Many may know Sarah Richardson for the garden which she and husband Robbie have created and which they open to the public every year for the NGS open gardens scheme.

Greatcombe is very popular with visitors and is set in valley at Holne, on the edge of Dartmoor. The garden is filled with colour, from more formal shrubs to billowing wild flowers; it’s a garden characterised by Sarah’s love of colour combinations. With this in mind, it’s not surprising that she is also an artist, working from her studio which sits close to the house, alongside a little stream which tumbles down off the moor and runs through the garden.

Sarah adores colour, and her paintings, which include both figurative and abstract works, are full of joy. It’s the same feeling that surrounds the garden, a exuberant celebration of natural beauty.

Great British Life: Study in Red and Turquoise, mixed media by Sarah RichardsonStudy in Red and Turquoise, mixed media by Sarah Richardson (Image: Sarah Richardson)

Sarah knows that colour can have a strong effect on us, psychologically. ‘I just can’t paint dark,’ she says. ‘I could never do black and white.’

‘For me it’s the desire to put more and more colour on the canvas, and then play with one colour against another and see what it does in between. I do quite a lot of pure abstract work which I love, which is just shape and form and colour.’

Sarah hasn’t come from a family of artists, but she’s always been creative, as a teenager she made elaborate papier mache sculptures of snakes and birds which she adorned in pheasant feathers. Her artistry has extended over the years to styling her own home and her garden, and as her children grew up, she found herself with more time, space and energy to devote to her paintings.

Great British Life: Tumbling leaves by Sarah RichardsonTumbling leaves by Sarah Richardson (Image: Sarah Richardson)

Looking back on when she really began to paint regularly, she says: ‘It was all because I needed to cover something – our electrics box! I said to Robbie that I could just hide it by putting a canvas over it, so that’s what I did. I bought a canvas and splashed some paints on in random colours.’

‘It’s still there today,’ she adds.

Although Sarah is painting more than at any other time in her life, her art is just one creative outlet, her other passions are gardening and cooking.

‘I suppose I am defined by being an artist gardener, it’s very much a part of me. But painting is just one of the strand in my life, it’s not all-consuming but it’s a very important strand.’

‘I’m really lucky, I’m living the dream as I can do all three.’

Great British Life: Poppies in corn, acrylic by Sarah RichardsonPoppies in corn, acrylic by Sarah Richardson (Image: Sarah Richardson)

Sometimes she will complete a painting fairly quickly, but others will take much longer to finish.

One of her recurring themes is hayfields, these flower-filled canvasses are built up with many layers and elements and recall personal memories of picnicking and playing with her children in the countryside.

‘I’m lying down looking at the sky through the hayfield. It’s part fantasy; they are figurative, not botanical, and not abstract. There’s that feeling of getting lost down in that vegetation, just sinking into it.’

‘I am a passionate believer in the importance and power of play in our day-to-day lives.’ she says.

Great British Life: Tiles, mixed media by Sarah RichardsonTiles, mixed media by Sarah Richardson (Image: Sarah Richardson)

‘Through my work I create a style of painting that not only allows myself a chance to play with colour, texture and form, but also invites the viewer to participate and engage in this sense of fun and childlike abandon.’

Sometimes she will paint over or rework paintings and sometimes she will leave them in a corner of her studio and not go back to them for years.

Her work may be beautiful but it takes its toll on her energy levels. ‘I get exhausted, because you are making these decisions. It’s like you are really challenging yourself, you’re exploring and you’re almost in an altered state of meditation, I suppose.’

She adds: ‘It’s so instinctual because I’m not formerly trained and I don’t have all those little voices in your head saying: “You can’t do that!”

Great British Life: Rewilding 2, acrylic by Sarah RichardsonRewilding 2, acrylic by Sarah Richardson (Image: Sarah Richardson)

She will experiment with different techniques and media and inspiration can come from the local landscape or, another favourite haunt, the dramatic north Cornwall coast.

‘I enjoy the freedom to paint a variety of different themes and usually have a landscape or hayfield on the go at the same time as something watery and a pure abstract. This keeps me from becoming too ‘tight’ or ‘fussy’ in my application of the paint and allows my imagination to fun free.’

‘My art is not too deep – it is about a sense of joy, and that’s why I do it.

‘It’s pure joy, happiness and abandonment to the paint.’

An exhibition of Sarah’s work is at Ullacombe Farm, Bovey Tracey, on Saturday 16 and Sunday 17 March.


‘We get so much joy and filling of the soul from our garden, and to watch other people enjoy it and ‘get it’ as well is lovely.’ Visitors can see Sarah’s studio and her work when Greatcombe is open for the National Open Gardens scheme (NGS) on May 4, 5, 6, 25, 26 and 27, June 15 and 16 and July 20 and 21. 1pm to 5pm. The studio and garden can be visited at other times of the year by appointment.

Great British Life: Winter Light, mixed media by Sarah RichardsonWinter Light, mixed media by Sarah Richardson (Image: Sarah Richardson)