'The Common is a silent friend who lets me ramble on'

Award-winning garden designer Paul seeks sanctuary on Selsley Common, above his home-town of Stroud, Gloucestershire. Paul opened a new branch of his shop, Allomorphic, in Tetbury on 30th March.


In the last 20 years I’ve spent a lot of time on Selsley Common, mulling things over. It’s quite high and at the top it rolls in two directions, five valleys running down towards Stroud on one side and the Severn Estuary on the other. Sometimes you can see Wales but other times you can’t even see your hand, it’s quite dramatic.

For me it has a lot of character. Historically, there’s been stone extraction, so there are traces of human activity in the wilderness. I often walk the dog there – well, it has been a series of dogs, really. I recently rescued a spaniel called Netta; she loves running and hopping around. You can look down onto the town below and it gives a lot of perspective.

On a grim day there’s just grass and nothing else, with no visual noise. Sometimes I need to remember that, in the scheme of things, the things that I find stressful are straightforward. The Common is a silent friend who lets me ramble on about whatever I need to, and just seems to get it.

If you have to work hard at something, it’s not meant to be that way. If you keep trying to force your way forward you just get stressed; it’s easier to follow a more natural flow of things and accept new ideas. It also makes life more exciting, sometimes unnecessarily so!

I like that sense being in a big-scale, dramatic landscape, as it helps remind me how little and fragile our own existence is. It’s the opposite of my job, like two sides of a coin. I can’t just design gardens, I need a connection, and it’s important, mentally, to hold on to somewhere that provides a sense of liberation.  

Over time I have developed a very personal relationship with Selsley Common. It grounds me and ideas can come and go. You can go back and see yourself in different points in time. It was there a long time before me, and it’ll be there for a long time after and that’s an antidote to the craziness.

Words: Naomi Slade