An Interview with Claudia de Yong

119Sandy Felton finds out why Claudia believes in gardening with humour and how she meets the challenges of designing a show garden.

I first fell in love with Claudia de Yong’s work with her stunning design for Hampton Court in 2005 – ‘Le Jardin Perdu’ – with its tranquil lily pond viewed through a series of gothic stone arches. Back at Hampton Court again in 2006 she brought us ‘Hot Springs’, another vibrant water garden for which she was awarded a much deserved Gold medal and the coveted Tudor Rose Award for the best water garden. Today she is one of our most talented designers – currently she is working on a garden for Ruby Wax – and is building a considerable reputation both within the UK and Europe with a growing list of prestigious clients.

She admits that she has always loved plants and has gardened from a young age: “I have always liked design”, she explains. “I grew up in the retail trade with my parents owning a shop, then when I married my husband and I started doing shop displays for his retail business. Art has also been part of my life and from early on I would paint and make things, so eventually I became more interested in graphics and design brochures.”

It is her artistic eye, which influences her when designing a garden: “I see it as a painting though I also believe it should be designed with the surroundings in which it is set. Designing gardens in England, say compared with France, is different in that the climate/soil varies, especially in the South of France. The views play a large part and certain trees do better – the olives stay more silvery and the light that descends on the garden throws up different hues in the palette of colours in the planting.”

The challenges of designing a garden for Hampton Court are well known, but when it is a large water garden there must be additional stresses: “I have designed five up to now and all at Hampton Court”, says Claudia. “For me the biggest challenge is the site with three sides, making sure the public will be able to view all angles and it will look good whichever way you look. Also, having a terribly small budget and producing a very large garden is hard. I have to beg and borrow and run round at the last minute every year trying to pull everything together.”

She believes that hard landscaping is very important and must be right: “It sometimes takes me ages to choose the materials and I often change my mind continuously. I drive everyone mad!” She is keen on choosing the right colour and texture of stone, understanding that everything has to work together. “When I first chose the paddlestones for Hot Springs and laid them, they looked like huge elephant droppings and I was horrified but as I started planting they softened and looked right for the setting.”

Among her favourite plants which she likes to include are shrubs such as Cotinus, Cercis, Hydrangea Annabelle, Alchemilla Mollis, Nepeta, Stipa Giganeta and Verbena Bonsnriensis. She considers them good honest plants that do what they say on the box! In other words they always perform.

Another very important element in garden design, whether it be for private clients or a show garden, is to garden with humour: “This is very important as I am frequently stuck under a bush looking like a ‘wreck’ so having a good laugh is essential!” A true recklessgardener then Claudia!

In 1999 Claudia set up her own design company and now has an in-house landscaping team who are all professionals in their own field. That said she doesn’t get much free time but when she does she likes to sketch botanical drawings, listen to jazz, eat out and go to see a film or show.

When asked about her favourite designer she admits that she doesn’t really have one: “Gardening is to a degree like creating a recipe. There are familiar ingredients in most people’s lists when designing but a twist or different angle sometimes makes all the difference to a design. Garden design has evolved so much over the last ten years. What I don’t like is the huge architectural element which seems to have taken over especially at shows. I miss certain traditional values of our past well known designers. Certain aspects of the modern minimalist garden can look great when they are first done but very soon they start to look tatty as the plant content is limited and they actually need more maintenance to look good than less.”

So are there any ambitions? “I have never done a garden at Chelsea and that would be great to do if I can get large funding. I would also like to design gardens for public enjoyment as well as permanent show gardens.”

She exhibited her first show garden at Hampton Court in 2002 winning a Bronze for ‘The Enchanted Garden’. This garden and all her subsequent Hampton Flower Show water gardens were designed with the Dorset Water Lily Company. In 2003 she won Silver for ‘Anglers Paradise’, and in 2004 a Silver-Gilt followed for ‘Court Garden’. ‘Le Jardin Perdu’ was awarded another silver-gilt in 2005 and then in 2006 it was that coveted Gold for ‘Hot Springs’ and all the hard work paid off.

With ‘Hot Springs’ Claudia demonstrated that it is possible to grow an extensive range of exotic and sub-tropical plants in our climate and that different textures and a variety of unusual plants can be exciting.

Hopefully, we will see Claudia again at Hampton Court with another exciting design and maybe Chelsea will beckon with the right commission, but in the meantime one suspects that she will go on gardening and designing ‘with humour’ in true recklessgardener spirit. For details of Claudia’s work log onto her website at: