In the 18th Century the exterior landscaping of the English country house was as carefully considered as the architectural design of the house itself. Although my family home is a 1780 London town house, when it came to the gutting and redesign of our Camberwell abode, the first thing I did was think about the garden. I’m happy that the time and effort has paid off, as we were asked to be part of the new Gardenista book “The Definitive Guide to Stylish Outdoor Spaces”, published this week.
An oasis of calm. My Camberwell Garden in Gardenista.
21 October 2016
We bought our house in Camberwell when Charlotte was eight months pregnant and I threw all my energy into restoring the house back to its Georgian roots. My desire was for the garden to look as old as the house itself.
I asked each and everybody, “What shall I do? Put money into the house or build a pond in the garden?” “Put the money into the house.” they all sensibly said. So I built the pond. The pond I had always dreamt of. A classical pond with a fountain and ancient architectural fragments, that would grow lichen and moss and become my ultimate obsession. An eighteen foot long, six foot-six deep pond, that took four men a month to dig by hand. It became the home of my eight koi carp.
With help of Bruce Cavell it became clear to me that it was essential to connect the basement kitchen to the garden to omit the small, dark patio garden. Serendipity played a hand during one of my antique hunting days, leading me to some 18th Century Portland stone steps which were the perfect scale. I am lucky that my good friend and legendary garden designer Iain MacDonald advised me on the planting around the step area. As Veere Grenney once said ‘even the inspired amateur needs the help of a professional from time to time’.
The planting became an obsession much to everyone’s dismay. The science and harmony of growth and landscape is an absolute art, but luckily my jumble of plants have worked out a way of growing together. Hydrangeas, peonies, verbena, alliums and Echinacea are just a few of my favourite plants I bought to grow in the garden. I built exterior ‘rooms’; a cottage garden, a walled garden and the water garden. Although there were trees in the garden, I wanted to buy more trees that would distract the eye from the narrow width. I bought holly, yew, bay and lemon trees that blended in with those already growing.
Unfortunately, not many mornings start like this… The frantic race to get the children to school starts from the minute we wake and the landscape of our garden has been organically altered by Cookie (the dog) digging up her bones in the small section of lawn. But there is still nothing more relaxing than coming home to my hand crafted oasis. The garden continues to inhabit new fragments every year, and on my Birthday this year, we added Mo and Baxter, two baby tortoises that Charlotte gave me. Apparently, tortoises recognise your voice and I can’t wait for them to grow a little and put this to the test. It will be exciting to see them come to greet us from the undergrowth of the garden.