Creative Director Charlotte-Anne Fidler has spent her career creating beautiful fashion and lifestyle images for glossy magazines, but it is her Wiltshire garden which stirs her soul.
Words: Jessica Jonzen
Spring in the garden at The Hatch, Charlotte-Anne Fidler’s home in the village of Seend in Wiltshire, is a rewarding time. After months of planning, bulb ordering and planting during the biting cold of winter, the borders have exploded into life with colourful drifts of tulips. Blossom flutters on the fruit trees, the lilac buds are unfurling on the wisteria which cloaks the house, and abundant pots of narcissi stand cheerfully around the front door. It is the quintessential English country garden, brought right into the 21st century by its cult following on Instagram.
‘When I first started my account, it was a mixture of my work and my house,’ says Charlotte, a freelance creative director and brand consultant. ‘I quickly realised that no one was interested in a cover I had worked on for Chinese Vogue, or a picture I posted of Blake Lively. They were only interested in the house, the garden and my cats!’ Charlotte’s three leonine Maine Coon cats often appear in her feed, staring out of the window in her bedroom at the mesmerising view across the Vale of Pewsy. ‘Instagram has a wonderfully positive and inspiring community. I love it.’
Charlotte moved to the house from Hackney in East London with her family in 2012, having spent seven years scouring the internet for the perfect Georgian country house. ‘The house is on a ridge and you don’t realise that when you’re driving up to it. We saw this unbelievable view from all the main rooms at the back of the house and the garden and we literally stood there with our mouths open.’ It was love at first sight and the house ended up being the only one that Charlotte saw. ‘I think it’s because I’m an editor,’ she laughs. ‘I’m very thorough in my research.’
The Hatch, which dates in part back to 1690, with a Georgian addition dating from around 1780, sits in an acre plot and offered Charlotte, a passionate gardener since childhood, the new challenge she craved. ‘Our house in Hackney had a 70ft garden, which is very large for London, but I’d done all I could to it and couldn’t pack in another rose or clematis,’ she says. ‘I couldn’t wait to have more space.’
She hadn’t bargained, however, on the challenges in store for her. ‘We were so busy looking at the view when we saw the house that we didn’t even notice the state of the garden,’ she says. ‘We bought it from an old couple and they were good at mowing the lawn but it was very mossy and the flower beds were full of ground elder and vine weed. It’s a listed house but, at some point, someone had tarmacked the drive and a path around the house. There were random shrubs, terrible weeds, no plan at all.’
The weeds were so voracious that Charlotte couldn’t do anything with the garden for two years. ‘It was incredibly frustrating, but I realised I needed a proper plan. When you have a view, it creates challenges because you can’t block it out. It’s an old house and isn’t symmetrical and was at a strange angle, so I had to think very carefully about how I would work around that.’ In the end, Charlotte took the advice of garden designer Jolyon Humphryes, from Greenstone Landscape and Horticulture, who suggested that she create the formality near the house and let it become less formal further away from the house. ‘He also advised me to make a plan for each section and then go through it bit by bit as it’s overwhelming otherwise.’
Inspired by the gardens at Sissinghurst in Kent, Great Dixter in East Sussex and Mottisfont in Hampshire, Charlotte set about creating the garden the house deserved. ‘I think that apart from the wisteria and the established trees, there isn’t anything left from the original garden. It’s a shame but we needed to start from scratch.’
It takes almost military levels of planning to get the garden looking its best for the spring time. ‘It’s all about the bulbs and you have to plan in advance, but they are unbelievably fulfilling,’ she says. ‘Be organised, put the work in and they will give you joy from January to May.’
Charlotte will think about colour combinations in the summer and make a document on her computer of what might work together, ordering the bulbs in August or September. ‘I’ll pick seven or eight varieties that work together and mix them in the border so it doesn’t look like a London park. For this spring, I used Rem’s Favourite, Pink Diamond, Shirley, Mistress Grey, Apricot Beauty, Recreado and Menton. Always order far more than you think you need for real wow factor.’
Charlotte admits that finding time to garden can be a challenge. ‘I have two children and I work, so I don’t manage to get everything in when I want to. I planted my dwarf daffodil bulbs early but my tulip bulbs didn’t go in until February.’
Charlotte has a passion for roses and suggests that if you didn’t get around to planting bare root roses before the end of March, April is a wonderful time to plant potted ones. ‘The soil has finally heated up and they can really get going,’ she says. As well as a mix of pink David Austin roses in the bed in front of the terrace, Charlotte’s favourite varieties include Madame Alfred Carriere climbers; Adélaïde d’Orleans, a romantic white rambling rose; the pale yellow Alister Stella Gray rambler and the white Rosa Astra Desmond. ‘Arne Maynard is one of my favourite gardeners and he recommends it for a North-facing wall.’
Charlotte’s background in fashion clearly helps with the garden’s aesthetic. ‘If you’re a creative, visual person I think gardening is appealing. It’s why lots of fashion people like the hairdresser Sam McKnight and the designer Dries Van Noten have amazing gardens. It’s another manifestation of your creative vision. I was the Creative Director at Glamour magazine for ten years, and Creative and Fashion Director there for three years and it was my job to create beautiful things for the brand. In gardening you’re creating scenes and vistas, and combining colours. I still make mistakes all the time; it’s quite frustrating but it’s also part of the fun. It’s a great excuse to buy more plants,’ she laughs.
Gardening is also a meditative experience for Charlotte. ‘My mind goes somewhere else when I’m in the garden. If there’s a lot going on in the house or I’m stressed about something, I can go out in the garden and the repetition, the digging, the planting, the watering, the planning, is very soothing. My garden is my soul – it’s a sort of balm. I get more satisfaction from buying new bulbs than I ever did from handbags.’
For more inspiration, follow Charlotte on Instagram @charlotte_annefidler