Exeter Lives: Kathryn Aalto

Name: Kathryn Aalto - People, plants and places are my passion.  I am a garden designer, historian, writer and speaker from California.  For more than a decade, I taught English and Environmental Issues in Washington prior to moving to Devon. I've segued that into a lovely creative career in England.

How would you describe yourself in 5 words?

Someone recently told me I was "California sunshine in a bottle."

How would you describe Exeter in 5 words? 

A jewel in the crown.

What brought you to Exeter?

History of Exeter, beauty of Devon, proximity to London.

Which part of Exeter is home?

Argyll Road overlooking the Duryard Valley and Exe River Valley.

What is your favourite place in Exeter?

This must be a tie: the River Exe running trails and The Picturehouse. Year round, the beauty of the river brings me solace and comfort.  As a very early riser, I often need to reset my brain in the afternoon and naughtily slip off  to a film. It's a wonderful indulgence.

What is your favourite Exeter event?

The National Trust Concert in the Cathedral at Christmas. The performances by Exeter School musicians are first-class, the setting is magnificent.   

What was the last live performance you saw in Exeter and where did you see it?

The Cut Purse Rascals at The Phoenix. They are a vibrant Americana, blues, and alt country band based in Exeter. If you become a follower, you're called a rascal. Who doesn't want to be a rascal every now and then?

Favourite place to eat out in or near Exeter?

The Rusty Bike for the art, attitude and delicious meat. 

Best coffee in town?

Uber-friendly Caffe Espresso on Castle Street serves the most imaginative and fresh coffee in town.  If I can get a dollop of vanilla ice cream in my mocha, I am a happy person.

Favourite pub?

The Nobody Inn for its history, cosy snugs, fresh ale, changing menu and who cannot be impressed by its vast whiskey collection. When there last, I cheekily sniffed a 1938 whiskey - gold! 

Favourite locally produced food or drink?

I often duck into The Plant Café in The Cathedral Close because I know I can get a frittata slice or falafel sandwich on the go. 

Favourite shop?

Bon Gout on Magdalen. Ali orders my favourite cheese from Italy and they carry the very best dark chocolate chips for the American chocolate chip cookies I love to bake.

Favourite shopping area?

Gandy Street. I always imagine the hustle and bustle that has taken place in that narrow corridor over centuries. 

Exeter Chiefs or Exeter City?

Chiefs. I have a visceral thing about rugby -- it's far more brutal than American football. Their tattoos are also impressive and entertaining in a tribal kind of way.

Beach or moors?

I enjoy walking along beach cliffs especially between Beer and Branscombe. Shimmering and moody bodies of water along dramatic cliffs appeal to the romantic in me.

What or where is Exeter's best kept secret? 

Northernhay Garden is England's first public park -- even before Hyde Park was opened. Use of public space -- historic or modern -- fascinates me. It means early 17th-century city fathers were both compassionate and forward-thinking to set aside free and open place where people could recreate, enjoy fresh air and just hang out. I wish I could take a mocha from Caffe Espresso, go back in time and spend an afternoon in the park then. 

What one change would you like to see in Exeter?

Exeter could be known as a Green Garden City with an eye toward improving public space.  Redesigning the concrete pavement along the River Exe. Leafier neighbourhoods. Roundabouts with more than grass and barrels. The effects of dappled light and good planting design on people's spirits should not be underestimated.  It's also good for business. Centuries ago, Exeter was described as a golden city on a hill, one whose golden autumnal radiance could be seen from the English Channel.  It would be nice if that could be recaptured in a sense.

Who is your local hero or heroine?

Local farmers like Guy Watson of Riverford Farm who despite the repeated lashings to their profits by the weather are committed to sustainable local farming practices.  

Do you belong to any local clubs or societies?

I recently applied to be a member of the Devon and Exeter Institution. As a historian, I love pawing through old texts.  On the other extreme, I love throwing weights around and do that at Fitness First. 

What are you up to next?

I am honoured to have been asked to write a book for Timber Press. I am working as a project editor for the Princess of Jordan's Royal Botanic Garden in Amman. I design gardens. There are magazine articles in the works and upcoming lectures. I've also been hankering to write children's garden books so that's simmering.

For more information about Kathryn's speaking and design, her website is www.kathrynaalto.com

If you have some top recommendations for who you would like to answer our Exeter Lives feature or indeed if you would like to take part yourself, please email ted@thedailyuk.com