Surely one of life’s loveliest gifts is when a dear friend suggests that you absolutely must meet someone that they think you’d click with. And so it was that I discovered the incredibly sprightly and utterly original topiary artist and gardener Charlotte Molesworth (in whose garden we have photographed our latest collection).
Charlotte lives in the village of Benenden in Kent with her lovely husband, Donald (who is also a professional gardener), in the most charming cottage. Their one-acre garden really is a magical wonderland - there’s a paddock for their beloved rescue animals (a donkey, a sheep and a couple of tortoises, as well as two dogs), plus a vegetable patch, chicken area, pond, lawn, and - the jewel in the crown - Charlotte’s incredible topiary. On top of gently undulating yew and box hedges sit the most exquisitely sculpted chess pieces, peacocks, dogs and all sorts of geometric shapes. It really does make your heart soar to see it all.
The garden itself is the most romantic labour of love, the result of forty years of Charlotte and Donald’s careful custodianship of the land, having moved there when they married in 1983. Steadily and slowly, they have untangled the wild overgrowth, and everything there has been grown from cuttings and seedlings given to them by friends and family. You can just tell that all the animals - both wild and domestic - are thrilled to be there: the noise of birds is absolutely deafening, and yet it’s incredibly peaceful - the happy dogs don't seem to bark at all.
When I first visited Charlotte at her home last year, it really felt like one of those “just wow” moments; like I’d met a muse. We discovered that she had actually been an art teacher at my school, and although sadly I never got to be taught by her, somehow our past connection was all part of the enchantment. Seeing how she creates everything so thoughtfully and carefully, and how she has chosen to live within the means of the planet - inventively re-purposing anything whose useful life was over, growing her own fruit and veg, never using plastic, making her own kombucha, kefir and sourdough years before anyone else was - just totally inspired me.
Charlotte also has the most beautiful style, both in her home and her wardrobe. With its weathered paintwork, warm colours and vintage fabrics and finds, her cottage reminds me a lot of Charleston (which you know I adore), albeit very much in Charlotte’s own style. She looks exquisite, too, always wonderfully dressed in elegant skirts and pretty dresses. Everything in her home has a story - whether it’s a beautiful piece she’s collected on her travels, or something she’s created herself or been given by loved ones. Her gentle joy radiates through everything, and it all brims with soul - rather like Charlotte herself.
I realised, after I’d met her, how much her way of working and being resonated with me. Charlotte is not interested in cheap convenience when she knows she can make something far more meaningful herself - never mind if it takes considerably longer. At Molly Mahon, we take a similar approach. Even if the traditional block-printing techniques are slower and more painstaking, the process - and the result - just bring so much pleasure to everyone involved. Charlotte and I connected on so much - our love of gardening, our love of real food, our love of colour and vintage, our love of print - but I think it was her over-arching attitude, that doing things properly and with care is always worthwhile, that most resonated.
And so we came to make these beautiful images together. When Charlotte asked how she could support us, I suggested photographing our new collection in her garden. She then very kindly went a step further and got really involved, pushing our Bloom cushions around in a wheelbarrow and shearing her hedges into birds. We all had a wonderful day. Joyously, we have stayed in touch since. Charlotte writes the most wonderful emails, all in capitals with endless exclamation marks (which I love because I've always tried to stop doing that myself, and she has inspired me to keep going with it!). She also gives the most special gifts, which are just so Charlotte - for example, a bottle of apple juice that she and Donald had pressed at home, some snowdrops that she has collected through her life and that have great meaning to her. It feels rather special to have propagated a tiny part of Charlotte’s magic into my own garden.