Bury St Edmunds: Lucy’s labour of love
- Credit: Marcus Harpur
Lucy Redman, who lives near Bury St Edmunds, doesn’t do life by halves. As a maximalist (the opposite of a minimalist) she reckons gardens should be fun, relaxing and original. She tells Steven Russell what she likes… and how Chelsea has lost its mojo
Lucy Redman has lots to thank Suffolk for. It gave her a love of plants, and revived that passion when it looked as if it was dying. It presented a man who stole her heart – and with whom she has two super daughters. It also handed her the chance to create a gorgeous garden.
It was 15 years ago that loved-up Lucy and the man she’d soon marry got cracking on the 0.75 not-too-stunning acres around his thatched cottage near Bury St Edmunds. Today, it’s rather dreamy. Dominic credits his wife for transforming the garden “from a piece of grass surrounding the house to a much-admired, inspirational and quirky plant-filled treasure trove”.
For Lucy, a passion for nature came early. She was a child in chocolate-box Kersey and her mother grew unusual dried flowers. “We had an allotment half laid out to vegetable and half dried flowers, and would pick and wire around 200 Helichrysum flowers a day when they were in bloom!” Lucy went to Hadleigh High School, where she enjoyed rural studies taught by Keith Offord. “He created an immaculate school garden with huge greenhouse and conservatory, fruit, veg and flowers. He had trained at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, but as I knew I wouldn’t get enough O-levels to get into Kew I plumped for The Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley, Surrey, to be a student for two years straight from school. I was mortified when I didn’t get in. They thought I would get more O-levels, but I fell between the two…” So what was Plan B? “I left Hadleigh High School at 17 and joined the Government’s one-year Youth Training Scheme, working for Babergh council in the parks department. We were on block release to Otley College, doing NVQ 1 horticulture. I then went on to The Isle of Ely College in Wisbech to do a National Certificate in Horticulture.”
And then? “I swallowed my pride and applied again to Wisley, and this time got in as the youngest member of staff at the tender age of 19 in 1985. Pippa Greenwood (known for BBC show Gardeners’ World) was also there and it was a delight to work with people from all over the world and gardeners with huge plant knowledge, and we immersed ourselves in our joint love of plants – going round to each other’s houses in the evening and showing slides of plants from various countries. We were serious plant bores! I worked finally on the seven model gardens, which is where my interest in design came about – wishing I could draw properly to create plans in display cases at the front of each of the model gardens, for visitors to see the plan and then the reality!” When Lucy fancied a change she worked in a French chateau. Later, back in London, she joined a landscaping firm for a time.
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“I set up Redman Garden Designs and we designed, built and maintained gardens for clients in and around Chelsea, Ascot etc. I saw the hidden side of London.” Projects included a £200,000 roof terrace in Kensington. The mid-1990s brought the return to Suffolk. “I sold the garden maintenance side of the business and moved down to Aldeburgh, having temporarily lost my love of plants, and thought I’d get into art and antiques. But on moving to Suffolk I went to Otley College… and ended up teaching garden design and horticulture, which I really loved, and it brought my love of plants back.” Life got even better when she met Dominic Watts at a supper party. They married in 2000 and have daughters Tilly, 12, and Flori, 10.
She set up The Lucy Redman School of Garden Design.
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“I love the fact that every time you walk around the garden another plant has opened or something changes. Today the vanilla-scented Azara microphylla started flowering, which the girls love as it smells of sweeties…There is something for everyone when you are out in the garden.”
• The Lucy Redman Garden, 6 The Village, Rushbrooke. is open on Fridays from April 4 until September 26, 10am-5pm. Admission £2.50 (children free). www.lucyredman.co.uk 07503 633671