Charlie Harpur is a junior landscape designer at Tom Stuart-Smith where he spends his weeks considering everything from the broader landscape to the precise species of plants to be used in gardens – he plots swathes of trees, drifts of prairie and blocks of blooms. Having trained as an architect at the University of Bath and KTH in Stockholm the pull of the land was too strong for him. The love of gardens and soil is in his blood – his grandfather Jerry Harpur is a veteran garden photographer who has shot for House & Garden for decades, as is his uncle Marcus and his mother’s family are agricultural titans Ernest Doe & Sons. Charlie has a penchant for barefoot gardening and spends his weekends getting his hands dirty (with shoes firmly on) at Fulham Palace, where he is a volunteer gardener. We quizzed him about his favourite plants and gardens…
What are you working on currently?
Lots! But this week I have returned from the wilds of the Highlands, have just finished building a thatched hermitage in Oxfordshire, turned a tennis court into a prairie and am now working on creating a rather vast woodland glade in Berkshire to be planted with hundreds of (mainly Himalayan) trees and shrubs of intrigue. Rhododendrons have been my life recently!
Describe your aesthetic – what or who would you say inspires your work?
Wild, natural, edible, and far from manicured.
Do you have an all-time favourite plant? If so what is it and why?
Quercus robur, the English Oak. Probably not the exciting answer you would be hoping for, but to me it is. As I learn, my top plants shift around, but the native oak will always remain to me an ancient and dominant icon of our landscape. Full and reassuring in the summer, whilst appearing gnarled with centuries of silent observation in the winter.
What is your earliest garden memory?
As an inquisitive five year old, being both thoroughly captivated and pleasingly lost in the great, late gardener Jill Cowley’s magnificent garden near Chelmsford in Essex. My grandmother did the cake and tea for the NGS open days, and I was always left to explore..
Who taught you to garden?
My inspiration to get out there and get hands on partly came from growing up in a farming family, but also from my grandfather’s photographic library and tales of travels to far away gardens in all corners of the world. My grandparents have always had a wonderful garden, and my grandmother would always be willing to share her wisdom on the practices. When I first started working with Tom (and coming from years of architecture school and offices), he gave me the invaluable opportunity of gardening atThe Barn once a week so I could learn by doing. I gardened mainly barefoot – it helped me to keep in contact with the earth, as well as feel what I was treading on when wading through the expanse of grasses, phlox and eremurus. Trial and error has also been a fantastic teacher…
Tell us about your own garden – what do you grow there?
I am very fortunate to work with a lot of gardens, which is lucky as at the moment I am somewhat limited in London. Our shady 2x4m space doesn’t give us much to work with, although this year’s spring bulbs seem to be thriving in the few pots that sit beneath the sprawling grapevine. Inside I fill up every south facing windowsill with cuttings and seedlings but they soon erupt and take over (which I quite like) and demand more space than I can provide. My garden does however overflow into the walled garden of Fulham Palace – one of London’s real hidden gems – where I am incredibly grateful to be a Saturday volunteer. The garden there is incredibly productive, and now keeps Michelin starred restaurants (and if I’m lucky, me) in fruit and vegetables.
Do you have a favourite garden?
I have many that I am in awe of. But for me Great Dixter is always radically exciting, welcoming and the plantsmanship is second to none.
Like so many people I have battled with recurrent depression for a considerable part of my life, and I have found that the garden manages to breathe life back into me. It makes me feel a part of this world which in turn provides strength. So be curious and experiment, visit great gardens, marvel at plants but most importantly: work with the soil – it keeps the brain chemicals moving.
[Source:- House& Garden]