Helen and James Dooley are English landscape architects engaged to develop the castle garden at Tjolöholm Castle. In co-operation with the castle’s own gardeners they are recreating the unique Arts and Crafts garden. In this interview they tell us about the exciting assignment and their passion for gardening.
How would you describe yourself?
We are from the west of England near Stonehenge. We studied art in London and then moved to Wiltshire where Helen was born. We set up a little nursery in the country and it grew into a garden design business. We grew many of the plants we used in our gardens.
How did you end up living in the deep forests of Dalsland?
We took our first trip to Sweden in 2001, in search of forests, lakes and meadows, so Dalsland seemed to be a natural choice. We had such a great time and met so many charming people that we developed a close contact with in this area, and eventually bought our property here. We moved full time to Sweden in 2007, nearly 10 years ago!
Many Swedes dream of England’s rolling countryside and their beautiful gardens but you moved to Sweden – what made you choose this?
Yes, England has many fine gardens, but Swedes have a much closer connection with nature than most English people. Access to nature is a right in Sweden and this changes the way people view and use the countryside. In England, access to the countryside is controlled mostly by landowners and the government. Also, we like to shake things up a bit every 10 years or so, to be wilder and challenge ourselves.
Do you miss anything from your life in England?
It may sound strange, but there is not much we miss. The beaches of Cornwall maybe…
What drives you, what is important to you?
We have a great balance between living in the country, exciting urban projects, growing and collecting our own food and bringing up 3 children. We like a challenge and solving problems.
Describe your professional career. Have you always designed gardens?
We have always loved plants and nature. We started our own organic plant nursery in 1990 and used to sell herbs and flowers at London’s first organic food market. The development from growing plants to designing and planting gardens happened gradually during the 1990s as we started to become well known for our natural, plant based gardens. Most of our clients lived in London but wanted a relaxed natural garden.
What did you first think when you came to Tjolöholm?
Our first visit to the castle was on a gloomy winter afternoon, but even then it was clear to us that this was an important and unique property with much potential. Everything was on a grand and luxurious scale. The only thing missing were the plants.
Tjolöholm Castle has given you the assignment to highlight the British influence in the castle’s garden and to interpret and realize the architect Wahlman’s intentions with the garden. In what way did you take on the mission?
It is an honour to help make the garden as it was orginally envised by the architect, and we take the responsibility very seriously, always refering back to the original vision for the garden. We hope Wahlman would be pleased with what we have done. What makes Tjolöholm great is that it is a garden to a private house and not a public park. We really hope that the Dickson family would have loved it, though we’re quite glad that we don´t have to deal with Blanche Dickson as we get the impression she was a women of strong opinion.
You have created new flower beds in the Arts and Crafts style in a historic facility. How did you as architects think when you took on this challenge?
We were lucky to have a comprehensive archive to refer to when starting. Another great thing was that the structure of the garden was already in place, walls, formal lawns etc. All that was really missing was the wild and natural planting that is the essential part of all Arts and Crafts gardens. We were very comfortable taking on the commission as when we were working in England, the majority of our projects were large private country houses and some of those were from the same era.
What difficulties do you see and what are Tjolöholm garden’s strengths?
It’s quite a unique location with the views of the sea and archipelago and protecting woodland of ancient oaks. Eva Rosén is the main driving force behind the garden so it’s a privilege to work for her and her team. The main disadvantage is the horizontal salty, freezing wind. It’s hard for the plants and for the gardeners.
How did you chose the plant material for the flower beds we call the upper border and the lower border, that’s situated in the sunken garden right in front of the castle? What was your vision and are you satisfied with the result?
One of the important themes at Tjolöholm is to join the building with the wider landscape and these two borders are an important job in connecting the castle to the garden. The proportions of the castle are so big that it needs large, generous gestures with the planting. There is such an amount of sky and sea we wanted to bring the colour blue in to tie everything together. The planting is quite simple because of the scale, and it is very dry, hot and windy here so this dictates which plants to use. On the upper level the border is more traditional with large, bulky, tall perennials, with interesting leaves, shapes and textures. Many of the plants have an association with the castle history, the acanthus and scots thistle that feature in the interior or architecture of Tjolöholm. We also try to use lots of plants that are loved by insects, butterflies and birds so that the garden comes alive, and to keep pests in check organically.
