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House Guest: Tom Massey

We spoke to Tom Massey, award winning garden designer, about being inspired by the Cornish coast, how he approaches commissions and hosting outdoors.
House Guest: Tom Massey
House Guest: Tom Massey

Having a garden can feel like the ultimate luxury, especially for city dwellers short on outdoor space. There are memories of our childhood homes, running on the lawn or having barbecues on the patio. Then there are dreams of our own green spaces – the design, the plants and flowers and the summer evenings hosting friends and family under sunset shades of sky. We can but dream. For Tom Massey – an award winning garden designer, Chelsea Flower show gold medalist – he spins these fantasies into reality on a daily basis. Including Monoware’s own garden just outside our home studio. Growing up in south west London, with many a holiday jaunt to Cornwall’s Roseland Peninsula, Tom’s gardens draw inspiration from both the wild Atlantic coast and the more tranquil and considered elements of Japanese gardens, always bringing sustainability into his designs. We caught up with Tom to talk about green space inspiration, cooking outside and how to start designing your ideal garden.

What first drew you to garden design?
A deep love for the great outdoors, spent exploring Richmond Park as a child and running wild on the Roseland Peninsula in Cornwall!

You grew up in London but have a strong tie to the Cornish coast – have you brought these two environments together in your own home and garden?
My own garden is a work in progress. It’s a small courtyard space, with no soil and deep concrete! So it’s more like a container garden with large trough planters. I also have a strip of soil around the building I live in, which I am slowly adding to and experimenting with.

What is at the front of your mind when starting a new commission? And when it comes to the client, what is the first thing you ask them?
Front of my mind at present is sustainability, biodiversity and ecology. As designers and gardeners we can do our bit to halt biodiversity decline and mitigate impacts of the climate emergency. If we all make small changes to the way we grow and garden – for example cutting out the use of chemical pesticides or fertilisers – and think of our gardens as spaces we share with wildlife, designing them for our enjoyment but also for the benefit of the wider landscape, then this can lead to a huge net effect.

Do you think gardens should be a reflection of an indoor space, or vice versa? How do you create harmony and balance between interior and exterior?
I think subtle links between the two can be effective, such as materiality, or colour. But gardens are not rooms; they are living breathing spaces that will change and grow with the seasons. This should be celebrated.

Is there a particular garden or landscape which inspires your own practice and how does this manifest itself?
I am really inspired by Japanese landscape, garden design and architecture. The simplicity, attention to detail and deep sense of place is incredibly inspiring. I also love the landscape and gardens of Cornwall: the wild, rugged coast and the subtropical atmospheric gardens.

The purpose of gardens will differ person to person – some will like it to host, others might want it to be their own personal sanctuary. How does this change how you design a garden?
I always try to make gardens feel atmospheric and inviting, whether this is for entertaining or sanctuary, planting has a huge effect on the look and feel, and the scheme can really enhance the intended atmosphere.

What’s your favourite dish (or dishes) to cook for people when you’re hosting?
Homemade pizza and a garden salad – I have a little Ooni pizza oven which is good fun for hosting.

Can you tell us about an ordinary object that has a special significance in your kitchen?
I have an old pestle and mortar – a really heavy well made object. It belonged to my mother, and I remember being a young child, smashing and grinding pesto, spices, herbs or dressings. It was my first introduction to the world of space and favour. Smashing basil and pine nuts with olive oil and garlic was great fun, and also incredibly sensory, scents released into the air with each pound of the pestle. I still use it to this day, I think it’s one of the best ways to get flavour out of spices or pastes, smashing and grinding the ingredients, fusing the flavours, textures and tastes.

Have you got any tips for how to bring together a garden when you’ve got limited outdoor space?
Be creative with every nook and cranny, built in furniture can make good use of an awkward corner, or tight space. Small gardens are often more challenging to design than large ones, the space often has to work really hard to fulfil the clients brief.

What’s your favourite piece in the Monoware collection?
I love the cereal bowls; the shape is perfect for a quick morning yoghurt and fruit.

What’s a dish that reminds you of home?
Home made pesto pasta.

What’s your favourite cuisine?
A tie between Japanese & Italian.

Best song/album for a dinner party?
'Black to the Future' by 'Sons of Kemet’ is an interesting fusion of Jazz, poetry, downtempo beats and nod to grime too - a good mix to keep the vibe fresh!

And last one… can you tell us about a secret garden?
The island of Naoshima in Japan is an incredible place, full of secret gardens and art installations set in a traditional working fishing community. A beautiful and magical place to visit and explore.

Portrait of Tom by Britt Willoughby Dyer

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