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Charlotte Molesworth in conversation with Non Morris

This talk is part of our series in which garden designer Non Morris picks a garden for a conversation about the challenges, hard learning and guiding dreams that go into making a magical garden.

Artist and gardener Charlotte Molesworth and her husband Donald have been making their gentle haven of a garden – an enclosed world of light-catching peacocks, plump tiers of variegated box – for forty years.  The garden at Balmoral Cottage in Kent was originally the kitchen garden of Collingwood ‘Cherry’ Ingram’s Benenden Estate. When they arrived the whole place had a ‘magical air of abandonment’ and their acre of land was wildly overgrown.

Alongside second-hand velvet curtains, the Molesworths asked for unwanted yew seedlings as wedding presents and every boxwood cutting has been grown from cuttings. These initially came from Charlotte’s family and later, in a bid to acquire tantalising varieties, from gardening friends. ‘If you want to keep a plant, give it away’ is one of Charlotte’s mantras.

Non says: “It would be hard to leave Charlotte’s garden without a bag full of cuttings and a sense of deep enchantment.  I hope that our conversation about the delights of topiary –  the way giant fennel and towering sunflowers dazzle against the formal structure, why Buxus sempervirens ‘Elegantissima’ is the ‘Queen of box’ and the lure of working with hawthorn  ‘you get blossom, fruit and, in winter, a crown of thorns’ – will leave you equally enriched.

When I first visited Balmoral Cottage, I found myself literally inside a huge boxwood topiary with Charlotte, a chance to witness the way she thinks about every stem, what to keep and what to remove. ‘It’s really addictive’ she warned. For me her entire garden is addictive: a reminder of everything gardening can be: slowly nurtured, thrifty tactile, full of wonder.”

Main image: Balmoral Cottage (c) Richard Bloom

  • Charlotte Molesworth

    Bio »

    Charlotte Molesworth

    I grew up on a mixed farm with a farm shop and pelargonium nursery on the North Downs and always worked, earning pocket to help towards our pony. Throughout childhood, I took an interest in Mother’s topiary garden where she collected old fashioned roses and cottage garden plants. I went to art school in Canterbury and Brighton then moved to London and found an interesting job for 3 years as a dyer and distresser at the Royal Opera House learning a lot about precise colour mixing and opera. I found life in London a strain so applied for a job teaching art at Benenden School which I loved. I met Donald in 1981, we married in 82 and moved here on Christmas Eve 83!!!

    As the garden grew and took shape, more and more people asked me to make NEW topiary for them or to restore overgrown topiary. I began to work as a garden designer and consultant but realised I needed more help with drawing a plan so did a John Brooks course. Throughout everything, I squeezed in some painting and drawing and helped launch the inaugural Cranbrook Art Show exhibition which ran for 21 years and we now hold an open studio here every August.


    Image: Charlotte Molesworth by Paul Wetherell

  • Non Morris

    Bio »

    Non Morris

    Non Morris is a writer and garden designer. She contributes regularly to Country Life and House & Garden and has a monthly column for The English Garden Magazine. In 2019 she was commissioned by the Garden Museum to write and edit a memoir of the late 6th Marchioness of Salisbury. She is currently working on a book about wildflower hunting in the European Alps.

    Non’s garden design practice has gained a reputation for delivering thoughtful and uplifting gardens with a particular emphasis on creating atmosphere through imaginative planting. Her portfolio includes private and public projects including gardens for the South London Gallery designed by 6a architects, the church of St Mary the Boltons in South Kensington and the Studio for a Composer designed by Mary Duggan Architects. She is collaborating with Dow Jones Architects on their commission to extend the Leach Pottery in St Ives.


    Image: Non Morris by Eva Nemeth