Sandbach landscape designer and rising star Alexandra Froggatt prepares for RHS Tatton
Sandbach landscape designer Alexandra Froggatt is a rising star. She's just won a gold medal at RHS London and now has her eyes on another prize at Tatton WORDS AND PICTURES BY LINDA VINEY
The paths were paved with gold when Alexandra Froggatt from Sandbach was awarded a Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) gold medal for her show garden, ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ at the RHS London Design and Plant Show.
She’s no stranger to success for last year she came second in the RHS ‘Young Designer of the Year’ and her show garden ‘Rider on a Storm’ at RHS Tatton Flower Show was awarded a Silver Gilt. From an early age Alexandra’s artistic skills came to light as a child when she was top in the county for art.
When deciding what subject to study at university she felt art wasn’t academic enough and as she enjoyed biology, especially botany, she chose that as her main subject at Sheffield University.
‘On a field course trip we went to Borneo and while everyone went for the animals like the orangutans I was overwhelmed by the plants; Alexandra, aged 26, explained.
Following graduation, her first enterprise was making bespoke clothes and bags out of tweed, but it soon became apparent she would not choose to make it her profession. From there she began carving a career in wildlife conservation becoming a volunteer for the Sheffield Wildlife Trust and she realised this was where her passions truly lay, combining an avid interest in plants with her strong artistic talents.
However she needed a job, and found one working in garden maintenance. She loved it. Her boyfriend worked for the same company and they went on to set up their own business ‘Wild Life Gardens’, he with engineering skills and Alexandra’s artistic ones. It was quite successful, designing and constructing gardens in Sheffield and the Peak District. Although they have remained friends the romance broke up two years ago and Alexandra moved back home with her parents setting up her own garden design business ‘Azalea Landscape Design’, azaleas being one of her favourite flowers.
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‘My maternal grandmother is a mad keen crazy gardener, while my artistic eye is inherited from my mother, Christine, who is an interior designer but also loves gardening. My father, Nick, is also a keen gardener when he has time. He did all the landscaping on their garden which I designed, and is valuable help with the show gardens,’ Alexandra told me.
She quickly landed two big projects which were a full redesign. One was the garden of a house within an equestrian centre and the other a small cottage with a large garden, bringing contrasting skills from contemporary to traditional. In 2010 she went to RHS Tatton Flower Show and spoke to the winner of the RHS Young Designer of the Year, which is open to anyone under the age of 28 years old.
Feeling confident she got an application form in the November, plans had to be submitted by the 7th January giving her a pretty stressful Christmas. She got through to last six and then travelled to London where she was one of the three chosen to create a garden at Tatton 2011. The RHS donate �12,000 towards the cost and with added help and sponsorship work began.
‘I didn’t realise what hard work it would be. It was a great learning curve but good experience. I met up with other designers on site and found everyone friendly and helpful. My father helped in the construction, the prefabrication took nearly four months and after a nerve racking few days on site she was rewarded with a Silver Gilt, so exciting,’ Alexandra said:
‘Champagne corks were popping in celebration.’ Now fresh from winning an RHS Gold in London, which was the first time it has been awarded for a show garden there, she laughingly said: ‘maybe the RHS should introduce a Platinum award!’
That garden was small, set in an area of six by three metres, with a contemporary feel. She used mirrors to brighten an alleyway, a rendered surface to the walls, brightened the space and colour came from red stems of the dogwood and bright flowers of anemonoes.
‘We spent one whole day just peeling bark,’ people are amazed at what hard work goes into making a show garden, attention to detail is second to none,’ she said. ‘It’s smaller than Tatton, it was just five weeks spent on the prefabrication but thankfully we make use of my father’s garage and he certainly works hard constructing it. Where possible I use local suppliers and regularly visit local nurseries Four Oaks and Pickmere who are extremely helpful.’
Alexandra has fought off stiff competition and is one of four chosen to create an orchestra themed garden at this year’s RHS Tatton Flower Show. Her garden ‘Air on a Green String’ takes inspiration from the string instruments found in an orchestra, enabling her to use grasses and sprays of flowers to give the romantic dreamlike movement of the cellos and violins.
She will use topiary to depict the f shape sound hole of the instruments. A path will run between an avenue of trees and delicate planting, leading to a stage area at the back which is framed by a pergola covered in climbers. Painted violin planters are suspended giving a spiritual feel, while horsehair backed vintage chairs provide seating for performers. Cellos with plants spilling out lie part buried surrounded by moss to complete the picture. With formality, traditional and abstract features, this garden will show many aspects of Alexandra’s skills.
She has now changed from Azalea Garden Design to Alexandra Froggatt Design as she feels her name is becoming widely known. Her designs will truly reflect her client’s character and taste. Like her show gardens she focuses on beautiful details and incorporates unique features.
‘Every garden is a challenge and gives me an opportunity to create a lasting imprint on the landscape,’ she said. ‘Working within people’s budgets is also vital, and a site survey will tell me what plants will grow and thrive for everywhere will have its own advantages and problems. Communication is so important.’
She works with the contractors whether her own or her clients. She will also explain the maintenance to keep the garden looking its best.Alexandra will go a long way and this year is volunteering to help at the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show. It won’t be long before she will be designing her own show garden there.
To contact Alexandra visit www.alexandrafroggatt.com
or follow her on twitter at @AzaleaDesign