Grapevine Stories

A day in the life of garden designer, Rachael White

Rachael is an award-winning garden designer who leads an extremely busy life with endless garden projects going on at the same time. We hear about her typical day and also get some tops tips for any of us that might be thinking of transforming their outside space. I'm not surprised Rachael needs a large drink after she fits in to one day what most of us wouldn't fit into a week!

A day in the life of Rachael White, an award-winning landscape designer who has grown her one-woman enterprise into a team of designers, stone masons and construction specialists who work on everything from delicate Italianate gardens and building lakes, to developing biodiversity and creating botanical gardens at a nearby distillery.

No two days are ever the same for me although I’ve always been an early riser and I love nothing more than going for a ride at dawn. This is probably the quietest time in my day, and it gives me an opportunity to think and reflect on what’s ahead before I get into the office.  With a busy husband who is often away, and children at school – and about to go to university in the case of my eldest – I try to make the most of family time when everyone’s home, which is usually at the end of a day.  Before that, though, there’s my work at RWD, where we design, build and create landscapes for the future.  

Spring is usually very busy on the construction side of the business because our winter structural builds are all coming towards completion.  These are usually large external structures and often include outbuildings such as garden rooms and pool houses, as well as terraces, intricate stonework, walling and other hardscapes.  This is alongside drainage, which has become an increasingly challenging and important factor which is changing our design and construction process. 

At the same time, we’ll be finishing the larger structural planting layout, installing feature trees, woodland glades and hedging, in order to create the spinal backbone of an overall design.  We’ve just planted some wonderful feature Beech (Fagus) tiered topiary domes a few weeks later than planned due to the incessant rain, but in this line of work flexibility is paramount.

The start to this year, though, has been particularly frustrating because the weather has been unrelenting.  As a landscaper and horticulturalist, I love rain but only when it suits me!  The groundwork we’ve been doing over the last few months has been unforgiving for our teams, who’ve had to cope with so much rain that we had to delay installing many of the more delicate softscapes until the weather improves.  

Yesterday I was visiting a couple of sites where we were installing irrigation systems around our 2023/24 winter plantings schemes. It does seem ironic that it’s raining while I write this and at the same time our automated irrigation teams are busy working on two of our sites!! 

As with drainage, irrigation has become another one of the many design, build and install essentials that have had to evolve to accommodate our climate, which is changing much more quickly than ever before.

We now insist on irrigation for at least the first two years of a site’s development, in order to help establish growth over all acreages, whatever the size of the trees we’re planting.  I used to believe a little tough love would help trees to force roots out to find their own water, but with the climate changing so much over the last 20 years this is no longer viable. However, I always advise switching off irrigation after 2 to 3 years to allow the trees to finish establishing themselves naturally, but irrigation will always be necessary during extended or extreme dry periods.

Each week I travel around the various sites we have in build to monitor progress and tweak designs as we go along.  

Having control of both design and construction gives me the flexibility to allow the process to flow in a much more organic and versatile way, and therefore to produce something that is genuinely bespoke and unique for every client.  Designs are never static and always evolve in some way during the construction or horticultural planting stage of a project. 

I’m very fortunate to have been able to grow with such a great team of craftsmen and women, both within the RWD design & construction teams and alongside independent suppliers.  It’s given me the luxury of seeing my designs come to life and to interpret, at every stage, my clients’ passion and vision for the land and features around them.  Taking responsibility for the project management of the construction of buildings and hardscapes means we work very closely with architects and planning consultants, and this often ensures a client’s journey from inspiration to creation is seamless.

One day I could be liaising with architects and planning consultants to discuss how a design might work best in a particular setting, especially if I can see an opportunity to reuse materials which already exist onsite, or there’s a way to enhance biodiversity. On other days I could have my hands in the earth helping our horticultural team plant bulbs or herbaceous plants, or even wading in a lake in a wet suit to plant water plants!  

Immersing myself in the natural outdoors is what gives me inspiration and it’s this that’s allowed my work to develop in an organic and very naturalistic way.  I visualise and use what’s around me to bring my designs to life, whether that’s been to reflect Roman history into the stonework we did at the Newt in Somerset, or using a site’s natural resources and incorporating them into a building so that it blends more easily into the overall design.

These are my top tips for anyone thinking about creating their perfect space:

  • Don’t be afraid to do something on instinct even if it’s not the done thing or on trend – your space is about you, and what you love
  • No design is totally bespoke – it’s a compilation of ideas and perspectives gathered through one’s life experiences - the bespoke element is created by the designer adding a twist to your compilation by mixing it up then putting back together 
  • With planting, be bold with colour but keep your palette simple
  • Be confident about repeat planting and use native plants, which will stand the test of time, but don’t muddle too many different varieties - it’s always very tempting to prove your knowledge of species but simple is always best 
  • Be confident to mirror and repeat throughout the garden, so it all ties in and gives the whole design flow and strength.
  • Never stop building, tweaking and adapting your garden, so it meets your changing needs over the years.

I am so lucky to have grown up in the Cotswolds and the South West and to have the opportunity to create designs that will last a lifetime. My overall ethos in everything I do is to leave a sustainable legacy for future generations to enjoy.

That is the long term goal .. but the short term is that I’m off to pour myself a large Vodka and Tonic and reflect on another happy day of designing, building and creating.

Rachael White -

Grapevine is a trusted network of private members, linking kindred spirits from town or country. Members promote, sell or buy goods and services within the network.

Grapevine also believes in supporting young people to get a strong start through internships and work placements. We also help a number of charities including Heads Together and The Injured Jockeys Fund.