Claudia De Yong is a talented garden designer, specialising in creating natural wildlife-friendly spaces with traditional water features, and has an endless list of prestigious clients. She has won many awards for her natural show gardens including Gold Medal and the Tudor Rose Award for her “Hot Springs’ garden at Hampton Court in 2016.
Read our interview to find out how she started out and her top tips to help you design your own garden.
How did you get into Garden design?
I got into garden design really by accident. One day I was chatting to my neighbour’s gardener over the fence when he mentioned he had an associate who owned a Water Garden Nursery that wanted to enter a show garden at Hampton Court Flower Show but was in need of a design to put forward. Having a degree in Art, being pretty good with a pencil along with spending a number of years transforming my cottage garden, complete with a large pond, I asked if I could sketch a few ideas for consideration for a show garden and as they say ’the rest is history.’
Regarding the horticultural side of things, I am completely self-taught but am passionate about plants and using natural materials, so designed my first show garden which was a water garden filled with lilies and based it around an old fishing hut with a wooden bridge. I was so nervous at the prospect of being judged for my efforts but I loved every minute of it and after the show, I was determined to gain as much experience as I could, learning landscaping skills and mastering every element even how to use using a mechanical digger.
Was gardening a thing in your household when you were growing up?
My mother was always outside gardening so I think I learnt almost subconsciously to appreciate plants and gardens. We had an apple orchard and I spent long days, climbing the trees and just being outside as much as I could building dens and enjoying nature. I think I was quite the tomboy really.
Where do you get inspiration from?
I gain inspiration from so many different places I visit. It could come from a walk down a country lane or in the woods, a beautiful view somewhere, a visit to local gardens or interesting historic buildings. I drive my partner mad when he is driving often shouting ‘ stop the car’ so I can jump out to take a picture of something I have seen whilst he was driving. My mind is very active and I am always doodling or cutting out images from magazines and these days saving them on the internet (although I never know where they are stored so get very confused trying to find something!)
What is the starting point when designing a garden – the first consideration?
The starting point is really to decide what you want from your garden. You may want an area for vegetables, alfresco dining, increase the paving or put in a pond for example. You may want to make small changes or have a radical re-plan but ultimately you have to consider your budget, which can be quite hard if this is the first time you are having your garden designed/landscaped.
What do you find most challenging when designing a garden?
From the design aspect, the most challenging part I find is linking the new garden design with the existing architecture of the property, creating flow between the new and old. Along with meeting clients’ expectations and ideas which are not always possible.
What has been your greatest success or are there any favourite projects?
In terms of designing private gardens, I feel very privileged to have worked for and with some amazing people. I am very proud of my awards for Show Gardens which have been designed with very small budgets in the past. I do enjoy the challenge of creating gardens for shows as you can really let your imagination flow. I have won some lovely awards over the year including Gold and Best in Show at BBC Gardener’s World Live but the Tudor Rose and Gold at Hampton Court Flower Show for a water garden will always be very special.
When did you branch out into selling merchandise and how did that come about?
I have always enjoyed sourcing items for my clients when designing gardens and often get asked which tools I use as well as other garden items. In lockdown with a few health issues and not being able to get out, I decided to set up my online garden shop, littlegardenshop.com which I hope will one day, turn into a bricks and mortar shop. As well as small hand tools, I sell artisan, British handmade products and vintage pieces to compliment people’s gardens or greenhouses.
Three top tips you would give someone designing their own garden?
People often get overwhelmed by trying to design their gardens but it is really like planning rooms in your house. If you divide areas up into small sections, it becomes more manageable.
It is very hard to just pick three tips but to begin with, it is best to decide what needs changing sometimes it is hard to tell what the design will be like in 3D from a plan so, I would suggest you get some bamboo canes and barrier tape to mark to areas you are creating and look at it from all the windows of your house, even the upstairs to gain an overview of the spaces. Use extra bamboo canes for trees for example which you can move around to hide a possible neighbours window or ugly fence. You don’t always need to plant against a fence line to hide a neighbours property. Remember to think about looking after what you are planting and the access to cut and prune etc.
If you are planning new flower beds and planting up areas follow the rule of planting perennials in odd numbers for greater effect, this will create drifts of colour through the seasons, repeat patterns rather than odd dotted plants in the beds. Choose British grown hardy plants where possible and visit local gardens to see what grows well in the soil and to give you ideas.
Think logistics – don’t block off a side passage for access if that is the only way to get your lawnmower through for example or any other machinery round to the back garden. You wouldn’t want anyone coming to do work bringing their garden equipment through your house! Think of how you will get rid of any garden rubbish, it can be quite costly with skips if they are needed. Also, think about looking after your garden and if you can reach the beds easily or mow around the edges of the lawn without heavy machinery.
Three garden design people you’d recommend following on Instagram?
I would recommend following @tamsinwesthorpe of Stockton Bury Gardens in Herefordshire for great garden tours, advice and podcasts, No Dig garden guru, Charles Dowding @Charles_dowding and Designer and Plantsman Dan Pearson @coyotewillow.