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The summer solstice, with its strawberry moon and balmy temperature, must have made a special evening for everyone, but especially for me, off to visit old friends Penelope Chilvers and her two daughters, Africa & Gemma.

The farmhouse, set against the Cotswolds hills, is their family home and one of several honey-hued houses in a village so perfect that they have to make an effort not to be discovered by tourists. The evening I'm there, there isn’t a tourist to be seen; villagers are out on their doorsteps and children playing in the street in a scene that feels transported from southern Italy. The setting, though, couldn’t be more English.

The house, which was originally three cottages and a bakery, is set in a garden that wraps around the entire building. It opens on three sides onto paved terraces that each enjoy a different view across the garden.

There are flourishing flower beds, gently sloping lawns and out-buildings just as pretty as the house. The roses are still out and one has rambled as far as I can see up a tree creating a dense wall of white flowers. An immaculate dry-stone wall, with a small gap that allowed for deer to pass through, runs around the perimeter and continues through the garden, dividing it thoughtfully into its parts.

Opposite the garden gates, there is a stile onto a footpath that heads over the crest of a hill and into the horizon. Tempting though it is, I stay put to enjoy the company of old friends as well as new: Africa's son, Noah, who was born last summer and is easily the loveliest thing in the garden.


Was it love at first sight when you saw your garden five years ago?

Definitely - my late father was a very keen gardener and dedicated his last years to professional garden design. This garden felt like one of his and I knew he would love it too, if he’s looking down on us.


What was it like when you first set eyes on it? Have you changed it, or maintained it?

I love it so much that when a plant dies I try to replace it with the same.

However, I recently tried to match some of the roses that had been eaten up by black fly, but could not find it. If I knew how to grow it from a cutting, I would… but I don’t, yet.

It strikes me as extremely peaceful. Do you find it a calming place to be?

Peacefulness is the best environment for creativity, and all my deep thinking happens here. Real silence - only broken by birdsong - is the utmost luxury.


Do you feel more at home in the town or country?

I feel like I have a double existence and love them both. One enhances the other. When I return to the birdsong and hedgerows of the countryside after time spent in London, it feels and smells so fresh, and London feels exciting and cosy as the perfect alternative.


Is an English garden your idea of paradise or does your heart yearn for more exotic landscapes?

Interesting question and impossible to answer. I think our British climate creates

such diversity through the seasons, which is a wonderful privilege to experience day to day. My work as a designer has taken me all over the world and I’ve come across natural Edens that blow my mind and I feel deeply concerned about their futures with global warming and man’s abandonment of nature. When I’m home again in The Cotswolds, I sense the harmony in its little fields and villages, and my wrap-around garden.

You mentioned you have memories of a swing seat from years ago? Tell us more…

Yes, my girls’ grandmother had one on her terrace with a view out to the Mediterranean Sea, making a favourite place for a siesta after a long family lunch.


Do you see Penelope Chilvers as an outdoor footwear brand? 

Predominantly yes… our Oscar boots are the quintessential walking boot and our waterproof Inclement Boots also remain best-selling styles that our customers worldwide return to again and again. I keep a bucolic landscape in my mind’s eye when designing for our customers, hoping that their boots will become dependable old friends, to be kept at the back door for that daily walk in nature. In the summertime, our customers buy sandals and espadrilles for their garden parties and our ‘indoor shoes’ have also become essential pieces to feel stylish and pretty in.

Some of my happiest childhood memories are playing with Africa & Gemma in your parents’ wonderful garden. Was it important to you that they were brought up close to nature?

Yes, Barcelona was our home for their early years. That taught them how to appreciate good food and good behaviour in restaurants, as well as giving them a tri-lingual internationalism that I feel moulded them into who they are today, but our summer visits to stay with their grandparents in the English countryside taught them to love nature. Strawberry picking, camping in the vegetable patch and playing in the garden all day long was a key ingredient to their appreciation of the countryside and playing in the garden taught these little Spanish girls resilience to the English weather.

Your girls both work within the company. What’s the secret for creating such a close-knit family?

Perhaps it’s having an open house where all their friends are always welcome too? We talk every day - sometimes about work, sometimes not. I have no idea what the secret is, but I feel so lucky and look forward to seeing them each time I walk into our office, or at the weekends when they visit. 


What has it been like becoming a grandmother? 

The best! An exciting new chapter - living life to the full begins…

And what are you looking forward to this summer and beyond?

A return to Spain this summer to see my lifelong  ‘summer friends’ and, beyond that, my dream is to one day open a country store…



Penelope's rocker is an Old Rocker in Sail White with the sofa and inside walls in Polperro Stripe Green.

Photography by Maximilian Kindersley.

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