Ten with Tom: Tom Massey
Drawing inspiration from organic, natural landscapes, Tom Massey focuses his garden design on sustainability, ecology and site context. Winning multiple awards and amazing recognition, Tom’s work cares for the planet whilst showing the beauty in nature, curating garden designs that enhance the space they are in.
Tell us how and why you got into garden design – has gardening always been a passion of yours?
I have always been inspired by landscapes and the natural world. My mum was also a keen gardener and got me into gardening from an early age. I came to garden design at 28 after a BA honours degree in animation, and an early career in advertising and events. I wanted a career where I was able to be creative, with an element of design, but also have the opportunity to work outside, with plants and natural materials. Garden design and horticulture is such a huge subject, I feel like I am constantly learning which feels fresh and exciting.
Can you talk us through your inspiration behind the Yeo Valley Organic Show Garden at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show?
The show garden reflects Yeo Valley’s organic principles, providing a nature filled experience for visitors with a range of habitats designed to encourage wildlife, increase biodiversity and support soil health. The garden is inspired by Yeo Valley’s real organic garden and farmland in Somerset where their regenerative farming and sustainable gardening techniques put nature first and support the natural environment.
What hurdles have you had to overcome whilst planting the entire show garden organically?
Not being able to use chemical pesticides or fertilisers to grow plants for the show brings a higher element of risk, we have less control if we need to boost plants on or kill off pests. It’s riskier, but it’s also incredibly important to Yeo Valley Organic as a brand with integrity. With all of the effort they make on their organic farms and in their organic garden, we had to do it properly, to represent their efforts and ethos. The garden is also approved by the Soil Association, the first Chelsea show garden to receive this approval. We would have loved to have gone the whole way and have it organically certified, like Yeo Valley’s Garden and farms, but certification takes 2 years so that wasn’t possible for a temporary show garden.
We loved handcrafting the steam bent hanging hideaway for the installation – can you tell us what significance the feature has to the overall design?
The feature is a real focal point in the garden. Its organic form represents Yeo Valley’s organic ethos. It’s also a fun feature that adds an element of excitement to the design. Visitors can winch themselves up once inside the hide, to gain an elevated view of the garden, and watch the fast stream flowing below through the glass floor. After the show it will be installed at the Yeo Valley Organic Garden in Somerset, so garden visitors can experience it for themselves!
Have you had to change any aspects of the planting scheme with RHS Chelsea Flower Show being moved to September this year?
The trees and shrubs have remained the same, where they would have been in blossom in May, they will be bearing fruit in autumn and will hopefully bring some autumn colour, depending on the weather. The meadow planting has been adapted for late season colour, and we have added some taller ornamental grasses, which will look great back lit by the low autumn sun.
What will happen to the garden after Chelsea Flower Show?
All of the elements will go back to Yeo Valley’s organic garden and be assimilated into the landscape there. The steam bent hide will take pride of place over the pond in the gravel garden and will be open for visitors to explore.
Why is sustainability important to you?
It’s difficult to answer this in a short format, but essentially as a race we are poisoning the planet. We need to make significant and drastic changes to the way we live and interact with the natural world. This is often overwhelming and difficult to relate to as individuals, but the messaging of the Yeo Valley Organic Garden is quite simple. We hope people will take ideas and be inspired by the organic principles on display in the garden. If everyone makes small changes and tries to be more sustainable or adopts certain practices, the cumulative effect can be impactful. No one is perfect, and we aren’t saying it’s organic or nothing, but as an example; cutting the use of chemicals or peat in your garden are small achievable steps. If everyone took small steps it would equate to a big cumulative difference.
What piece of advice would you give to budding new gardeners?
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes! Have fun and try things, out. You will learn from your mistakes, and sometimes discover happy accidents. Gardening should be fun and enjoyable, so don’t let it stress you out too much.
What’s the best thing about surrounding yourself with and working with nature every day?
We are all becoming increasingly disconnected from nature, with screen time, social media, television, and work taking us away from the physical natural world. Having that connection though my work is a real joy, and something I feel grateful for every time I am on site planting up a new garden or visiting an established scheme.
What do the next 6 months hold for you?
Some very exciting projects including a large public space, another show garden and various residential projects from large country estates to small urban gardens.