PUBLISHED: 12:49 19 August 2011 | UPDATED: 19:52 20 February 2013
Peter Booton meets a creative couple whose garden inspired a lifestyle change and the launch of a successful business.
Martin and Celia Youngs home north of Lyme Regis, close to the county border, enjoys glorious panoramic views of the Devon countryside. Back in 1998 when Martin and Celia first saw what was then a partly built new house it was those views that clinched the sale, even though theyd had to climb a ladder to see them!
The rear garden, though, was no more than a sloping paddock but Martin admits that he had always wanted to create his own garden from scratch and so this was the ideal opportunity. The Youngs commissioned a local landscape architect, Ed Brookes, who took Martins idea for a garden that would be part of the view and created a design incorporating terraces. Ed also produced the original planting scheme and his father, Dave, carried out the physical shaping of the garden.
Martins long-held dream had become reality and to further his knowledge of gardening he completed a Royal Horticultural Society two-year course, which gained him their Certificate of Horticulture. As the garden matured he decided to apply to the National Gardens Scheme (NGS) for inclusion in their annual Yellow Book. One of their inspectors visited in 2003 but the garden at Bramble Hayes was turned down because of insufficient seating for visitors.
Martin recalls, I thought Id go and buy a wooden swing seat but all the ones I looked at were hideous, so I decided to make my own. On the internet he found plans of American swing seats which were far more appealing and so he based his design on these. Fortuitously, on leaving school his father had persuaded him to do an apprenticeship in carpentry and he still possessed his tools, although he had forsaken this as a career in favour of a sales job.
When the seat had been completed the Youngs re-applied to the NGS and Bramble Hayes was visited by Carol Klein during her BBC 2 series Open Gardens, when it was pronounced worthy of inclusion in the Yellow Book. We already knew wed been accepted, Celia confesses, but we pretended we didnt!
However, Martins health was suffering from the rigours of driving high annual mileages for his job and spending frequent nights away from home. His doctor diagnosed metabolic syndrome X a potentially life-threatening combination of obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. The answer was a change of lifestyle fast!
In 2004, the first year that Bramble Hayes appeared in the NGS Yellow Book, six visitors to the garden commissioned Martin to make swing seats for them. A new career beckoned and Sitting Spiritually was founded the following year. The name of the business hints at meditation, which formed part of Martins curative process.
Today, the company produces around 150 swing seats a year in four different styles, each customised to suit a clients requirements. Traditional rope swings for adults and accessories such as Jurassic tables inset with ammonites now complement the range. Martin has a dream team of local craftsmen who help him manufacture the seats, which use only western red cedar, Dorset and Devon oak, and Scandinavian pine from FSC-managed forests.
Celia and daughter Lucy are involved too. While Celia makes cushions for the seats, ably assisted by two local ladies, Lucy helps her father by designing the seats and accessories. A talented artist in her own right, she describes her work as expressionist paintings of the coastal landscape and it can be seen in a number of art galleries throughout the county.
After living at Bramble Hayes for 12 years, Celia decided shed like to make a few changes to her home. There was a decked area at the rear of the house, but wed thought How often is the weather good enough for us to actually sit out there during the year? So I came up with the idea of extending the house and swapping around some of the ground-floor rooms. Celia wanted the extension to be a huge room with lots of glass where they could sit all year round and enjoy the view. I also decided to swap the kitchen with our bedroom at the back of the house so that Id then be able to talk to guests while I was busy in the kitchen, she adds.
Martin continues the story. We wanted the extension to be open to the apex, so we commissioned a structural engineer because it was quite a challenge to build it without a ceiling. He designed it with a huge steel frame. The orientation is perfect in terms of the sunlight that comes in to it. The work was carried out by a local building company, Wiscombe Brothers, who, Martin says did a fantastic job.
In order to divide the kitchen from the new living and dining area, if required, the Youngs installed frameless, folding glass curtains, which are unobtrusive when closed yet still allow the views to be seen. Celias super new kitchen was designed by her in conjunction with the suppliers, Bradfords of Axminster, and fitted and plumbed in by her son Gary.
Since the extension has been completed, Martin has landscaped and planted out the area around it. A recent addition is the stylish circular oak table he has made, around which up to 12 people can be seated. As one would expect, there are a number of his swing seats in the garden, too, including the very first one he made, as well as a rope swing bearing the names of his three grandchildren, Scott, Alex and Lilia.
One thing is for sure, visitors to the well-planned and interestingly planted garden at Bramble Hayes now have plenty of seats on which to sit and admire the views!
For more information on Sitting Spiritually call 01297 443084, or visit sittingspiritually.co.uk. To see more of Lucy Youngs art visit lucyyoungart.com.