At the end of a hard day’s filming, Silent Witness star Emilia Fox likes nothing better than to venture into her oasis of calm, with its walls of lavender, pretty clematis and fragrant roses.
The south-facing garden, which complements her elegant Victorian home in west London, was lovingly created with the help of her garden designer pal, Sue Gernaey. Emilia says that if she could change her own career, she would become a gardener.
“I’m constantly begging if I can come and work for her (Sue), so I can give everything up and become a gardener,” says Emilia, the daughter of actors Joanna David and Edward Fox.
The garden has been a labour of love for the 39-year-old actress, who is the face of B&Q’s new campaign to replace all polystyrene packaging in its range of bedding plants and use non-peat compost.
“When I first moved in, the garden was full of rocks and stones and lots of odd protruding wood, but it had a lovely, huge bay tree and I’d always dreamed of having my own proper English country cottage garden. I’ve always found cottage gardens very romantic and I’m probably a bit of an old romantic.
“So, we took the whole thing out and started from scratch. It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.
“I’m a trial and error gardener so I always knew that the best thing to do would be to put in the things that would come up each year. Sue laughed at me because when it came to bulb planting time she asked how many I wanted to order and I just said, cram it full, and they’re all coming up now — all the tulips. It’s like a floral revolution out there. There are pinks, whites, and almost black tulips.”
These include T. ‘Mondial’, ‘Angelique’, ‘Queen of Night’, ‘Spring Green’, ‘Burgundy’ and ‘Albion Star’. She also has plenty of muscari and Allium ‘Purple Sensation’.
“I also wanted there to be a lot of roses because when I moved in I was having my little girl, who is called Rose. So, where you sit outside to eat, there are a lot of roses. There’s also a wall of lavender by the table, leading on to a traditional lawn which is curved at the top and then surrounded by beds of roses, clematis and herbs, passion flowers and myrtle, all the things that make it smell delicious in summer.
“My favourite plant is the Natasha Richardson rose, a beautiful light pink rose with an old-fashioned scent. My sister got it for me in memory of Natasha [who died in a skiing accident in 2009] and it’s just outside the back door underneath the lavender wall.”
Emilia also wanted to try and replicate some of the sensory elements of gardens she’d experienced when living in the US.
“When I lived in Los Angeles, everywhere you went there were delicious smells at night. I knew I couldn’t recreate the same thing but I wanted a similar feeling of every sense being stimulated when you go out into the garden.”
This clear passion for gardening comes from her mother, she explains.
“My mum has incredibly green fingers. My childhood memories are of hyacinths and paperwhites up the stairs, while the table was always full of wild flowers and sweet peas. Now, I buy a ridiculous amount of flowers and put them outside as well, so what you look out to at the moment is lots of beautiful burgundy ranunculas and tulips and tuberosas in those old-fashioned enamel jugs.
“I’ve al ways felt that wherever you go, if you’ve got flowers it will feel like home.”
Despite a busy acting career, Emilia tries to spend as much “therapeutic” time in the garden as she can.
“It’s probably one of the most rewarding things, because you get to see the results.”
She is supporting the B&Q Teabag Technologys in those old-fashioned enamel jugs.
“It’s key that we care about the environment as much as we care about how beautiful our gardens are,” she urges.
Aquilegia: These pretty plants, also known as columbines, with nodding, bonnet-shaped flowers are at home in many informal situations, from a sunny cottage garden to a lightly shaded woodland spot. They self-seed freely, so can pop up virtually anywhere, producing bell-shaped flowers in late spring and early summer in shades varying from white to pink, to deep purple, and some types are multi-coloured. They grow anything from 15cm (6in) tall to the larger species including A. vulgaris ‘Nivea’, growing to 90cm (36in). Aquilegia like fertile, moist but well-drained soil in sun or partial shade. Alpine species prefer well-drained soil in full sun.
A quick, easy crop which is decorative enough for a small garden, oriental greens including pak choi and Chinese cabbage make a delicious addition to stir-fry or can be used raw in salads as a variation on lettuce. They require a fertile, moisture-retentive soil with a high nitrogen content and they all respond well to the cut-and-come-again treatment. Sow them now for a crop of loose leaves, which can be cut at any stage, either as seedlings or young plants. Spring-sown plants are likely to bolt so cut them before this happens. If you sow them later in June into their final position and keep them well watered, covering the crop with insect-proof netting if pests are a problem, they should be ready for harvesting by August and September.