THE CUT

Our online botanical publication.

INTERVIEWS

TOM MASSEY - THE GARDEN MAKER

22nd June 2018

Words by Jessica Peace

WHAT GOT YOU INTO ALL THIS?
I have always loved the great outdoors, growing up with Richmond Park on my doorstep and spending long summers in rural Cornwall. I find the natural world incredibly inspiring, particularly beautiful or dramatic landscapes.

I originally trained as an animator and worked in advertising for a few years, but I found I was spending too much time in a dark room in front of a screen. I then took a lease on a disused warehouse space on the Kingsland Road and renovated it with my partner and two friends. We turned it into a co-working space with in-house cafe, for professionals working in creative industries. This is where I met Nik [our Nik Southern], she actually rented a room in our basement when she was starting out!

I enjoyed the whole process of taking on a project, and designing and planning the space, but found the day to day running of it less exciting. I sold my shares to our business partners and used the money to do the diploma course at the London College of Garden Design. I haven't looked back since and absolutely love my job. The mix of office and site work is great, as well as the opportunity to express yourself with show gardens at the RHS shows.

YOUR CHELSEA GARDEN DREW ATTENTION TO REFUGEES IN NORTHERN IRAQ AND THE WORK OF THE LEMON TREE TRUST. TELL US HOW THIS CAME ABOUT?
I met with the Lemon Tree Trust at RHS Hampton Court in 2017. They approached the RHS and said they wanted to do a garden at Chelsea. The RHS thought I would be a good fit having done a garden for UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) and for the charity Perennial, all about plants, and the powerful effect they can have on wellbeing.

We instantly got on, and they gave me a brief for what they wanted to achieve at the show. I produced a design for them that took into account their requirements and we submitted it to the RHS. This all happened within the space of about 2 weeks, as the deadline for Chelsea submissions is very soon after Hampton Court ends!

WHEN DESIGNERS GET TO CHELSEA THEY BECOME  ROCK STARS OF THE PLANT WORLD, DO YOU THINK THEY HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY TO DRAW ATTENTION TO SOCIAL AND ECOLOGICAL PROBLEMS?
I don’t think there is necessarily a responsibility, but I personally think it is important. Gardens can be incredibly emotive, and have a real power to move people. I don't think the show would work if all the gardens were about radical issues or global problems, the public want to see some beautiful gardens that don't necessarily have deep meanings too.

What I particularly liked about this years show was the mix, we had Welcome to Yorkshire, a Mediterranean inspired garden, The Spirit of Cornwall, then my garden set in Domiz refugee camp in Northern Iraq! The RHS deserve credit for being open to accepting gardens that cover potentially challenging themes.

WHAT’S NEXT?
I am flying to Singapore to do the Singapore Garden festival in July. It is like their version of Chelsea. It is held every two years and designers are invited from across the world to participate. Aside from that I have residential projects that are ongoing.  


PETAL, PALM OR POTATO?

They aren’t on the list but I am most drawn to trees. I love climbing them and walking through forests. From the list above I think petal, I love the seasonality of perennials. I do also love digging up potatoes, they taste so much better freshly grown!  


PLANT HEROES?
The scale of Capability Brown’s work is awe inspiring, I’m not sure we will ever see anyone like him again.

Current designers producing awe inspiring work - Gustafson Porter, Juan Grimm, Tom Stuart Smith. My mum got me into gardening at a young age, she is a keen grower so I have to give her a mention too.  

FAVE FLORAL SPACE?
For me it’s got to be Richmond park, it’s not overly floral but right now it is full of Digitalis (foxgloves). I love the wildness of it, you can really escape city life.

PLANT PILL?
I always find eating lots of fresh veg makes me feel better. I particularly enjoy things freshly picked from the allotment.


FINISH THE SENTENCE: ‘PLANTS ARE…’
Powerful.


http://www.tommassey.co.uk/

@tommasseyuk