A creative touch
Leigh Clapp meets acclaimed garden designer, Sarah Eberle, and learns more about her versatile designs
Hampshire-based garden designer, Sarah Eberle, came to world attention when she won Best Show Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2007, for her imaginative and quirky terrestrial space garden on Mars, ‘600 Days with Bradstone’. It represented a 600-day tour of duty for an astronaut, with an area for luxury food and healing plants, and another for relaxation, to counter the psychological effects of a long-term stay in space. Her work continues to gain recognition, with her three low cost ‘credit crunch’ gardens at last year’s Chelsea being awarded Silver and Silver-Gilt Medals.Sarah’s knowledge and skill, anchored by a practical country background and tinged with a touch of humour, means her work is in great demand. She has worked in the landscape industry for over 28 years, is a graduate of Greenwich University as a landscape architect, has an honorary doctorate in design, and is a member of the Landscape Institute, the Society of Garden Designers and the Institute of Horticulture. Professor Richard Hayward of the School of Architecture and Construction at the University of Greenwich said of her 2009 Chelsea gardens, “These are wonderful, witty gardens which take a light-hearted look at the serious times we live in. Sarah has demonstrated her versatility as a designer at Chelsea, taking on the big set piece show gardens, as well as these intimate domestic front gardens, in her bold and distinctive style. She is a great role model for all aspiring garden designers.”
Personal visionHaving grown up in the countryside Sarah has a real affinity with her surroundings and knew from an early age that she wanted to work with landscapes. “I adore the way light plays on the landscape. I feel really passionate about what I do. I am really lucky to do a job that I just love. The more I learn, the more passionate I become. It is not just an environmental thing – it is our British light that is so beautiful and soft – it’s the same thing that inspires painters” she comments. In her designs you can also see the structure of architecture and love of modern art, fostered in her school days.Sarah’s own garden, at Stockbridge, provides inspiration for her designs, though she readily admits that she is more a farmer than a gardener at home. “The Test Valley is beautiful with the river running through it – especially in the early mornings with the frosts. Stockbridge itself also has so much character. I dream of my own lovely garden but know that I’d need to constantly adapt and change what I have and that I would never get any fee-earning work done. I have an addictive personality and I don’t dare go there! I like the big picture and looking after rural land and the animals that go with it. I also own and manage a small pony stud that breeds potential international level sports ponies. Jumping onto a tractor keeps me in touch with nature,” she explains.
Working with clientsSarah works on all sizes of projects, from large-scale public works to small, domestic gardens. “I like to work with the genius loci and the client’s personality to ensure the garden is harmonious with the wider landscape but also reflects the client’s wishes. Scale is important and I generally work on larger country gardens. Although undertaking both traditional and contemporary styles, the two continue to merge to form a timeless classic, I hope. My key strength lies in visualisation skills with a deep understanding of space and scale backed up by my attention to detail and a passion for landscape and architecture,” she says.Earthy, organic, materials characterise Sarah’s gardens, along with streamlined steel, concrete and glass. She tends to move from material to material, investigating their possibilities. “I love finding new uses from timeworn and accepted materials. Visiting scrap yards comes close to the top of my list for desirable trips out,” she smiles. Hampshire gardens, with their warm summers and not too wet winters, allow a broad palette of plants. Sarah loves to use plants with great textures that work in association with others rather than merely as individuals, often in a blowsy look with an array of grasses and herbaceous varieties. As well as seeing her gardens at Chelsea, I visited one of her gardens at Newton Valence, which exemplifies many of the elements of her designs. Understated paving, punctuated by a rectangular pond and structured planting softened with grasses and perennials, leads the eye out to lawns and then the folded hills beyond. The garden sits well in its landscape and offers colour and interest all year round with its blended plantings.
Future trends“I think that in gardening we are moving towards a relaxed and sustainable garden. Artisan skills are valued again and the value of bespoke but not necessarily expensive design is ahead of the very chic machined and sophisticated look. Garden design is once again becoming a craft skill.”