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Enchanted Garden: At Home with Florist Brigitte Girling in the English Countryside

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Enchanted Garden: At Home with Florist Brigitte Girling in the English Countryside

July 24, 2018

When florist Brigitte Girling of Moss & Stone discovered her house deep in the English countryside 18 years ago, much of the surrounding land had been sold off, and the remaining one-acre garden was overgrown and overshadowed by huge Leyland cypress, laurel, poplar, and yew trees. There were just a few surviving old roses. “I felt rather like Snow White in a garden that was slowly growing more dense, dark, and impenetrable,” says Brigitte.

But after a few years’ observation and a visit from the local tree officer (the plot had a tree preservation order), she got to work chopping down the thuggish specimens and clearing the way for a new garden. She planted a native hedge around the perimeter of the plot to welcome wildlife, box hedges around large mixed garden beds, and a copper beech hedge to create a secret area that would later have a wildlife pond.

Photography by Gina Dover-Jaques.

A climbing rose is locked in a passionate embrace with a rusted metal tuteur. See similar garden supports at 10 Easy Pieces: Garden Tuteurs.
Above: A climbing rose is locked in a passionate embrace with a rusted metal tuteur. See similar garden supports at 10 Easy Pieces: Garden Tuteurs.

“My garden style, like my floral design, is very natural, wild, and celebrates the brave and quirky. Whether it’s a tenacious self-seeder or pretty ‘weed’, most things are allowed to do their own thing,” says Girling.

 The mismatched brick walls of the house (the original timber-framed part of the house dates from 1650 with later Georgian and Victorian additions) were softened with climbers including Hydrangea petiolaris, which are now reaching for the eaves.
Above: The mismatched brick walls of the house (the original timber-framed part of the house dates from 1650 with later Georgian and Victorian additions) were softened with climbers including Hydrangea petiolaris, which are now reaching for the eaves.

Beautiful old brick walls in the garden (as well as the facade of the house) are the perfect backdrop for scrambling roses.

Floral designer Girling runs frequent floral arranging workshops in her garden.
Above: Floral designer Girling runs frequent floral arranging workshops in her garden.

A decade ago, Brigitte decided to give in to her passion for flowers and signed up for a part-time, two-year course at a local agricultural college to learn basic floristry skills. She then worked freelance for eight years on events with floral designers before setting up on her own as Moss & Stone, working on weddings, events, and private commissions, as well as running workshops from her pretty cart-lodge studio.

In addition to perennial and annual flowers, florist Girling is a fan of stalwart shrubs such as philadelphus, lilac, spirea, and physocarpus. “The list is endless and every year it gets longer, which is why the grass is disappearing so fast,” she says.
Above: In addition to perennial and annual flowers, florist Girling is a fan of stalwart shrubs such as philadelphus, lilac, spirea, and physocarpus. “The list is endless and every year it gets longer, which is why the grass is disappearing so fast,” she says.
 Fans of Brigitte’s Instagram posts (@mossandstonefloraldesign) will already know she has a thing for vintage pots, urns, and garden furniture, which she sources from specialist dealers including Violet Grey Decorative Antiques as well as the local auction house at Diss and local secondhand stores and markets.
Above: Fans of Brigitte’s Instagram posts (@mossandstonefloraldesign) will already know she has a thing for vintage pots, urns, and garden furniture, which she sources from specialist dealers including Violet Grey Decorative Antiques as well as the local auction house at Diss and local secondhand stores and markets.
 Over the years the vegetable beds slowly have been commandeered for growing flowers for cutting, including ranunculus, dahlias, astrantia, roses, and annuals.
Above: Over the years the vegetable beds slowly have been commandeered for growing flowers for cutting, including ranunculus, dahlias, astrantia, roses, and annuals.
Post-bloom, poppy seed heads add texture to floral arrangements.
Above: Post-bloom, poppy seed heads add texture to floral arrangements.
 The flower beds have got bigger and bigger and moved into the main garden too, while two greenhouses help to lengthen the growing season. In summer one is filled with sweet peas and will later house chrysanthemums.
Above: The flower beds have got bigger and bigger and moved into the main garden too, while two greenhouses help to lengthen the growing season. In summer one is filled with sweet peas and will later house chrysanthemums.
Brigitte Girling’s floral studio.
Above: Brigitte Girling’s floral studio.
Workshop in progress.
Above: Workshop in progress.

From April to October the beds and borders become a cutting garden for weddings and workshops. As a florist, her list of favorites is never-ending but it currently includes garden roses such as ‘Koko Loko’, ‘Mokarosa’, ‘Julia’, ‘Vidal Sassoon’, and ‘Fighting Temeraire’ as well as characterful annuals such as Phlox ‘Creme Brûlée’, chocolate cosmos, and scabious.

 Arguably the biggest challenge here is the light and sandy soil that makes high-summer gardening a serious challenge.
Above: Arguably the biggest challenge here is the light and sandy soil that makes high-summer gardening a serious challenge.

“I wouldn’t change the oaks, limes, beeches and plane trees for the world, but if I had a magic wand the sand I would change in instant,” says Brigitte, who regularly mulches with garden compost as well as extra mushroom compost, manure, and topsoil.

A mossy tabletop.
Above: A mossy tabletop.

During the summer she also collects and dries many seed heads, grasses, and flowers to use in the winter months. “Bare branches, early hellebores and early blossom are all there if you seek them out. I’m always amazed at what the garden can produce on even the darkest days of the year,” she says.

Frilly pompom poppies. To grow your own from seed, a packet of 200 seeds of Papaver Somniferum ‘Lilac Pompom’ is £2.49 from Crocus. Or for US readers, a packet of 300 seeds of Lilac Pompom Poppy is $3 from Baker Creek.
Above: Frilly pompom poppies. To grow your own from seed, a packet of 200 seeds of Papaver Somniferum ‘Lilac Pompom’ is £2.49 from Crocus. Or for US readers, a packet of 300 seeds of Lilac Pompom Poppy is $3 from Baker Creek.
For information about upcoming workshops, see Moss & Stone.

Are you inspired by Brigitte Girling’s garden to grow some of the same flowers? See growing tips for Dahlias, Poppies, Roses, and Annuals in our curated guides to Garden Design 101. Read more:

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