have always liked the idea of being my own boss and knew that I would do so one day. Becoming a mother reinforced that for me – the power to dictate my own hours was vital in the early days when the children were small and the business has grown with them.
What is your favourite thing about your job?
Don’t make me choose! I love the fact that the design process is a collaborative effort with the client, and I get to capture their wants and aesthetic and translate that into a garden. I also get to work with insanely talented contractors to bring that to reality. I also get to work with plants which might well be my very favourite part of the process.
Can you tell us about one of your favourite projects and why you loved it?
One of my absolute favourites was a garden in Surrey where we started completely from scratch. As a family garden it needed to work for all ages, but the clients had an eye for design and so we needed to be really clever with the layout to make sure it had real wow factor. We introduced a swimming pool, a sunken seating space with custom fireplace and a play area surrounded by living willow – all of which could be cycled around on bikes – though you wouldn’t know it to look at it. I was given a lot of creative freedom and free rein on the planting which resulted in a really lush and elegant garden.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Seeing a garden that I have designed mature over the years is exhilarating. Clients send me photos of their gardens in different seasons and it’s just so rewarding to see them mature. It’s also wonderful to witness clients fall in love with gardening too.
How did you get into using social media to build your business and how has it helped?
I started using Instagram as a portfolio of my work. People seemed to really enjoy seeing the ‘before and afters’ of how a garden comes together and so from there I started sharing information on how things were put together, as well as plenty of gardening advice. It’s a great way of showcasing my work as well as inspiring others to get out in the garden.
Who is your dream client and why?
The dream clients are those that love plants and want to have fun with them in the garden. I love it when a client has carte blanche on a space and is ready to take a few risks, that’s where the really innovative design comes from.
What is your top tip if you are thinking about landscaping your garden?
Plan ahead! Often the garden is done after any house build work is complete. In fact it’s better to plan the garden at the same time as the house designs (even if the garden build will be later) so that you avoid rushed decisions and the plot is viewed in its entirety. The house and garden need to work in harmony, so planning them together makes a lot of sense.
For those focusing on the garden alone, now is a great time to take stock of your garden and see what works and what doesn’t, as well as where the sun falls throughout the day. It can take several months to design and build a garden, so it’s worth planning ahead.
You have cleverly disguised a trampoline in your garden - what are your tips for keeping children happy, while keeping the garden looking great?
Gardens are for everyone in the household, so by all means have goalposts and trampolines but it doesn’t mean you have to hand the garden completely over to the kids. I like to sink trampolines in the ground so they are less of a feature, or plant in front of them so the first thing you see is greenery. Introducing focal points in the garden to draw the eye away from these elements also helps.
Can you give us some advice about the best way to develop your gardening knowledge and skills?
So much of gardening is learning by doing – even the best gardeners are still learning and so don’t be afraid to experiment. For upping your knowledge, Gardeners' World is a great source of information and following gardening accounts on Instagram is invaluable for up to date tips and tricks in the garden.
How would you describe your style?
Classic with a playful twist.
Which pieces are your favourite from Cefinn’s current collection?
The Jamie Blazer is so versatile – I would wear it everywhere. The Poppy Dress is unbelievably pretty and the Lexi utility dress is a complete classic.
What is your day-to-day uniform and how does it differ when meeting clients or on site?
If I’m in the studio it's normally jeans and a shirt, and with the rise of zoom meetings I like to make an effort. Because of the job I do I like my clothes to reflect my style, so I will try and keep it classic but current. When out on site I am often on building sites, so my clothes tend to be more utilitarian – chunky boots, black jeans and waterproofs are essential!
What Cefinn piece would you say is perfect for meeting clients and why?
I am completely smitten with the Jamie blazer. I like to be a little smarter for meetings, so it’s perfect for throwing over a t-shirt to smarten up an outfit and I know I can wear it from work straight out to dinner in the evening.
Which three words would you use to describe Cefinn?
Feminine, classic, elegant.