Mark Bolton is an award-winning photographer, with over 25 years’ experience photographing interior and exterior spaces for editorial and commercial clients across the world. His book 'A New Cottage Garden’ (Pimpernel Press ) will be published in August 2024 and charts the process of building a new garden from scratch at his home in Devon - featuring a pair of Agriframes King Arches.
Where does your passion for gardening originate?
My parents were big gardeners and I have always been fascinated by nature. I loved bird watching, wildflowers and walking in the countryside when I was a child. Combined with an interest in photography, I think this led on naturally to a career where I could do it all!
Does your family share your love of gardening?
No, they love being in the garden, but it’s mostly me that does the weeding and planting. I’m not worried though; I find it relaxing and quiet being on my own out there!
Who or what has influenced you the most in your approach to gardening and the way you photograph/write about it?
I think that having shot so many fabulous gardens, it’s inevitable that I am influenced in the way I plant and garden. I especially love Gravetye Manor Gardens (the home of William Robinson in Victorian times, the father of cottage gardening) and have spent a lot of time there. I am fond of an informal style garden, with intermingled plants that self-seed… it’s hard to take a bad picture! It’s also nice to be in and the benefits for nature are well known.
You have a fairly new garden – how did you go about planning such an exciting project and were there any ‘must haves’ in your plan?
I wanted a garden that I could spend a lot of time in, photographing. We are very remote here, so any way that I can reduce time in the car traveling, the better. So the idea was to plant for all seasons, and have something to photograph every day.
If only we had the weather for it! I sat down and drew the garden (which was a patch of ropey grass) with lots of borders instead of lawn. I then chose a lot of self seeding annuals and some perennials for long term structure. That was two years ago and the result is lovely. Lots of mistakes, but lovely all the same.
What makes a great garden photograph?
Good composition, careful focusing and an awareness of the subject and it’s relation to other plants in the shot. I think it’s quite hard to do unless you have an affinity to the plant/garden. Like anything, to be good at it, you need to know your subject.
Do you have a favourite part of your garden and why?
I love Foxgloves, and so I would say that the new central borders, with the spires of Foxgloves that shoot up randomly throughout. Even after a year, they were looking fabulous.
Have there any particularly challenging spots in creating your new garden?
The side border is very shaded and faces north. There are some old trees there and an ancient stone wall, so it’s also quite dry. But, as with all gardens, you have to go with the flow, and the plants that do well there are some self-seeded Red Campion and some knapweed that I ‘foraged’ from the meadow at Gravetye!
Do you have any future plans for adding features or new schemes to your garden?
At the moment I am happy with the existing borders, but I’d love a new potting shed/studio so that I can keep working during the winter, setting up little shots of the benches inside. And I need some more storage for all the pots that I tend to acquire!
What three pieces of advice would you give to a gardener starting out on a new garden project?
Take time to see what ‘comes up’ in your garden, there can often be a few gems that you had no idea you had. And read, read, read as much as you can, taking advice from the old masters about plants and gardens. I visit Oxfams bookshop regularly to find old gardening books. It’s amazing how much knowledge has been passed down through the ages.
Which other gardeners and gardens do you admire?
Tom Coward at Gravetye Manor, Monty Don of course, and an amateur gardener in Cornwall called Beth Tarling, who I have known for many years. I have photographed her little garden many times.
Have you seen big changes in the gardens you photograph in the last 10 years? Are there any trends/changes that you see coming in the next 10?
The obvious big change is in the weather, and many more places are now ‘drought tolerant’. This is an obvious change. I also see much more interest in wildlife gardens, which is great; I have tried to use as many insect attractors as possible in my own garden for example; using simple single flowers and leaving seed heads for the birds and so on.