Shared Wisdom is a series of conversations to inspire and guide our AMLY community; we invite you to listen to conversations with some of our friends and ambassadors, their personal beauty experience alongside wellness and lifestyle advice.

These discussions aim to encourage and help us to discover ways to help improve our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.

Portrait image of Melissa Jolly Garden Designer

Melissa Jolly @melissajolly is an award-winning garden designer with a background in psychology and zoology. Her design ethic has ecology and wildlife at its very heart. She creates spaces that attract wildlife and provide a rich ecological environment whilst blending with the style and needs of her clients.

Q1: What has gardening taught you about wellbeing?

Gardening can tell you so much about yourself and also how to approach many of life’s challenges. The seasonality of gardening is the most important and grounding aspect to me. The seasons show you that there is a constant, slow moving forward motion and that everything in the garden and nature happens at the right time. There might be fluctuations depending on the weather, but in general you can’t force a garden – and you can’t stop it.

I think a realisation that if you try and control the garden too much you will start to fight unnecessary battles and that taking its lead can be a much more harmonious and symbiotic relationship. The most common reaction I get to our own (very messy, overgrown garden) is that it feels relaxed – there is very little preciousness to it and that gives me an immense feeling of calm.

Q2: How can we strike the balance between the wild and the domestic in a garden?

My own garden tips the balance in favour of the wild side, but that is not to say that I don’t have a few areas that I keep tamed and under control: they are primarily the areas immediately around the house and the kitchen garden. I think a balance can be obtained when we don’t put our needs above all else, but look at the garden in a holistic way. If you start with a list of things you would like say a terrace for dining, somewhere to grow food, a place to compost, places to sit, habitats for wildlife, a pond, perhaps a pool (or a helipad – yes clients do request them!) and then see how much space you can give to each and how some of these can be combined.

A compost heap automatically creates a wildlife habitat, as does a meadow area. If you have fences, just leaving a gap at the base can be a lifeline for hedgehogs meandering through gardens at night and a pond is the best way to introduce a huge variety of animals into the garden. I think my main point would be to think about everything when you make a decision, try to move away from solely human-centric plans, for example: if you want to remove a tree because the birds droppings are ruining your furniture below, consider moving the furniture rather than taking down the tree. If you can let your lawn grow long and add in a neatly mown path through the wilder areas, this gives you the opportunity to immerse yourself in a more natural setting whilst also giving the impression that the whole garden is a well planned and intentional space (not just an abandoned wasteland, which sometimes it can resemble, mainly to those who have preconceived ideas of what a garden should look like).

Q3: What advice would you give to someone starting out on their gardening journey?

Create places that allow you to enjoy the garden: seating for morning coffee and evening drinks are my top two. Leave some of your lawn to grow long to see what wild flowers appear and what insects and birds come and enjoy it. Take care of your soil – if you have good soil then the plants will take care of themselves. Don’t use any chemicals in your garden, you just don’t need them, and without them the garden ecosystem will become balanced. Grow food if you can: plant a fruit tree, grow herbs in pots, try growing more food if you have the space and inclination. It is a great way of learning about food seasonality, it is locally produced (so your food carbon footprint is reduced) and you know that is wasn’t coated in a herbicide as it grew.

Q4: What 5 plants would you plant for wildlife, wellbeing and/or growing your own?

Nepeta (Cat mint): it is one of the first plants to flower and is covered in pollinators for most of the growing season

Erigeron karvanskianus (Mexican fleabane): I have pots of this all around and it is amazing – it flowers from March-November and copes with very little care and water!

Hedera (Ivy): perhaps a controversial choice as so many people hate how vigorously it can attach itself to walls and fences, although recent research has shown that it can keep buildings cool in the summer and less damp in winter. But it will grow in the most difficult of places, it’s evergreen, and its late autumn nectar rich flowers are a magnet for bees and other pollinators at a time of year when other plants have finished flowering.

Sarcococca confusa (sweet box): plant this evergreen shrub by an entrance to the house and the sweet scented flowers will light up the darkest of winter days for you. 

Roses – the old English scented roses: any of them – shrub roses in the borders, climbers on the house walls and ramblers finding their way through trees. I can’t walk past any of these without drinking in their fragrance.

And I know it’s more than 5 but bulbs, as many as you can bare planting, it is my least favourite job digging into cold wet soil in November to plants bulbs, but they early colour and joy they bring in the spring is worth the frozen fingers. Go for a succession of bulbs from early flowering daffodils, tulips, and alliums which can take you from spring into summer.

Q5: What inner and outer rituals or practices keep you thriving?

Walking the dog every day in the woods and fields that surround our house, the combination of fresh air, exercise, immersion in nature and the company of a loyal and loving dog is the best start to the day. It also gives me a chance to see what is growing and what might be ready to forage and cook; right now, I’ll be on the look out for wild damsons to make some jam (and so many blackberries to snack on)!

A long hot bath, with candles and a glass of wine or gin and tonic is a total indulgence. If I lived by the sea I would swim every day, we have a river in our village which I could swim in more often, but it’s just not as inviting as a crystal clear sea swim! I don’t know if it’s a ritual, but long hugs with my kids when they’re around and if they’re not, then long hugs with the dog and cat (and my husband)! Basically, just proper long hugs, I feel are incredibly nourishing.

A picture of Melissa's own wildlife pond.

“I love all the products I have tried so far -the Radiance Boost Silver Rich Face Mist smells divine! However, my favourite has to be the Sleep Tight Rejuvenating Face Balm, as it feels and smells incredible and as I occasionally don’t sleep well, anything to help send me into a deep sleep whilst nourishing my skin is a winner.”

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Melissa’s Website