‘The world can be divided into two types of people’, Tania Compton tells me, ‘indoor people and outdoor people.’ Quite clearly in the latter camp, the gardener and writer spends hours every day with her hands in the earth, happy in her uniform of dungarees in the summer, and a German air force fleece-lined onesie in the winter.
Rewind the clock to meet a 20-year-old Tania, and we might have met an equally glamorous yet less earth-bound person. Living in Paris, working for Women's Wear Daily, Tania would raid Chanel couture on Friday nights; it was work hard, play hard. The ‘clubbing to cuttings’ epiphany came slightly later when Tania moved to Ibiza and became fascinated with the flowers and plants growing wild on the island.
On her return to London Tania took a course in Garden Design at Chelsea Physic Garden, where her soon-to-be husband was then Head Gardener. A botanist by profession, he taught the plant identification course; ‘I made sure I was right on the button with my Latin names!’
“(Image credits: above, Tania with her daughter Sophie, Oberto Gili. All others Tania’s own, taken at home in Wiltshire.)”
It seems many strands of her life threaded together at this moment and she embarked on a 12-year career as Gardens Editor at House & Garden magazine under Sue Crewe. She recalls how exciting it was to be there ‘at a moment that was the landscape equivalent of BritArt.’ It was also when her children, Sophie and Freddie were born, who grew up with plant names their first words.
Nowadays Tania’s devoted to her garden at Spilsbury in Wiltshire where she has created an earthly paradise, something that requires unlimited emotional and practical energy. Waking up with her mind racing, it’s being in nature that settles Tania and allows her to find balance.
As we’re talking Tania’s son Freddie comes and joins us. Mutual devotion is clear, and he enjoys piping up to answer my questions. When I ask him to describe his Mum the words pour; 'chaotic, curious, engaging, energetic, compassionate...' Then he pauses. ‘Actually, I’ll just give you one word. Obsessed. Obsessed with nature.’
Escaping the City with Tania Compton
Favourite flower? This week it’s Inula magnifica‘sonnenstrohl’ (right). A month ago it was Gillenia trifoliate. But if I have to choose…Rose ‘Queen of Denmark’.
Who are your heroes?Integrity is key so certainly no politicians. David Bowie. My husband Jamie. William and Caroline Herschel. Boticelli, Alberti and Émilie du Châtelet.
What’s the most romantic garden in the world? There are so many! Dodging the nettles in my grandmother's fruit cage or the crinkle crankle walled garden I would bicycle up to when I was 9 or 10 to pick vegetables. Vaux le Vicomte and the Alhambra were pivotal in revealing gardens to me as external expressions of art, mystery, light and shade. Currently, it's the dappled light of a full moon on the stream along the nutwalk at home, with an owl hooting, that provides my most romantic garden moments.
How long does it take to make a garden? A lifetime!
Words by Daisy Allsup. The Iris Letter July 2017.