There’s a palpable air of supressed stress when I arrive at Allomorphic. The final coat of earth brown paint is being applied to walls, boxes are being unpacked and carpet laid. It’s just days before the opening of Stroud’s newest horticultural venture and there’s still lots to do.
Stood in the middle of the maelstrom is designer Paul Hervey-Brookes answering questions from his team of helpers on prices, where to position pots, books and labels, and how to fill an awkward gap atop a cupboard filled with speciality teas. His quick, decisive solutions suggest he is working to some internal plan and already has a clear idea of the finished result.
It is, I venture, a little like being in the midst of a show garden build with the arrival of the judges looming.
“Yes, I feel like we will still be doing something just before the launch party guests arrive,” smiles Paul, although given his experience of hitting show time deadlines, that’s unlikely.
The first time we met it was to discuss gardening on a budget. Paul had just made his show garden debut and he enthusiastically explained how his design – which won silver-gilt at the Malvern Autumn Show – proved that it was possible to garden without spending a fortune by growing your own and using recycled materials.
Some eight years and numerous award-winning gardens later, including gold at Chelsea, the enthusiasm is undimmed but the project has come a long way from that low-cost start.
Allomorphic, which Paul is launching with his partner, Yann, offers unusual and, in some cases, exclusive items inspired by gardens and wearing a price tag that’s heading towards the luxury end of the market.
“They are high quality,” says Paul, “but that’s simply because I grew up with the idea that you buy cheaply, you buy twice.”
Yet, although at the top end there are Sneeboer tools – included because they “will last a lifetime and are a joy to work with” – the stock also covers garden essentials, such as plant labels and string. What makes Allomorphic different to the average horticultural outlet is that even these are beautifully presented in labelled glass jars, while the design ethic extends even to the choice of till.
It’s this creation of a beautiful space that is the driving force behind the project, which Paul sees as a natural extension to his work as a leading garden designer.
“People who come to us for gardens are looking for something beautiful, something they can escape into and so many of the things that are in this building are things that would naturally be incorporating into those spaces.
“It’s all part of what we already do and it just seemed really nice to offer these bits without a garden.”
Among the items on sale and also available online are hedgehog houses that Paul first designed for Marks and Spencer, wooden seed trays fashioned from old railway sleepers, books – many out of print – and antiques, such as a 1950s’ rose support, that have been sourced from all over the country and abroad. There will be fresh flowers, floristry accessories, such as driftwood, and a range of speciality teas.
Exclusive items include a range of greetings cards that the couple have designed in collaboration with artist Roger Ellis.
“If you buy one for yourself, you should love it and if you buy one for somebody, they should feel like they’ve had a real treat,” says Paul.
He bristles at the word shop – “I don’t see it as another gardening shop” – and in a way he’s right as there is much more to Allomorphic than mere trade.
The venture was born out of the need for new office space for the couple’s garden design business and discussions they’d had about running workshops and lectures. The property in the heart of Stroud seemed the perfect fit.
“A friend described Stroud as a blend of Brighton and Islington,” explains Paul, “and it’s got a really good broad mix of people and a really fresh vibe around it at the moment.”
Work began on the rundown building at the beginning of January and it now houses not only the design office but a space that will be used for workshops and plant-themed events such as an agapanthus festival; the monthly lectures will be held in a room nearby.
It’s been a tough few months to get everything ready, made all the more difficult by having to also juggle three private design projects, a huge garden at this year’s Hampton Court show, mentoring RHS young designers, work on RHS plant trials, and judging at the Malvern and Tatton shows.
“I like to be busy,” explains Paul, when I question the wisdom of taking on yet another enterprise. “I’m not someone who likes to stand still and I’m constantly looking for new sources of inspiration and ideas. This just seemed very natural.
“I love making show gardens but I don’t particularly want to make four a year, as I have done in the past three years. This gives us the opportunity to say this is what we’re about without constantly being on that treadmill.”
Eventually, Paul and Yann will move into a flat upstairs. And it’s this sense of putting down roots after years of building show gardens across the world that appeals to them.
“Since 2012, we’ve had quite a nomadic existence. This feels like coming home and I really like that.”
• Allomorphic, 11 Lansdown, Stroud, opened on Saturday March 12. Opening hours will then be Wednesday to Saturday, 10-4.30pm. Details: http://www.allomorphic.co.uk/