Hairstylist Sam McKnight enlisted the help of his friend, the landscape designer , to create a maximalist garden at his London house, filling its deep beds with layer upon layer of his favourite plants
'We're at full capacity of planting; we can't fit in any more,' Sam McKnight observes as I tour his London garden with his friend and garden mentor Jo Thompson. 'I recently said to my gardener that we might make the borders bigger and I could see him churning inside.' The image of Martin the gardener, with four hours a week to keep the lid on Sam's proliferating borders, is never far from the conversation. He is not the only one who lacks time. Hair-stylist Sam has recently launched a range of hair products, adding retail clout to his amazing longevity as Vogue's safest pair of hands on photo shoots. His career was celebrated in a major exhibition at Somerset House that opened last year. Jo and Sam have been friends since she was introduced to him at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show five years ago.
Sam's maximalist garden has been designed to be filled. Since his schedule has intensified at the same rate as his plant collection, he keeps a step ladder handy for quick gardening and grabs moments at dawn and dusk to record the garden's goings-on, via Instagram. Wonderful as they are, his phone-size close-ups are no preparation for the real thing. Planning regulations dictated that Sam's extended kitchen should be L-shape: a happy result, as he now has twice as many enormous windows to look out at the garden.
Jo became involved as soon as the builders finished work on Sam's house three years ago. She planned the space to support his plant addiction, while keeping an area of grass for sitting on. 'We had to have beds that were big enough to accommodate what I knew was coming,' says Jo. 'I wanted the garden to have a sense of width, while seeming to go on and on.' Deep beds curve around a figure-of-eight lawn, with an island bed giving privacy to a barbecue area towards the back. Viewed from the bottom of the garden, the house seems to rise out of a sea of flowers. 'I wanted to create a feeling of being enveloped by plants and of the garden coming into the kitchen,' says Jo.
Sam never planned to buy a house because of its garden, having previously lived contentedly in a mansion block by Regent's Park for 10 years. It was the fault of the rose garden in the park that he eventually moved out: now Jo says he has about 60 rose plants. By necessity, he is fine tuning his various collections: peonies have always been a favourite but they may have been overtaken by dahlias. Having ordered thousands of dahlia tubers in the past, he has a clear idea of which ones give him the most joy. 'I like the crazy dahlias,' he says. The wilder in shape and colour, the better. In particular, he appreciates - and often photographs - the cactus and semi-cactus varieties, from the intense pale glow of 'Cabana Banana' and 'Mingus Randy', to dark 'Nuit d'Eté' and 'Myrtle's Folly'.
Jo and Sam have a good understanding. She stifles a gasp when he announces that he is going to fit in an extra rose by the outside table. This small corner is already occupied by a 'Rambling Rector', a 'Souvenir du Docteur Jamain', three varieties of clematis, several honeysuckles and a jasmine. Either one of them is likely to say 'we need to rein back now', in which case they make a note of it and move on. This garden, much talked about and toiled over, is a happy place, underpinned by Sam's sense of fun. His 'silly wig selfies' on Instagram are his most popular pictures, but his flowers come a close second.
Get a tour of hairstylist Sam McKnight's London garden here...
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