Continuing her series on garden designers, Clare Foster visits the Suffolk home of Tom Hoblyn, which, thanks to a year-round harvest of trained fruit trees and vegetables, is more than just a feast for the eyes…
Tom Hoblyn’s walled garden in the Suffolk village of Bardwell is his sanctuary. ‘After a week of theoretical gardening in the office, designing gardens for other people, it’s wonderful to bury my hands in the real thing at the weekend,’ he says. Originally trained in agriculture, Tom was destined to take over the family farm in Cornwall, but realised quite early on that it wasn’t for him. ‘I was gardening for old ladies on the side and began to think that being a gardener was much more up my street,’ he says. Deciding to follow his heart, he got a job as a head gardener before applying to do a three-year course in horticulture at Kew. Part of the course focused on garden design, with tutors including Christopher Bradley-Hole and Brita von Schoenaich, and Tom found himself increasingly drawn to this more creative side of horticulture.
After graduating, he worked on various projects with Christopher, as well as Dan Pearson, which gave him the break he needed to set up his own London-based design practice in 2001. ‘My first job was in Chalk Farm,’ he says, ‘and before I knew it, I had worked my way down the street.’
When he first started the garden, his aim was to grow unusual crops that couldn’t be found in the supermarkets, but increasingly he is growing a bit of everything, so that the family can come and help themselves to something from the garden at almost any time of the year. Having worked on a biodynamic farm, he describes his approach as ‘lazy organic, slightly biodynamic’. He explains, ‘I don’t have the time to be completely biodynamic, but I borrow some of the principles from it. We have our own sheep and chickens and I make my own compost. I plant green manures and grow marigolds with my tomatoes, and also rely heavily on Mother Nature’s predators to help lessen pest damage – with mixed success. Bantams, for example, are very good at eating asparagus beetle but also love pea seedlings.’
Although his garden is a very private space, occasionally Tom invites clients to his house to see the walled garden. ‘Most clients want to grow fruit and vegetables somewhere and it’s great to be able to bring them here to show them what you can and can’t do,’ he says. ‘I’ve noticed a distinct increase in the number of people wanting to grow their own produce in recent years.’ His own garden, which he describes as ‘part smallholding, part garden, part wilderness’, is a testament to his love of nature, with woodland, meadow and water to keep the sheep and chickens, and a host of other wildlife happy.