Judy Green has an obsession that takes up a lot of her time and takes her all over the country. For her, creating the garden at the back of the Hampstead house she shares with husband David, chairman of the decorating firm Colefax and Fowler, is all about the journey.
She’s not referring to the gradual process of creating the garden, and watching it evolve over the 30 years they have lived there, but the trips she takes to specialist nurseries around the UK to source what she wants, and to discover new plants that she can bring back to put down fresh roots in her garden. “It’s my idea of a great day out, and is always worth the journey. You go in search of one special plant, and come back with five.”
When the Greens moved here with their two sons, there was little in the garden save a philadelphus, a hawthorn tree, a tatty lawn and a large bay tree that had clearly never seen a pair of blades and was taking up far too much planting space.
Now there is an immaculate, gently curving lawn that carpets much of the 120ft-long plot, the monster bay has been tamed into a dynamic cloud tree, pruned in light, elegant layers, and the long border that runs down the garden is filled with silvery eucalyptus, ebullient hydrangeas and perennials that range from tall lilac campanulas to low-growing, golden heucheras.
There is also a large terrace because, says Green, “I love to entertain, so I needed room for a decent-size dining table. And however small your garden is, a big terrace makes the garden.”
A more recent addition is a splendid Hartley Botanic greenhouse that David gave her for their 30th wedding anniversary and which, Green says, gives the garden a focus as well as a place where she can happily nurse plants, arrange flowers, pot up favourite succulents and sow summer annuals to use as border fillers.
Hydrangeas are one of her favourite plants, and she has several throughout the garden that are given their head: the conical-flowered Hydrangea paniculata, alongside the bright green acer by the terrace; luscious white lacecaps, notably in the front garden, where they complement the box parterre, and the stunning lilac-flowered Hydrangea aspera Villosa in the long border.
“My London clay soil really suits them,” she says. “I find them architecturally pleasing and I especially love the moment when the white flowers turn a pale green. I cut them and dry them and always have plenty of blooms for the house.”
The style of her garden is dictated, she says, by the style of the house — no point in sticking a modernist patch on to the back of what is a striking Arts & Crafts house, circa 1913, with an ancient, characterful garden shed in period style.
Although Green owns the garden store under her own name in Hampstead’s outrageously pretty Flask Walk, she hasn’t filled the garden with features or furniture, but has a restrained touch. This is especially apparent in her containers, which she plants to chime with part of the long border that is predominantly a subtle palette of whites, blues, silvers and greens, becoming a richer palette of lilacs and purples as the planting progresses around the lawn.
“I love a lot of green in the garden,” she says. “My family tell me I should have more colour, but what they don’t realise is that green is a colour. When everything is in leaf and bathed in summer light, from the bright green of the acers and the silvery hostas to the chartreuse Alchemilla mollis that runs along the garden steps, that is all the colour I need.”