The Rose Passage (Rosengången) has been restored in your design. Roses in a wind exposed coastal garden, wasn’t it difficult to find hardy, wind and salt resistant rose varieties?
It took a little research with the help of both Swedish and English specialist rose nurseries. The varieties that we chose have the appearance of older varieties that would have been planted in Arts and Crafts gardens but are more disease resistant. They are all very robust and vigorous to withstand the challenging conditions at Tjolöholm. We interplanted the roses with late flowering clematis to prolong the flowering period. The clematis are pruned to the ground in spring so training the roses is easier.
What’s your opinion about Tjolöholm gardens future development , what is left to accomplish?
Still lots to do. The replanting of the knotgarden, designed by the castle architect Lars Israel Wahlman, is very important. We would also love to create something a little more contemporary on the large areas of grass between the castle and the car parking. This area has been previously used as a ‘kitchen garden’ for the castle, so it would be great to work with something in that theme. It is important to take things slowly as maintenance is a big issue. A large English Arts and Crafts garden would have had a large workforce, so part of our job is to design the garden in the style but without the need for such a huge team.
When should a visitor experience the garden?
We are working to extend the season of the garden, finding unusual and special plants and bulbs that flower outside of the summer season, so spring and late summer/early autumn is a time worth visiting. Most of the new perennial borders are in their prime from mid June onwards.
What should not be missed?
The little tapestry garden to the side of the castle, called ‘övre terrassen’, is very special. It is natural charming and has lovely atmosphere and a brilliant view.
Which are your favorite parks?
We lived quite near Stourhead and Hadspen House, so loved and visited these gardens many times throughout the seasons. However just to walk down a regular street in any town in the UK is fun as every garden is so different and individual, gardening really is an obsession in Britain.
What other garden design projects are you working with at the moment?
We have just finished working with Acne in South Korea and have plans for a New York garden with them. We designed a new garden and sculpture park for Dalslands Konstmuseum in Upperud. We also help consult on community housing projects.
You have more than one string to your bow. For instance you manufacture an organic ice cream that is sold at Tjolöholm and many other places. How did you come up with the idea of making ice cream?
Growing food and feeding ourselves has been essential throughout our lives. Making food for our children is especially important and we always made ice creams and sorbets using the fruit and berries that we grew. When we came to Sweden we were amazed how well everything grew during the intense summers and what fantastic flavours there were in the plants that grow wild in the meadows. We knew that we wanted to do something with this fantastic variety of flavours that were growing right outside our door. Ice cream seemed a natural choice.
What are your favorite products?
We love making cordials from the flowers (roses, älggräs) in our garden and teaming them with fantastic Swedish fruit. Fruit grows so well in Sweden and we live on top of a hill so we get 20 hours sunlight in the summer. Our garden is organic, Krav certified, so we use all the fruit, flowers and herbs we can from there.
Which is the most popular of your ice creams?
Crème fraiche. In the spring we make crème fraiche and lemon curd, later we pick our raspberries and collect blueberries for a fruity swirl that works well with the creamy crème fraiche. We make our own fantastic crème fraiche which is combined with organic milk, organic egg yolks and organic sugar. Simple.
Our fruity ’Ekopop’ lollies were a great success last year and they won a place in the final of the competition ‘Matverk gastronomiska samtal’, and we have a new blackcurrant and mint flavour. We’re planning a rose themed ice cream to celebrate the new rose passage at Tjolöholm, and an olive oil and lemon ice cream for the new orangerie at Gunnebo slott.
We are small, but that means we can grow, pick and make everything ourselves. We can be spontaneous as well, for example last autumn we had a great crop of plums so we made plum and earl grey tea sorbet with vanilla, which we could sell directly. Our ambition is to keep finding interesting flavour combinations and to work together with other enthusiastic food lovers.
Is there anything you want to say to people thinking of visiting Tjolöholm?
Tjolöholm is truly unique in Sweden and now has a fantastic Arts and Crafts garden. Fantastic food and, of course, ice creams!