Brookmans Park TVgarden designer, Manoj Malde, reveals to Rebecca Pitcairn how colour, fashion, travel and other people’s gardens have influenced his desire to create the perfect outdoor space
When award-winning Hertfordshire garden designer Manoj Malde tells me wild gardens are in fashion, I look out to my own overgrown patch of lawn and breathe a sigh of relief. “Gone are the days when heavily manicured gardens were in vogue,” he tells me. “You don’t have to be overly tidy in a garden and by not being overly tidy, you’re going to help to create wildlife habitats in your garden. And is it such a bad thing to have a few weeds in your garden anyway? After all, the dandelions are feeding the bees.”
It is exactly this sort of down-to-earth comment that has made him such a popular component of the BBC TV show Your Garden Made Perfect, which sees cutting edge technology used to reveal the paradise ordinary gardens could become.
Malde was picked for the show, an offshoot of the popular Your Home Made Perfect presented by Angela Scanlon, after producers saw him being interviewed at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. “They sent me a clip of the home version, which had already been made, and what really struck me as interesting about it was that it was about real people, with real budgets and how designs are put together using those budgets,” the 55-year-old explains.
I’m speaking with Malde following a busy day filming for a new TV show called Garden of the Year, which will see him, keen gardener, Zoe Ball, and former young horticulturalist of the year, Lachlan Rae, travel the length and breadth of the country on the hunt for the UK’s most spectacular home gardens.
Each episode of the six-part series for More 4 features contrasting gardens in different regions of the UK with Malde and his co-hosts voting for their favourites to go head-to-head and be named ‘Garden of the Year’.
“The programme is very inspirational; there’s all sorts of gardens, large, small and a mix of styles as well,” Malde, who recently presented Secrets of the Royal Gardensalso for More 4, tells me. “Some of the contributors have no garden design or horticultural experience at all, so it’s really fascinating to see what they’ve done with their garden.”
Malde, who is of Indian descent and lived in Kenya until he moved to the UK when he was four-years-old, has been creating gardens for private clients since 2011. He is known for his love of colour, which he says has not only been influenced by his Indian heritage, but also his previous career as a fashion designer.
“A lot of the skills I’d built up during my time in fashion transfer really well into the garden design process,” he says. “The concept still begins with themes, mood boards, colour palettes, textures and form. When you’re designing a print on a piece of silk or cotton for example, looking at the depth of colour and how they sit alongside each other, when I’m designing a planting scheme, I work in the same way. For me, that changeover is like going from crinolines to camellias – their form and shape are very similar.”
During his 18-year fashion career, Malde travelled the globe designing for brands in Italy, Germany, New York, Hong Kong and India and he continues to enjoy holidays with his partner, Clive, regularly taking inspiration from gardens, architecture and artwork he discovers while abroad.
“When I see colour, I find that really quite inspirational and it doesn’t just have to be through planting schemes, it can be through architecture, interiors, we are surrounded by so many inspirational things,” he says. “In January, I was in Crete and saw some amazing colourful graffiti on the wall and so took photos of that to incorporate into a design – it’s things like that that inspire me.”
Indeed, it was photos of work by Mexican architect Luis Barragán that were the inspiration for Malde’s 2017 silver gilt award winning Chelsea Flower Show garden, Beneath a Mexican Sky. “I wanted that garden to be very different from others that had been created in the past at Chelsea – it had a completely different planting palette that hadn’t been seen at Chelsea before and it was, of course, really colourful,” explains Malde, who is now an RHS ambassador and, this year, was made a judge. “I believe I’m the first Indian RHS judge and I’m super proud of that and I think it shows what effort the RHS are going to be inclusive.”
While Malde says he was honoured to enter his show garden in 2017 and work on others in previous years (he has contributed to gardens designed by Chris Beardshaw, Diarmuid Gavin and Nick Bailey), it’s working on shows like Your Garden Made Perfect and Garden of the Year, which give an insight into the challenges of creating home gardens, that he enjoys the most.
“They’re real programmes that offer a realistic insight into the industry,” he says. “Designing and creating a garden can be the same cost as creating a kitchen or a bathroom and, let’s face it, it is another room to your house so why wouldn’t you be willing to spend the same amount of money per square foot as you would indoors? And as we’ve all seen during Covid, gardens are really important for our wellbeing and state of mind.”
While we’re on the subject of ‘keeping it real’, I ask what his garden at home in Brookmans Park is like. “It’s absolutely rubbish, at the moment,” he admits with a laugh. “We’ve been here for four years, but there’s so many things to do in the house that the garden has taken a bit of a back seat. I will get around to designing it at some point and what’s great is doing programmes like Garden of the Year, I’ve got lots of inspiration!”