Perennial Personality: Author Rochelle Greayer on ‘Cultivating Garden Style’

Ryan and I can be reclusive when we wanna be — movie nights, bay scallops to go — but I wouldn’t call us homebodies. For one thing, we spend more time in the yard than we do under our actual roof. (So what’s the word for that? Our vote is yardbodies.)

Because we treat our collection of outdoor rooms like an extension of the house itself, we’re big believers in taking the energy and personality of interior design and applying them to the garden. Putting lamps next to your lantanas. Installing furniture under your fruit trees. For this reason we absolutely love the new book Cultivating Garden Style by Rochelle Greayer. Released last month by Timber Press, the book shows how to turn your garden into your own personal paradise via a “ ‘style first’ sort of approach,” says Rochelle. That means loads of luscious images of gardens, products and cultural references — alongside brilliant how-tos — organized by themes with irresistible yet relatable names.

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Are you an “Enchanted Bohemian”? Or more “Handsome Prairie” with dashes of “Xeric Hacienda” and Dutch Wave-inspired “Low Country Shaman”? Here’s a snippet from Rochelle’s definition of “Scandinavian Wild”: “Gardens of the way North are required to deal with the harshest and shortest of seasons, but this style always seems to have a beautiful, lush wildness that is worth emulating no matter where you are. […] There are plenty of opportunistic self-seeders that migrate and put down roots wherever they want. […] This romantic tangle is strongly infused with modern Scandinavian design and Gustavian influences, all adding up to a look that is both casual and elegant, rustic but refined, carrying with it a fresh-faced cheerful appeal.”

We dig the engaging, inventive approach taken by Rochelle, a garden designer who graduated from the English Gardening School in London, designed gardens for clients around the world for ten years, and won a medal for her garden at the Royal Horticultural Society Hampton Court Palace Flower show. Colorado-rooted and now a Massachusetts resident, Rochelle is the founder and editor of Pith + Vigor, a (stunning, stunning, stunning) new quarterly journal and online mag for plant lovers. She’s also the creator of the Studio ‘G’ blog,  cofounder/editor of Leaf Magazine and a columnist for Apartment Therapy. Oh. And did we mention she’s a former astrophysicist?

Needless to say, Rochelle is busy. So we were delighted she could take the time to chat with us about her new book. Below, she gives tips for designing (or redesigning) a garden that’s “uniquely you,” shares background into her creative process, and reveals what plants she wants to experiment with inside her own New England garden.



Author Rochelle Greayer.

Rochelle, your new book is wonderful. So diverse! What inspired you to write it?

This book has been rattling around in my head since I first bought and enjoyed the Domino Book of Decorating that was published in 2008. I loved all the interiors in that book and how they were fresh and different but also full of personality and reflective of people who lived in them. As a garden designer, I felt envious that interior designers had lots of books like this and wished for a gardening book to take a similar “style first” sort of approach. I adore that book still and always wanted to create the garden equivalent.

Styles include “Wabi Sabi Industrial,” “Plush Yoga” and “Sacred Meadow.” How did you come up with them? And what styles are closest to your own?  

It is funny how sometimes as a writer, things just tumble out of you and other times they are a real struggle. The list of garden styles that I present (there are 23 in the book) are my own names for what I saw as general trends and styles that we all already kind of already know.  Some are twists on classic layouts or are culturally based, some are whole movements in design, and others are reflections of the way we live. I thought about changing the list a few times while writing the book but the original list (which was literally the result of a 30 minute brain dump that must have building for years – I guess) never really changed.

My own style is a mix — and totally reflective of my current home and my roots.  I live in the woods of Massachusetts — and for that reason there is a good amount of Forest Temple, but my heart is more Sacred Meadow and Homegrown Rock and Roll…I think that part comes from growing up at the base of the Rockies in Colorado and coming from a long family history of ranching and farming. It is a mash-up.

Any memorable stories behind the making of the book?

I had originally planned to use a handful of gardens by my own design in the book, but ended up finding much better examples for the styles from other designers. There is one of my own gardens though: Retro Rockery, which was the dreamiest design project ever. Leslie and Patrick where the coolest, most fun clients I’ve worked with…we riffed off each other for ideas in a great way and I love how that garden – full of eBay and tag sale treasures — is totally them.

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Why do you think people get intimidated by gardening? 

I don’t honestly know. But I think it has to do with a universal fear of failure. What they don’t realize is that even good gardeners kill things all the time and regularly have to throw up their hands in defeat, regroup, and start over.

For people who want to take the plunge and design or redesign their gardens, what’s a good first step?

Listen to your heart. Look at what you love, how you dress, what art you are drawn to, and how you decorate your home; get in touch with how you live and what makes you happy.  Then start playing with these things. Banish thoughts of “foundation plantings” and “irrigation systems” and what the neighbor is doing from your consideration and boldly focus first on what is uniquely you.

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‘Laura’s exotic jewel box.’ Garden design and photograph by Laura Morton.

How did you get into gardening? 

It is true that parents who garden teach their children to garden. However, it wasn’t until I lived in England and went to the Chelsea Flower show that I realized I could make a living from it.

What do you grow at your own place? 

I’m always experimenting…I have a huge garden (nearly three acres) that I am always looking for big plants to fill it with. Lately I’ve been wanting to experiment with roses that have big hips, mushrooms that will eat some of the innumerable dead or dying trees in the woods (and which I can in turn eat) and unexpected berries like currants, gooseberries and ground cherries.

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‘Michael’s glamorous party pad’. Garden design and photo by Michael Tavano.

What section of the book are you particularly jazzed about?

I love the how-to sections — as I wrote some of them I really marveled at the amount of information and experience I had amassed from building lots of gardens and how practical and helpful I (hopefully) could be. And I am so pleased to share the work of so many really great designers and garden makers all over the world — that might have been one of the best parts of writing the book — having a good reason to call up people you admire and chat with them about what they do.

Cheers to that! What might surprise readers of this book?

There are a lot of different garden styles in this book. I hope everyone who picks it up will be able to find at least one page or one picture in the book that they can point to and say “that really suits me”  or  “that is really me” — it was a goal of mine to have something for everyone.

Anything that we’ve missed, that you would like to add?

I can’t think of anything. This was fun.

What’s YOUR garden style? Take this whimsical quiz to learn the answer. Pick up your copy of Cultivating Garden Style by Rochelle Greayer at your local bookstore (find one on Indiebound), or at Timber PressAmazon or Powell’s.