Joanne Willcocks - the award winning garden designer from Bunbury

Joanne sitting with a coffee showing how grouped spring plants can be potted up to sit on a garden t

Joanne sitting with a coffee showing how grouped spring plants can be potted up to sit on a garden table - Credit: Linda Viney

A change of career has led to awards and a blooming reputation for a Bunbury garden designer. Words and photography by Linda Viney.

A pictures of the award-winning garden Joanne submitted for the competition

A pictures of the award-winning garden Joanne submitted for the competition - Credit: not Archant

Joanne Willcocks transformed the small back yard at her first home into a tranquil oasis – and that planted the seed for a life-changing career shift.

She helped design the community garden near that home in Bowdon too, and those experiences – paired with her natural artistic talent and passion for plants – helped her plans for a new start take root.

After 16 years working for technology company IBM Joanne attended a Royal Horticultural Society lecture on garden design and went on to do a short-term garden design course at Reaseheath College in Nantwich, before moving on to a full time one.

‘I just loved it and although it was extremely hard work as I was still a full time mum, and the course was sometimes quite daunting I enjoyed every minute,’ Joanne said. ‘I remember we were also involved in designing and building a show garden at the time we were moving house. Looking back I’m not sure how I coped.’

Joanne receiving her trophy from Paul Boylin, senior marketing manager for The Millboard Company at

Joanne receiving her trophy from Paul Boylin, senior marketing manager for The Millboard Company at the SGD Awards - Credit: not Archant

She didn’t just cope, she blossomed and was recently named the winner of the Society of Garden Designer’s (SGD) prestigious award for her Lakeside Garden, in the ‘Big Ideas, Small Budget’ category.

One of the first gardens she took on as a designer was on a fairly steep slope, a challenge for anyone, however her skills gradually set her on her way and she has worked up her business through referrals, often designing a second or third garden as clients move house.

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There is certainly more to designing a garden than just doing a drawing and she has had to keep up to date with new products and trends. As a pre-registered member of the SGD she works towards their exacting standards and finds the seminars and meetings invaluable as like-minded people have the opportunity to bounce ideas off one another.

Her appreciation of good design, along with her love of the landscape and horticulture, allows her to create gardens that work both functionally and aesthetically for their owners. As much as possible she uses local nurseries, suppliers and contractors – such as Bluebell Cottage Gardens and Nursery at Warrington – knowing she can rely and trust them. Her attention to detail and her ability to develop innovative solutions to practical problems results in gardens that are as unique as their owners and their location.

A garden designed by Joanne

A garden designed by Joanne - Credit: not Archant

‘I am always looking at designs everywhere – from buildings, sculpture, paintings and landscape,’ she said. ‘Following a recent trip to Copenhagen, I came back with my head whirring with inspiration. On my travels I’m drawn to reclamation yards and small independent nurseries where you will find unusual plants never seen at garden centres.’

Joanne’s award-winning garden is at a mews house, one of a barn complex of eight in Beeston and covers just 107sq metres and compliments the backdrop of lake and countryside making it appear as part of the garden.

The curved sweeping decking draws the eye to the water’s edge, giving the illusion of making the space appear much larger. The pathway is planted either side with interest all year from the first low early spring plants through to the stunning herbaceous and grasses for the summer which give greater privacy when enjoying a glass of wine on the terrace.

The grasses add interest even in the winter as they turn golden and the seed heads encourage the birds. To prevent flooding, a submerged retaining wall was built out of salvaged duck stones. Previously the garden had hard landscaping with a rustic fence and Joanne has transformed it into a light, airy and organic oasis which encourages the wildlife, even occasionally the geese who find their home on the lake, though these are not encouraged.

‘Friends had persuaded me to enter the competition and it wasn’t until the last second I sent off my application,’ Joanne said. ‘At the awards ceremony I was completely shocked and thrilled when mine won in its category. All the people who attended were lovely and it certainly was an evening to remember with so many talented people in attendance. The judges’ comments overwhelmed. I felt so humble and proud at the same time.’

The judges said her entry was: ‘A beautiful effortless garden designed to enhance a lovely view, it is a strong, simple and an incredibly effective idea’.

Another garden Joanne designed, in Altrincham, has been given a bright and modern look with an open fire surrounded by walls which can be used as seats. Low formal box hedging and box balls add to the effect and, despite Joanne hardly believing she suggested it, an artificial lawn sets it off beautifully. This serves two purposes – it doesn’t need mowing, just occasional vacuuming, and also no mud is carried into the house. There is seasonal planting along the other two perimeter borders and old metal grilles from a church have cleverly been adapted as a step which allows light to the cellar window beneath.

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