Flower power: a florist’s cottage blooms in the dark


In florist Keith Dawson’s garden, the predominant colour is green. Hedges of hornbeam line the long alleyways, creating intimate paths that open into a wide lawn with a hawthorn tree at its centre, the focal point of the scheme. Ivy creeps over the floor and cloaks tree trunks, while feathery white goat’s beard, Aruncus, and statuesque angelica fill the beds.

The same sensibility registers inside the house, where the decor is a perfect reflection of its inhabitants’ personalities. An ultra-cool atmosphere reigns in the order of rooms. There’s no sign of country kitsch, and the renovations are meticulous. Every switch or window sash has been considered.

Dawson, the owner of the Potting Shed in Alderley Edge, takes a simple, classic approach to floristry. It’s the same in the house, which veers away from anything too bright or colourful. “I’m a big fan of the Belgian garden designer Jacques Wirtz,” Dawson says. “I’ve always liked hedges and green things. The bold statements you can make with the form of a hedge are so effective.” Plus, it looks good all year round.

Dawson and his partner Eleanor Herald, a solicitor, moved into this Victorian cottage in 2014, and now they have a two-year-old daughter. Set in just under a quarter of an acre of land in a leafy corner of Cheshire, the property had already been modernised by a previous architect-owner. But the couple decided to enlarge the kitchen by converting three small rooms into one space, and commissioning custom-made units and polished concrete work surfaces that were dyed as dark as possible. Bulb and apple crates are used to store glassware and other kitchen essentials. Iron chairs with calfskin seat pads sit around an oak dining table with iron legs, all bought from the Belgian firm Heerenhuis .

The interior is streamlined, but one of the most engaging things about the cottage is the series of little hidden rooms that extend from the contemporary kitchen and dining space. The living room and so-called “room with no name” that leads to the staircase are intimate and lovely, and packed with wonderful natural history items, contemporary artwork and antiques.

What really catches the eye is the fabulous tiger painting hanging above the sofa. “This was my father’s” says Dawson, who explains that the Indian textile used to hang in his father’s office when he was growing up. “I was lucky in that both my parents collected antiques and travelled a lot, so I grew up surrounded by nice things.” It was Dawson’s mother, Norma, who founded the Potting Shed more than 20 years ago.

The living room is painted in Little Greene’s Knightsbridge, a shade of brown, and co-ordinated with black linen blinds. The palette is dark and moody, giving an overall sense of calm. The coffee table is also from Heerenhuis and the sofa is from Flamant.

Upstairs, the couple have added a new cave-like bathroom, painted in Little Greene’s Lamp Black. This room was Herald’s vision. She wanted black taps and the rest followed from there.

The cottage has three bedrooms. In the main bedroom, the headboard-free bed emphasises the feeling of simplicity in the space. The portrait is by the potter William Moorcroft and a walnut screen is a clever solution for the large windows.

The garden room is perhaps the most impressive space in the cottage. The atmosphere is cosy, even with all the light. Here, natural materials – stone, glass, linen and lead – dominate the space. Dawson has stripped back doors and removed paint from stone tabletops and urns so that everything works together.

The vintage urns were also inherited from Dawson’s parents. Here, they are planted with two varieties of staghorn fern. “The garden room is our plant hospital,” says Dawson. “Anything you put in there comes back to life.” The vast stone table, believed to have originally been a pediment from the entrance to a building, was bought from an antique dealer in Paris 15 years ago.

The space is architectural, but it is made intimate by all the plants and gorgeous textures that work together to create a homely atmosphere. An extension of the garden, it opens on to a patio that has box hedging on all sides. Where flowers may fade, the greenery here does not. It is the most wonderful-looking garden in every season of the year.