In 2018 garden designer Kate Gould and her team won their fifth gold medal at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show for their latest creation the New West End Garden in the Space to Grow Category.

Kate Gould Gardens went on to win another gold award in July of this year, for Best Outdoor Lighting at the Singapore Garden Festival 2018.

I spoke to Kate, who lives in Radlett, to find out where it all began, how she got to where she is today and how it all feels…

What is your earliest memory of gardening?

My earliest memory of gardening was when I was about three years old I guess. We had a Butlers sink near the kitchen that my mum would sow Godetia into. It was a riot of pink and white but a few nettle seedlings had crept in amongst the flowers and I was instructed to weed them out.

My attention levels weren’t then what they are now and when mum came back to check on me all that was left were the nettles. To her credit she was amazing about it and we still garden together now – she does the weeding though.

Were you naturally green fingered?

I spent a great deal of time outside with my parents as soon as I could walk. I loved sowing seeds and going through the process of growing those plants on with my mum and I still do so to this day. My dad was the ‘mower’ of the family and so with him I learnt more mechanical things – if something was broken and I could be given a hammer or a drill to try and fix it, he would encourage me to do so.

How did you start your career?

I first set up as a designer only and I suspect I knew almost nothing about most things to do with landscaping.

I was lucky enough early on to meet and work with some great landscapers and fabricators as well as nurseries who generously imparted their knowledge to me and I greedily soaked it up like a sponge. The business really just evolved – there was no grand master plan or vision just a bit of stumbling and some seriously hard graft.

I physically built the first few gardens I designed myself, including all the hard landscaping which helped me gain an understanding of the process and the rigours that it takes on you.

I always really enjoy the construction part of a project and the process of problem solving when things don’t go to plan but there is no way you would want me alone to build a garden for you – I am a self-confessed appallingly bad paver and my brickwork is beyond shocking. I do though make a half decent chocolate Brownie so I am more likely to come to site these days with a box of these rather than a pointing trowel.

Is it a hard industry from which to make a name for yourself?

I don’t think it is probably any harder than any other industry to become recognised, it would be unusual if success just landed in your lap. It has taken years to reap the benefits of the hard work that we as a team here have put in here. We have taken risks, built a couple of slightly off the wall show gardens and I have put my money where my mouth is to do so. I am generally not a lucky person.

Tell me about your last Chelsea garden

New West End Garden was a modern interpretation of the gardens and architecture of traditional London Squares. It was designed as a communal garden for use all year round to provide a green oasis in the heart of the West End with positive clean air as well as an energy harvesting technology for residents, workers and visitors to use.

The garden was a calm space with lightweight trees providing shelter and privacy from the surrounding buildings for those enjoying the space along with green fern walls and a water feature to muffle sound from the busy shopping district.

The garden was jointly sponsored by the Sir Simon Milton Foundation and New West End Company, who helped to relocate parts of the garden to a public space on Old Quebec Street, just off Oxford Street in the heart of the West End.

You won your fifth gold medal, how did that feel?

It was a complete relief! We wait with baited breath for the medals to be awarded at Chelsea, the walk from the gate to the garden is always hideous.

The more show gardens you build and the more medals you accrue means that with every new show garden you build, there is more pressure than the last time to be awarded a good medal.

All the members of our team who have built show gardens over the years feel exactly the same way, we really can never tell until we are presented with our medal what we are going to be awarded – we may have a feeling, but we never discuss it for fear of jinxing it.

You also won a gold medal for your design at the Singapore Garden Festival, can you tell me about that?

I am a big believer in teamwork, so I asked Keith Chapman MBE and Colin Evans, who work with me, to come along to Singapore. We design and build gardens for a living so seeing how others do so is always interesting and you can learn a lot. We travelled out together only having a small security related incident (one large SDS drill bit lodged unwittingly somewhere in someone’s hand luggage).

We then teamed up with our contractor known in Singapore as an ‘implementing partner’. We were really there to observe and help set out, but it became apparent quickly that we needed to pitch in to get things moving and on track. The design wasn’t anywhere near as complicated as we would attempt for Chelsea, but it still had its challenges.

There is great community spirit in Singapore and residents living in high rise blocks often use exterior space communally, so I set the garden out as a courtyard space intended for this use.

The assumed residents have no access to their own private gardens and would come together to garden here in small numbers communally or on their own. Showcasing relatively small raised beds in different heights as well as hanging planters allowed each area to be gardened easily as and when time permits.

I was really honoured to be asked to be given the chance design a garden for the SGF, the show has a reputation for attracting thousands of visitors as well as a world-renowned designers.

What advice would you give to an aspiring garden designer?

You can be taught the skills to design a garden using space to its best advantage as well as learning what plants will work where, but that really is only one aspect of a career in this industry.

Dealing with people and learning how to communicate is absolutely vital, most of your time will be spent meeting people, they start evaluating you (and you them) from the moment of meeting, consequently your interpersonal skills and your ability to spot someone who might be a little less than truthful or potentially a little more ‘challenging’ than someone who can make hard and fast decisions about things they like are so important for you to be successful.

What’s your biggest tip?

This isn’t really rocket science but generally if it looks good on paper it will look good on the ground. If there is something creating a nagging little voice inside your head about an element of a design, go back and look at it – usually there is a solution that is better or more elegant than the original.

Don’t ever assume you have got it right the first time, unless you actually have (I very rarely do and even then, the temptation to tweak it is irresistible!).