An Interview with The Garden Edit's John Tebbs

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Faceted Platinum Wall Vase by Matthias Kaiser
Faceted Platinum Wall Vase by Matthias KaiserJessica Maccormick

We talk to the founder and curator of The Garden Edit, John Tebbs

During the winter of 2013 gardener John Tebbs found himself with a lot of time on his hands. The weather that year was particularly harsh and his services weren’t much in demand. But he decided to make the most of his spare time and to put his second passion, after gardening, to good use – his love of design and of sourcing elegantly made products. And so The Garden Edit was born.

Starting out with a simple premise, to curate and distribute a range of stylish, contemporary gardening products (partly in reaction to what Tebbs refers to as the "fussy and floral" nature of so much that is out there), The Garden Edit has since developed from its original manifestation as a gorgeous online store, to become a journal reporting on inspirational gardens and gardeners from around the world. John Tebbs’ extensive knowledge and immaculate taste has made The Garden Edit an immediate success, and he’s since become one of the most important voices in contemporary gardening. Here we talk to him about The Garden Edit, his life and his love of gardens.

What do you think first spurred your interest in gardening? Were you brought up in a gardening family?
Absolutely, everyone in my family is obsessed with gardening! My father has an allotment – I spent vast amounts of time there with him when I was a child. He still has it and goes there several times a week; my mother would say every day! At 14 my aunt got me a job in a local nursery working weekends and school holidays. It was the old fashioned type where cuttings were taken and things were propagated – all stock was produced in house. They grew fruit and vegetables for selling too. It was an amazing place set in an old Victorian walled garden with half-derelict glasshouses. I learned a great deal there. So as you can see it's in my blood!

So I notice that you tend to focus on urban gardening, both on the site and in your professional life. Do you prefer urban to rural gardens?
No not particularly, I guess I am influenced mainly by what surrounds me in my daily life. I love rural gardens too; I grew up in the countryside so I have a huge love of them. Especially those that are rolling and a bit ramshackle. I think the proximity of nature in the rural context means a looser 'messy' style always looks great. We have some 'rural' gardens due to be featured in our Journal over the coming months – I think for every urban gardener it is something of a fantasy.

What do you think is the best city for gardens?
I don't know about the best city. I think what I find endlessly interesting is how people in different places around the world engage with plants and gardens in their cities. Obviously climate and space play a huge part in what grows and what approach is taken. I was in Milan recently and was blown away by how much love was put into people's balconies and terraces. Many streets had what appeared to be hanging gardens! Amazing.

I think here in London there are some wonderful gardens both private and public that make London a very interesting city from a gardening perspective. Also I've always been impressed with American gardens. I was particularly surprised how many wonderful gardens there were in Los Angeles; it wasn't somewhere I really associated with gardening!

Do you tend to work on a big or a small scale?
I work on a variety of projects on varying scales, mainly a domestic type size. The vast majority of my work is maintaining gardens; I like to work with my clients to achieve a garden that they aspire to. Gardening is a long-term project, with no real end point; it's a constant evolution – that is one of the main things I love about it.

Which project of yours have you been most proud of?
Am I allowed to say The Garden Edit is the project I am most proud of?! As a gardener you tend to spend quite large periods of the working day on your own – which can sometimes be a bit isolating. The Garden Edit has meant I have been able to connect with other like-minded people, working in differing vocations but sharing an appreciation of all things garden. It has amazed me how many people have engaged with the site. The Journal is only a recent addition but I am so excited to have more contact with people and their garden interests.

What's your favorite product, either that you've stocked at the Garden Edit, or just generally?
I would say my favorite product is Carl Auböck's brass watering can – the price is a lot, but it is such a beautiful object and truly wonderful to use, although I look at it more than I use it! I love the fact that a mundane gardening tool has been elevated to such a thing of beauty.

Who in the current gardening scene do you look up to? Who else's work inspires you? And, more generally, is there anybody in the history of gardening whose work you admire?
I particularly like people who have quite a natural style, with reference to things growing seemingly as in nature. I like the work of Dan Pearson and Piet Oudolf does some incredible planting schemes. I also have a big admiration for gardens that are only attainable through a team effort. Great Dixter, home of the late Christopher Lloyd is one of my favorite gardens and has been in the wonderful hands of head gardener Fergus Garrett for years now, but the garden is only possible through the hard work of a huge team of gardeners, many of them there as students.

In terms of history, I admire the work of Gertrude Jekyll, who had such a wonderful painterly touch with her planting. There are so many inspiring gardens and gardeners that have gone before, it's hard to choose!

And where do you see the site going? Are there any new developments in the works?
Who knows where the site will go! I never imagined the things that have come out of it so far! I am now doing a fortnightly garden page for Le Monde's M' magazine, which has been an exciting development for me. The Journal has a lot of exciting photo stories lined up so that is something I'm looking forward to seeing grow. Maybe we may even put something in print at some point... and obviously constantly sourcing lots of great new products!

Text by Max Fletcher