Through the seasons in Kate Williams’ Garden — The After-hours Stylist

Kate Williams lives with her family on a lifestyle block in Canterbury, where she is kept busy with establishing, expanding and looking after her extensive 5 acre garden.

Kate’s garden is a mix of both a floral cottage garden and a structured, more formal garden. Initially, Kate engaged a landscape designer to set out the vast garden’s footprint. She and her family then filled the garden with their favourite plants, and continue to do so with her propagation and seed harvesting techniques. Despite the scale of the garden, the goal of this planting is to keep it as easy care as possible.

With a full-time job as a general manager for a professional services firm, Kate finds her moments to garden and create in the after-hours of her employment. She also hosts popular floral design and interior workshops at the property.

Kate’s first book, The After-hours Stylist: Growing, gathering, and creating through the seasons, in collaboration with New Zealand interiors and lifestyle photographer Anna McLeod, is a book that celebrates all of Kate’s much adored after-work activities.

Kate admits that maintaining a garden (especially one the size of hers) requires a lot of hard work. But with all the planting, pruning, mulching, weeding, propagating (and more), the focus of her book is the end product of that hard work.

The book is sectioned by the seasons — from harvesting fruit and vegetables to seeking out flowers and foliage in bloom for flower arranging, planning simple alfresco meals in the garden or at the beach, recipes and lots more.

Kate’s hope is that The After-hours Stylist will inspire the reader with many creative ideas and illustrate how much is at our fingertips that nature supplies every season.

We interviewed Kate about her garden, growing and living by the seasons — read it below:

Tell us a little about yourself and your life as a nature-lover, gardener and creative…

My love of nature and creativity has grown over the years. My choice of vocation (currently managing a law firm, and was previously an operations manager in earthquake recovery) has meant that to feel like my life is in balance I needed time outdoors and being creative.

The title of my new book, The After-hours Stylist, encapsulates everything I enjoy outside of my working hours.

Having built multiple houses with garden plantings alongside them, I have learnt a lot over the years regarding the garden structure and the rewards from getting this right.

What is your vision and philosophy for gardening and landscaping your property?

With our current property, we wanted a cottage garden mixed in with formal garden “rooms”. All with the ability to grow beautiful flowers, foliage and homegrown food for picking, arranging, creating paintings, preserving and for entertaining friends and family.

We always have a landscape designer layout the initial footprint to work from. Then we choose the plants and expand from there. Despite the garden now nearly covering 5 acres, we have a philosophy of it needing to be easy care. With the way we have planted and the plants we have chosen, we consider it easy care.

Summer pots featuring petunias and cosmos

How do you believe creating and tending to a garden impacts your and your family’s life?

Initially I would say this has had a positive impact as both our children have enjoyed our outdoor living and learning to create gardens for self-sufficiency.

Now they have their own properties and have been inspired to design and create lovely areas to enjoy with their families, and build on more of those self-sufficiency elements.

On the negative side, having such a big garden and expanding on my creative workshops, has meant less time to travel or be with friends when I have commitments at our own property. This is within my own control though and this season has been particularly busy whilst creating a book at the same time!

I look forward to each season and the uniqueness of what each brings, the learning from growing new plants and the management of the elements to ensure we improve from the learnings in each season.

Kate collects her own seeds, divides and propagates plants in her greenhouse area to fill her ever-growing garden.

What drew you to living a seasonal lifestyle?

Planting for the seasons and enjoying the flowers and produce that come with each season is satisfying.

I look forward to each season and the uniqueness of what each brings, the learning from growing new plants and the management of the elements to ensure we improve from the learnings in each season.

As I write I have just planted hundreds of seeds and have finished planting out the vegetable seedlings I planted in the greenhouse weeks ago. Satisfying would sum it up.

Kate prepares for spring by harvesting seeds during the autumn months.

What lessons have you learned along the journey of creating a garden?

With such a large garden area we have learnt the value of mulch! This saves hours of weeding and assists with moisture retention in summer.

Once the garden was established, we have been experimenting with both propagating and harvesting seeds. We keep extending the garden into the adjoining paddocks so using our own plants to fill these gardens is also satisfying.

This past year we have learnt a lot about excess water. With all of the rain and surface water we lost a lot of plants and tubers. Next year we will manage our risk a little better by lifting more bulbs and tubers than we have in the past.

With such a large garden area we have learnt the value of mulch! This saves hours of weeding and assists with moisture retention in summer.

Kate has been expanding her dahlia beds over the years, with an abundance of varieties and sizes in a rainbow of stunning colours.

What are your favourite plants and flowers to grow, and why?

My favourite flowers to grow are most definitely hydrangeas and dahlias.  Yes, I understand they come and go out of fashion but they really are magnificent flowering plants which just keep giving. Many other flowers would make it to my list of favourites but these ones are easy growers and propagate well. 

Favourite plants would be those from the viburnum family. They make such great additions to floral arrangements all year round (although some are susceptible to disease). Viburnum plicatum (Japanese snowball / summer snowflake) and Viburnum opulus (snowball bush) are right up there for me. Along with Prunus lusitanica (Portuguese laurel), which is so versatile.

If you had to make a garden with three plants, what would they be?

  • Prunus lusitanica (Portuguese laurel) — they are evergreen and can be shaped as topiary, hedge or balls;

  • Hydrangeas — they make a lovely contrast against the prunus;

  • Weeping pussy willow (Salix Caprea ‘Pendula’) — it is spectacular in all seasons.

Kate’s outdoor dining area

What would you say to encourage someone who is starting on a gardening journey?

  • If starting afresh, it is so worth getting expert advice on the garden footprint from a designer

  • Plant for all year enjoyment by choosing plants to have a seasonal hero. 

  • Mulch (if this suits your garden style).

  • Plant flowers that keep on giving so that you can enjoy picking them. 

  • If you don’t have enough garden space, plant in pots and rotate. 

  • I say there are no rules and I choose plants I like (but as I style food and flowers I also make sure most plants I plant add value in this area for me.) 

  • Most of all, research and understand that trial and error is part of the journey.

After Hours Stylist book cover

The After-hours Stylist: Growing, gathering, and creating through the seasons

(Written by Kate Williams, photography by Anna McLeod. Published by Bateman Books, RRP $59.99)

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