Kate Ayres inherited her green fingers. Her great-grandfather, she believes, would be very proud of her business venture, Heart of a Garden. He was trained at Kew Gardens and went on to be curator at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Peradeniya in Sri Lanka. “I always loved pottering about in the garden with my mother, but it took a long time to become a career” says Kate.
Based in Ambleside in the Lake District, her heart now truly is in a garden. She has landscaped her own, lovingly, and is now helping others to add touches of distinction and individuality to theirs, supplying a range of unusual and high quality ornaments and décor.
Hers is an online shop, and her customers are all over Britain, but she is especially pleased to help local clients, particularly hotels with lovely gardens – of which there are many in Cumbria. For example, she has provided garden furniture (tables, chairs, bench and arbour) and lanterns in the grounds of the popular wedding venue and organic guest house, Cote Howe, close to the shores of Rydal Water.
It’s only been in the last few years that Kate found her garden heart, after a range of fascinating business careers. This energetic climber and fell-runner, who also helps run a mountain guide business with her partner, started her working life making and selling violins. Originally from London, she left school at 16 but after working for a couple of years she went to study violin making at the London College of Furniture. “I enjoyed music. I played the piano and flute, and I was keen to run my own business making and repairing violins for a living.”
That dream was fulfilled, and for many years she and her first husband ran a successful violin shop in Manchester. But when her two children grew up, and the marriage ended, Kate took a radical change of direction and moved to Ambleside, signing up for a degree in teaching at the University of Cumbria.
It was there that she pursued her love of the outdoors, eventually gaining her Mountain Leadership certificate and qualifying as a climbing instructor. She graduated at the age of 50 but decided not to go into teaching, and spent three years working as a school administrator and finance officer for a small, rural primary school.
At the same time, she was working as an outdoor activities instructor with her partner Mark Eddy for their company, Mountain Journeys, taking clients on mountain walks, fell runs, rock climbing and abseiling sessions.
“I really enjoy the outdoor work but I wanted to pursue other challenges as well.” Her mind, and her heart, took her towards gardening. She had designed and landscaped her own garden, and wanted to fill it with ornaments and statues which were different from those sold in most garden centres. “That was the start of Heart of a Garden. I started to source garden ornaments and gifts from around the country, and realised that there was a demand for the unusual.”
As the name of the venture implies, there’s a lot of Kate’s heart and passion in the work. The website is full of beautiful and quirky items, from delicately-crafted garden furniture to pots, wind sculptures and bird tables. There’s an emphasis on sustainability – wooden plant labels, seed savers made from recycled cardboard, even a range of plant pots made from recycled tyres.
“It is very satisfying, knowing that I can bring art and design into gardens,” says Kate. “The statues, sculptures, animals and birds are proving popular for hotel gardens, too.”
Cumbrian gardeners and hoteliers can call for advice and individual orders: 015394 31806.