Interview - Ann-Marie Powell, owner, Anne-Marie Powell Gardens

Ann-Marie Powell is a garden designer and former TV makeover show presenter who returned to our screens this year in RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show coverage. She recently had Plans for Small Gardens published by Anova.

Ann-Marie Powell
Ann-Marie Powell
Q What are your aims with the book?
A It was released in the USA and Canada and had great success so the publisher decided to do a small print run here. I’m pleased because garden design books are usually pretty and not practical. I wanted to make garden design accessible to all with full planting plans and everything that you need to build, like a shopping list from nails to skips and plans for plants as well. The book tells you what you need, which TV programmes don’t always get the chance to do.

Q What projects are you working on currently?
A At the lower end, a £20,000-£25,000 family garden in East­bourne to a 10-acre English Heritage grade I listed site in Hampshire. It’s fascinating dealing with all the different people at that level. We have seven or eight gardens on the go at different stages. It’s mostly the rural market. London’s gone pretty quiet but because we’re working with local architects we get local projects.

Q Do you think TV makeover shows give people unrealistic ideas of garden design budgets?
A With Love Your Garden they tend to quote prices for accessories but not cost materials. There aren’t many references to using a garden designer. My clients know you have to pay for a garden from foundations upwards. The whole TV process has educated the public though. In 1998-99 when I was doing garden makeover shows people thought gardens were cheap to build, but that doesn’t seem to be the case now. The shows have done the industry a favour to a point. It’s difficult to strip it down on TV and include the price as well. On Love Your Garden, Dave Dodd from the Outdoor Room is building so values are higher. It’s a good thing they are taking that more seriously.

Q Have you anything big lined up for 2013?
A We’ll see. It’s really difficult to get sponsors these days. We spent a couple of weeks trying and designed for Green & Black’s in 2010 and the British Heart Foundation in association with Brewin Dolphin in 2011. It’s really tough in the marketplace. It seems to be just sponsors associated with Chelsea for some years and they have designers chosen two or three years in advance.

Q Do you know of other people doing Chelsea in 2013?
A I heard Tom Stuart Smith and Ulf Nordjfell. Christopher Bradley-Hole would be great. And I heard a rumour about Jinny Blom. But Cleve West and Andy Sturgeon? I don’t think so.

Q Are any themes emerging for Chelsea’s centenary?
A Designers would not be mad keen on a heritage theme. But I hope they pull out all the stops and we see a bit more avant-garde there. I don’t think Chelsea gardens were pedestrian this year and you have to make a living. Chelsea is your showcase and they have to be loved by clients.

Q What changes would you like to see at Chelsea?
A I’d love to see a different shape of garden — 10x22 is a difficult shape to do anything different. People say you have to do a linear garden at Chelsea to get a gold but that shape lends itself to linear designs. I’d also love everyone to have the same budget but that will never happen because of sponsorship.

Q Do you think the RHS has its show garden judging sorted?
A Having looked at Chelsea applications, the whole brief that was the same for years has changed entirely. You have a lot more scope to say what’s going into your garden, which is brilliant. Assessors and judges have a sort of appraisal to be able to judge and I don’t think that’s happened before. Some judges have been around for years and may be slightly out of touch. This appraisal may bring in new blood. I don’t see the point of the new points system if the points aren’t disclosed.

Q Do you have any TV lined up and how was Hampton Court?
A I really liked it. When I stepped back from doing TV I was doing a lot of makeovers and was not particularly proud of them. But out of the blue Hampton Court coverage came up and I loved it. When I was first doing TV I was formulating opinions but this year I believed what I was talking about. It’s a great honour to be asked your opinion on something you care passionately about. I think you can be critical to a point but you have a duty of care to people, particularly at Hampton Court where they are up and coming. You have to be constructive and be mindful of people’s budgets. It can be difficult to say negative things about the RHS but since James Alexander Sinclair got involved he has really taken it forward.

Matthew Appleby

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