In this trilogy of interviews, journalist Sally Williams and photographer Elena Heatherwick trace the joyful, tender, empowering relationships between women. 

Jessica Stokes and Judith Lywood

Six years ago, Judith Lywood's gardener left without warning, a blow at any time, and especially in August. She had a densely-planted garden, with shrubs, climbers and perennials, plus an allotment, just opposite her house in Bath, Somerset. The grass was ankle-high. The dahlias needed deadheading. The climbing rose flopped from the trellis. A widow, then aged 82, Judith desperately needed help.

In walked Jessica Stokes. They had never met before; she was a friend of a friend. Bright, enthusiastic with an open face and a cascade of chestnut-coloured hair, she was a trainee horticulturalist. Judith took to her immediately.  “She spoke her mind and I liked that,” says Judith, now. “No wishy-washy.” She offered her the job.

In the time since, Jessica, 31 and Judith, 88, have become more like comrades. Fifty seven years separate them, but they plot the planting of pots together, map out the many beds, and always have a proper lunch with a pudding prepared by Judith's housekeeper who helps with her care. When Judith was still able to drive, they'd pick up coffee and pastéis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) and sit in the city centre, people and dog-watching.  Now, Jessica helps with paperwork, shopping. Each buoyed by conversation. “Judith is interested in your life, asks lots of questions, is a modern thinker,” says Jessica. “She's inspired me to be a stronger person, to stand up for myself and fight for what I want.” Judith, in turn, is lifted by Jessica's vitality. She doesn't want to sit in a chair, all day. “I want to be part of life,” says Judith.  

We meet in Judith's home, a five-storey Georgian house on the top of the hill, with a view across Bath. The sitting room opens onto the garden and the late February sunlight falls through the French windows in shifting patches. 

Judith is dressed in a tartan skirt, a squash-coloured cardigan, and favoured, big red beads. Judith has an eye for colour. You can see in her home, a succession of elegant rooms with past and present mixed together. An oil painting of a prosperous Edwardian family – her husband's distant relatives who owned a brewery;  dog baskets for her daughter's dachshunds, when they visit. Judith has three children, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.  

Jessica is wearing an outfit she reaches for routinely. “I have four TOAST dresses and two jackets that I live in.”  She likes dresses – for the colour and print – but offset with workwear jackets and Blundstone boots. “I'm not girlie-girl. If I'm wearing this, I can nip into the garden and do some weeding.”  She doesn't wear any make-up; another thing she shares with Judith, along with adding a flourish of colour: Jessica from scarves; Judith from beads.

The glue between them, of course, is gardening. “Judith has a very good eye, a clear vision,” says Jessica. When Judith moved to Bath, 20 years ago, after the death of husband, the garden had only an uncared for yew tree and a dense holly hedge which had grown too thick and high to see over the top. Now, the yew is clipped into soft-cloud like shapes, the hedge is low, which has ignited its lush, green character and both provide a framework for the informal planting in the beds where flowers bloom copiously, in summer: dahlias; salvia; geums; foxgloves in white or pink. “You feel enveloped in plants and scent,” says Jessica. “We get hummingbird hawk moths, birds. It's a really calm space.”

“She has the touch,” says Judith of Jessica. The ability to make everything in the garden look wonderful. Jessica's mantra is simple, organic, seasonal. A vase of catkins, delicate tête-a-tête daffodils and ferns, say.  She loves to cram pots with bulbs in spring; cut flowers in summer, which she keeps in the tiny front garden of her home in a village, near Malmesbury, Wiltshire, where she lives with her husband, Ben, a chef and coffee roaster and their dog, Kipper. “I like having sweet peas close to the window so I can watch birds dart in and out eating aphids.”

They both love abundance – “more is more,” says Judith – and are heartfelt about the transformative power of nature. “When you're in the garden, you don't feel old,” says Judith.

Judith grew up in London, where her father was a chemist, her mother a nurse. Her earliest memories are of a garden in Bray, a village in Berkshire, where her parents had bought a cottage, at the outbreak of war, when Judith was six. She remembers the earth smells, the pungency of leaves in an autumn bonfire. She spent most of her time with Binfield, the gardener. The hay he cut with a scythe smelt of clover.  

She trained as a nurse, and married Alan, a businessman in 1960. They went on to live in Headbourne Worthy House, a big house in a village, near Winchester, with 17 acres. Her first proper garden. She planted around 100 trees. It was here where Judith came up with the idea of setting up a care home. Her elderly mother and mother-in-law had moved in and Judith, with her nursing background, looked after them. Today, The Dower House, a nursing home, near Winchester has 43 residents, and a five-and-a half-acre garden. “If someone likes pink, Judith will put pink tulips in a pot, outside their front door,” says Jessica. “She's very invested in people's care.”

