An Interview with Hannah Downey - Creative Director at Agriframes

To kick off 2024 we are spoke with our very own Hannah Downey, Creative Director & Interior Design expert at Agriframes. View the world of Agriframes behind the scenes; exploring the design process and inspiration.

Where does your passion for gardening originate?

My love of gardening certainly comes from my parents - even now in their 80's they spend hours gardening. Growing up I appreciated a beautiful garden and it is surprising how much information you pick up subconsciously as a child - it's so worth while just walking round and talking to children about the plants they see...they'll thank you later!

Most of the fruit and vegetables we ate came from our garden and in the summer months we had a constant supply of tomatoes from the greenhouse, you cannot beat the taste of a freshly picked home grown tomato.

I know our three daughters appreciate our garden and I hope I am passing on my creativity and enthusiasm for gardening; although I can’t see much evidence of it yet!

Every garden is different and it is exciting to work with what you have got in each new space - there are always challenges, but also advantages, in every garden.

We have a town house so don’t have the luxury of sprawling acres. We also live in Bath, which is very hilly and so our garden like so many others is characteristically terraced.

This presents particular challenges, both for design and maintenance when it comes to  mowing the lawn and lugging the mower up and down the steps. But on the upside you do get amazing views beyond your own garden walls making it feel incredibly spacious and you never feel confined.

Where do you find your inspiration?

I love drawing inspiration from magazines and instagram but also visiting gardens too - the NGS Open Garden Scheme gives me the chance to see how other people tackle their gardens and there are always ideas you can take away to try at home.

The products I design are sometimes drawn from these sources but another passion of mine is going to Antique and flea markets and there are often old vintage pieces that I take inspiration and adapt my designs from these.

How do you choose structures for your own garden?

Composition is the key word here. There are always fixed points that you view your garden from.

A kitchen window or place that you sit. I imagine I am looking at a flat page and want to create a beautiful picture that I can’t take my eyes off. I create focal points for the composition and garden structures are a useful tool for this. None are better than an arch, a doorway leading your eye through the garden and beyond.

Also walking through an arch when it is covered in a beautiful fragrant rose that you have watched entwine itself year by year up and over the structure is really pleasurable. We have two arches in our garden,  several queen obelisks and numerous plant supports

RHS Chelsea Flower Show is a highlight of the year for Agriframes – how do you go about designing the garden for the show?

Although we have been exhibiting at Chelsea for many years it has never lost its magic.

The biggest task when I'm designing a stand is placing the product as if in a garden setting - We have to showcase so much in a confined space that it is difficult not to overcrowd the stand. We want it to be inspirational and for our customers to be able to imagine the structures in their own gardens so it is a balance that is hard to pull off.

The stand at Chelsea is not how you would design or create a garden at home and we actually learn as much at the show from customers telling us about their gardens as we offer them in return - it's a real highlight of our year and a vital part of making sure we're in tune with our customers.

There have been many products designed or adapted following chats on the stand- for example one year I was asked several times if we made a round peony support but we didn’t. So as soon as the show was over I did my research and set about designing one. It was on the stand the following year and is now one of our best sellers.

Do you have a favourite part of your garden and why?

Our terrace is my favourite spot. Directly connected to the kitchen by two sets of large French windows. It is an outside room really and there have been many memories of family meals around the table and evening dinners with friends - it was used when the children were little for riding trikes and scooters, drawing on with chalk, hop-scotch games and many other activities, so a lot happens on the terrace. I also take great pleasure in potting up the planters each year with summer flowers and nurturing them throughout the seasons.

But the best bit is that we are lucky enough to have the most incredible view.  In the foreground, beyond our garden boundary, we look over the tail end of a Capability Brown landscape (Prior Park) to the city of Bath nestled comfortably in its basin. In the very distance you can see as far as Bristol. You could just sit and watch this view all day and we get some amazing sunsets.

Are there any particularly challenging spots in your garden? 

Our garden is terraced and that is a real challenge. We have given each layer a different purpose, the top is formal and pretty with a lawn.

The middle layer was always used for the children’s games and mud kitchen, it contained their things nicely  - I would like to say goodbye to the trampoline in order to finally reclaim this part of the garden but that is, so far, a battle I have lost!

We do have one large herbaceous border that we overlook from the terrace on this layer so I always try to make that look tidy and colourful during the summer. We can’t see the bottom layer so this is the vegetable garden and where we keep the compost heap.

Do you have any future plans for adding features to your garden?

We have had a new extension built to the side of our house which caused a lot of disruption. The last two summers the garden has been a real mess, some new shrubs were planted last year but it wasn’t finished, so this summer I am looking forward to doing more planting and putting the garden back together.

What structures would you recommend to a gardener starting out on a new garden project?

If you are starting out an obelisk or a pair of obelisks are perfect. My favourite, and the one we have in our garden is the Queen Obelisk in rust.

Who or what has influenced you the most in your approach to gardening and the products you design? 

Arnie Maynard is one of my favourite garden designers and based here in Bath. His schemes look like they have been naturally planted and just evolved over time, casual yet formal, this is very difficult to achieve and I love the simplicity of his designs. 

As our garden is terraced I seem to get drawn to images of formal Italian terraced gardens and chic French ones too on the hillsides of Provence - I love box balls, lavender in terracotta pots and dainty vintage metal chairs.

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