Simon’s teenage gardening dreams have blossomed

Chorley man Simon Hewitt is the gardener at the River Cafe in London. Photo by Jason Ingram Photography
Chorley man Simon Hewitt is the gardener at the River Cafe in London. Photo by Jason Ingram Photography
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Simon Hewitt is making quite a name for himself as a garden designer in London – an aspiration which grew from a project he undertook as a teenager in Chorley.

Building work at his parents’ house in Whittle-le-Woods ruined their back garden, and a 14-year-old Simon took it upon himself to redesign it.

He left St Michael’s CE High School with good grades, and went on to study at Myerscough College and got a diploma in Botanic Horticulture from The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.

“My parents had an extension built and the JCB just ruined the garden,” he says. “I started playing around with it, and it all grew from there really.

“From then, I knew I wanted to be a designer.

“And I knew I had to understand the materials I was working with, which is why I did gardening subjects.

“I worked at Barton Grange for a while before going to Kew, and I really loved that.”

From Kew he became the glasshouse manager at The Chelsea Physic Garden, and is now a freelance garden designer, working with clients to create their perfect gardens.

He also acts as an architect’s ‘fresh pair of eyes’ when a house is being designed, and his work has taken him all over the world, including America and Cyprus.

He’s developed a ‘summer retreat’ in Maine, in New England in the USA, an ‘idyllic estate in Kent’ and a ‘refreshed Rye retreat’ in Sussex, amongst other favourites.

But the 31-year-old is perhaps most well-known for being the head gardener at the River Cafe restaurant in London, growing fruit, vegetables and herbs in the ‘kitchen garden’.

Some of the country’s best known chefs, including Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver have worked at the River Cafe, which was started by chefs Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray.

Simon, who lives with his wife Jaz and their five-year-old daughter, Martha Meadow, says: “My friend was a gardener at the River Cafe and said he needed some help.

“The next thing I knew, he asked me to take over!

“That was six years ago, and I’m normally there once a week now.

“I was in the right place at the right time.”

Simon has developed an understanding, not just about the food he is growing, but of the recipes the chefs are working on in the kitchen.

“I’ve worked quite a bit in the kitchen, especially in the winter,” he explains.

“I need to know what to look for, so I’m constantly meeting the chefs.

“Really the chef element is just as important as the gardening to me, learning what type of cuisine they’re working on.

“During the summer, we put tables and chairs in the garden and people dine out there, so it’s got two functions.

“It needs to be pretty for the guests, as well as acting as the kitchen’s pantry.

“It’s a lovely setting, and we have lots of herbs and edible flowers.

“I mainly grow the type of food the restaurant struggles to source, or which wouldn’t be fresh by the time it reached us.

“At the moment, I’m growing seven different types of tomatoes and nine types of chicory.

“I try to experiment every year.”

Simon is also getting involved in a new venture as a gardening consultant at The Dock Kitchen in Ladbroke Grove, as well as the new Garden Bridge across the Thames.

“I’m really excited about that,” he says.

“But I can’t say much more about it just yet.”

When he’s not working in garden kitchens, Simon is busy designing large gardens for clients, a job which he says varies from day to day.

“I don’t really have much down time, I’m seriously busy,” he adds.

“I don’t just design a garden and then leave it.

“I’ll go back to a site I’ve designed and make sure the contractors are doing what they should be.

“I’m dedicated to the final product, and gardens take years to develop.

“They’re slow growing, so I always feel like a garden is partly mine – I have to love it.

“It’s like seeing a young child develop; I watch trees develop and it’s a process rather than a finished article.

“It’s not like a painting. It’s like you’re constantly adding to that painting.”

And what about Simon’s own garden, at his family home in West Sussex?

“My garden’s young, it’s three years old,” he describes. “We live on top of an orchard, it’s beautiful.

“I’ve tried to blend everything in with the orchard, so there’s a relationship with everything around us.”

You can certainly tell where that garden designer concept comes from.

Simon is not just a designer nor a gardener, he’s both, and he has a passion for his profession.

“I think that’s quite a unique thing to me,” he adds.

When it comes to his home life though, he lets the garden do the hard work.

“I designed our garden and planted everything so that I only have to look after it once a month,” he says.

“It’s minimal. Really, I want it to look amazing, but I don’t want all the work.

“I’ve also left a large area because I’m not sure what to do with it yet. I’ll wait until I get a brainwave.

“I may change some of the features in future. It’s like a vase of flowers.

“I won’t give it a complete overhaul, but I might make some adjustments and add to it.”

And he’s not joking when he says he doesn’t have much down time – he is also a teacher for the English Gardening School in London, and builds furniture as a hobby.

“I love the mix,” he says. “Every week is completely and utterly different.”