Ex-Chapel teacher turned gardener wins design competition to create exhibit at prestigious flower show
A former teacher at Chapel High School has won a prestigious landscape design competition to create a show garden at one of the Midlands’ biggest flower shows – and is seeking business sponsors to help her realise her dream
Chinley resident Julia Wilson, 49, taught French and German at the school for 14 years before leaving in 2019, and has since been working to get her gardening company, Thyme and Space, off the ground.
Her ambitions to develop the design side of the business have now been given a huge boost, with the invitation to build a stunning installation at the Belvoir Castle Flower and Garden Show, taking place near Grantham over the weekend of July 17-18.
She said: “When I received the email to say that I had been chosen, I was absolutely over the moon. I’ve always wanted to build a show garden and I love seeing my designs on paper come to life.
“My real passion lies in the physical work of transforming outdoor spaces and seeing people's reactions. It’s just really exciting to have this opportunity and be creating something that will be seen by the public, which shows people what I can do.”
The competition’s design brief, from Amber Valley firm CED Stone, called for a garden promising tranquillity.
Julia’s entry, called Water Lullaby, was inspired by her regular walks in the Peak District, and features a spiral path leading to central spherical water feature made using traditional drystone wall techniques, large enough for a person to sit on top of and relax to the sound of water surrounded by a glade of woodland planting.
The calming atmosphere is a hallmark of Julia’s approach to gardening. She did not plan on going into business when she left the school but soon found that pottering around in her own garden was a great way to relieve the stresses brought on by classroom life and its relentless workload.
From there she took a Royal Horticultural Society qualification course at Derbyshire County Council’s Eco Centre in Wirksworth, then spent time volunteering at Lyme Park and with another Chinley garden firm.
She said: “Gardening has been very therapeutic to me and my recovery from two overwhelming life changes – divorce and a career ending. I have not only found a career which fits in much better with caring for a family but also one which due its physical and mindful nature, allows me to keep my anxiety under control daily.
“I chose the name for my business because I needed time and space in my life and also because I wanted to encourage other people into gardening. My aim was to sort their gardens out to point where they wanted to be in them more and enjoy gardening for themselves.”
Still, when Julia launched her business just days before the first national lockdown in spring 2020, as a co-parenting mum of three children aged six to 16 she suddenly found herself with demands on her time and space which she had not anticipated.
She said: “I had all these people ringing up for work and I couldn’t do anything because I was looking after the children at home. It took until September for things to take off properly.”
The day-to-day of Thyme and Space mostly involves routine domestic garden upkeep, focused on plants rather than lawns and hedges. Some customers work alongside Julia to learn more about horticulture and grow their confidence.
But the long-term ambition is to develop the design side of the business with one of her first jobs recently completed at a property just next to the school where Julia once worked.
Julia said: “I’ve always been a creative person and I think there is huge potential to grow the design work, especially as I get older and have to fit it around family life. The dream is to employ a couple of people to do most of the physical work.”
The growth plan is benefitting from the advice of Julia’s ex-husband David, himself a landscape architect, who will be part of the team building the show garden at Belvoir.
They will be accompanied by David’s father, who is engineering the water feature, two other gardeners and a pair of stone masons.
Julia said: “We’ve got five days to put the whole thing together on site, and I think the biggest challenge will be coordinating people and the arrival of all materials. I’ve got a plan, and I just hope it all comes together at the right time.
“But I’m looking forward to the satisfaction at the end of each day. I love to step back and see the progress after a hard day’s work.”
The only major uncertainty left in the plan is the finances, with Julia hoping to enlist support from a local business sponsor.
Julia’s show garden will be seen by thousands of people travelling from across the country to see some of the biggest names in the industry.
She said: “I’ve set a budget of £2,000 which will be coming out of my own savings. As a single parent just starting out in business, any contributions would really help. In return I could offer exposure at the show and via social media. Alternatively, if anyone wanted to buy the whole garden, we could reassemble it anywhere.”
Tickets are on sale now for the Belvoir Castle show via belvoircastleflowerandgardenshow.co.uk.