Jessica grew up, the oldest of five, on the edge of a bluebell wood in Cambridgeshire. Her mother was artistic; her stepfather, an aboriculturalist and gardener. In 2014, after graduating from Bath Spa University, where she studied textile design, she saw herself as a stylist or a visual merchandiser. She earned a living as a sales assistant, lived in a small flat in the city centre and longed for a garden. As a child she'd dug for worms with her grandfather. She got an allotment and grew flowers. She found the textures, colours, scent, patterns, intoxicating. “It fulfilled me like nothing else.” In 2016, she trained in a private organic kitchen garden in Gloucestershire. She works there one day a week; three days for Judith.

There are disagreements. Judith favours extreme pruning. Jessica likes things more natural. When she arranges sweet peas in a vase, she includes the twisty tendrils. But they've learned from each other. “Judith has pushed me to be more experimental. To see what happens when you prune hard,” says Jessica. And occasionally, Judith will lay down her secateurs. Jessica points to the giant seed heads of a huge mophead hydrangea, in the garden, typically cut back in winter, and now a home for lots of ladybirds.  “I've won here,” she exclaims with a laugh.  “Jessica has training and knowledge and I respect her for that,” says Judith. “If she says, ‘I don't think that's right’, she's usually right.”

Interview by Sally Williams. 

Photographs by Elena Heatherwick. 

Jessica wears our Bud Check Cotton Shirt Dress and Tie Front Floral Crepe Dress, while Judith wears our Collared Wool Cotton Cardigan from our womenswear collection.

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13 comments

Dear Judith and Jesica, thank you so much for sharing your life and relationship. I loved reading and imagining your day-to-day life, house and ideas you come up together. What a blessing to find such a match, which seems so creative, warm and mutually nourishing. With gratitude and warm wishes for another inspiring year Els

Els 11 months ago

What a lovely relationship. I’m delighted by the details in this article. The very stuff of friendship.

Michele 11 months ago

They have a lovely relationship; although there are disagreements the overall feeling is one of gentleness. And a garden seems be a perfect environment for friendship to develop. My neighbor and I bonded over our garden fence and love of plants. Sadly she died last year but she is still with me when I am in my garden.

Pam 11 months ago

What a wonderful article.. totally agree with Jessica a truly uplifting outcome goes to prove we can all learn from each other through life’s many changing experiences. Wonderfully beautiful 👍 x

Shona 1 year ago

Always good to see women supporting each other. Age gaps are no obstacle to this solidarity.

Celia 1 year ago

Toast articles are so beautifully written. I was drawn in by the theme of women’s relationships with women. I enjoyed learning about the way Judith and Jessica support each other, and how they enjoy they each other’s skills and experience. I love people’s life stories and it was fascinating to learn a little of each woman’s background. Getting older has its challenges, as I’m learning myself now I’m in my 60s. These women uplift each other, and I know, going forward into old age, having supportive, kind relationships can keep your interests and passions alive. Adaptation is key and intergenerational relationships are especially valuable to our collective wellbeing. Thank you x

Helen 1 year ago

RE Judith and Jessica, It was delightful to read and see the possibilities of enriching friendship and shared interest that unfolded between these two women. Equally offering to the other something important and creative. Never know when you are going to meet someone special and life changing. Charmed and uplifted.

Amanda 1 year ago

Not a new ‘model’ but something we need to nurture – inter generational support. Wonderful 😊

Christine 1 year ago

What a wonderful heartwarming recount of two women supporting each other in different ways yet each gaining from the varying strengths of each other. Life changing for both in very positive ways and a prime example of how we could and can work together whatever our ages and circumstances. Excellent

Julie 1 year ago

What a lovely article, both the young and the old have much to share and learn from each other. I work with the elderly (although I am no spring chicken myself)the memories and stories they tell are wonderful

Sandra 1 year ago

What an amazing article!! I follow Jessica on Instagram and also subscribe to her Flower and Land monthly email (from which I followed the link to the article!!) I love seeing the photos and stories that Jessica posts and always feel inspired by what she says and does in her life and especially in her garden(s). The wonderful relationship between Jessica and Judith shines through and you feel you are part of the close friendship that they have! Has made my day reading this….but one question….where was Kipper!! :-)

Hannah 1 year ago

Two beautiful women, lucky to have each other, and no doubt still learning too.

Susan 1 year ago

Great article, lovely pictures.

Miranda 1 year ago