Second in a series of interviews with three of our very first Look Out For interviewees, we catch up with Melissa Jolly.
What has changed for you since 2012?
It feels like a lot has changed, but on the surface, it looks quite similar! I am still running my design practice from home and work on my own taking on a variety of different commissions. Back in 2012 I was riding on a high after designing and building three consecutive show gardens for RHS shows. At the time I was receiving quite a lot of media interest and I felt like it was all a bit of a whirlwind. I wanted to move on from doing show gardens to concentrate on making real gardens and building my client base and have been busy doing that ever since. My work is concentrated around the Thames valley and London and I work on a range of different projects from small town gardens to large country gardens and I also work for a few property developers in London designing both their communal spaces for housing developments and private gardens and roof terraces. The biggest change is that I know a lot more about everything to do with garden design – from planting design, construction, dealing with clients to running a business and (through a period of failure 3 years ago) managing a good work life balance.
How does it compare to what you hoped you would be doing in the future in 2012?
I’m not sure I had a clear view of what the future would hold – I have (rightly or wrongly – I’m guessing most people would say wrongly!) never written a business plan but I am still running a profitable business after ten years so I’m pretty proud of that. I suppose I had thought I might go on to do a show garden at Chelsea soon after Hampton Court, but I never quite got round to applying for it and work was always busy and I didn’t carve out the time for it.
I had also thought that I might expand the business to have a studio of people to work with, which I might still go on to do, but right now I enjoy the flexibility of working by myself and collaborating with a variety of different professionals and tradespeople on projects.
What are some of your biggest achievements?
Aside from my early success with RHS show gardens, I am proud to still be running a profitable business after 10 years! I have just passed the Society of Garden Designer’s adjudication process to become a full member of the SGD which was a goal I set myself at the beginning of 2019 – I hadn’t been sure about doing it and felt like I had enough work coming my way, but actually having your work critiqued, checked and deemed to be of the high standard expected by the SGD is a great accolade and I really appreciate the SGD for providing this service in order to maintain a high calibre of work in the industry. And lastly but by no means least, it really means a lot to me to get feedback from clients whose lives have been improved by their gardens – and if they recommend me to someone else!
What do you hope will happen in the next few years?
I am now passionate about learning more about how the landscape industry can have a positive effect on the environment – from increasing biodiversity to reducing its impact on natural resources and the climate crisis. And also, how natural landscapes can have a positive effect on the mental health of those who experience it.
My background in evolutionary behaviour tells me that people evolved to be a part of the natural world and I believe that many people have become distanced from nature, leading to a variety of mental and physical problems and a lack of care for protecting the earth. Going forward I would like to steer my design work to encourage people to reconnect with outside spaces they experience – to notice the changing seasons, to connect themselves to the ground by growing food and plants, to understand the importance of the myriad species we share our landscapes with and to realise that we are all a part of the same huge interdependent web.
I hear it much less now, but there are still people I meet who want me to create non-changing, maintenance-free, bee-free, bird-free gardens for them and that is something that I am no longer willing to do. There needs to be a modicum of involvement in a garden to benefit ourselves and the species that inhabit it and that involvement will have so many positive effects that it feels like a no-brainer to me!
Melissa Jolly’s Interview in our February 2012 issue: https://issuu.com/eljays44/docs/february_2012