Tag Archives: Christopher Bradley-Hole

Pictorial or immersive gardens (part 2) – mostly immersive style because that is what interests us more

Part one is here.  You may wish to check the definitions of pictorial and immersive gardens. 

The designers whose work we seek out – often travelling great distances across England to do so – are Piet Oudolf, Tom Stuart-Smith, Dan Pearson, James Hitchmough and Nigel Dunnett with the work coming out from Sheffield University and, to a lesser extent, Christopher Bradley-Hole.

More pictorial than immersive – the Oudolf borders at Wisley RHS

We started with that giant of the New Perennials movement, Piet Oudolf. Who doesn’t? We have seen Oudolf’s work in several places – including Wisley, Trentham Gardens, Scampston, Pensthorpe and Bury Court. I like the controversial glasshouse borders at Wisley (though not so much on the last visit when they had all been freshly mulched in gravel which I found a bit too utility) though I acknowledge that they are more pictorial than immersive. Mark finds them a bit stripey. Our least favourite was Scampston which led me to think that he is probably a better plantsman than designer. Mark is given to describing some of his work as being ‘contemporary Gertrude Jekyll on steroids’ – particularly the large-scale work at places like Trentham and Pensthorpe.

Immersive Oudolf at Bury Court – also the difference between a domestic garden and public work

My absolute favourite is his very early commission on the walled garden at Bury Court. It really is magical and part of that is the scale which is much smaller, more detailed and domestic in nature. What designers create in private commissions is very different to what they do on large scale, public projects and it is interesting seeing both, even though our main focus is domestic gardens. The third aspect is what they do in their own private garden but we have missed the opportunity to see that with Oudolf. He closed his private garden, Hummelo, in the Netherlands last year.

On our July trip, we had scheduled in a visit to the much acclaimed new Oudolf gardens at the Hauser and Wirth gallery in Somerset as well as his early work at Potters Field in London that we have not yet seen.

Stuart-Smith at Mount St John in Yorkshire

We first saw Tom Stuart-Smith’s work at Wisley, too – the border plantings that edge the glasshouse lake. It was a bit early in the season and more recently planted, I think, and we weren’t blown away by it on that first visit. Subsequent visits have made us appreciate it more. The privilege of visiting his private commission at Mount St John in Yorkshire was different altogether. The sunny parterre immediately in front of the rather grand residence was sublime. Sure it was large scale and big budget. From memory, it is the home of a supermarket magnate. But it was a garden that invited you in to experience walking through it while it stretched out to the wider landscape beyond. My photos don’t do it justice.

More traditional  pictorial design at Mt St John – still the work of Stuart-Smith

Immersive design. The hedge at the far side is all that separates this garden from the more traditional one above

Just by way of illustrating the difference between immersive and pictorial gardens, look at these two side by side. It was the fully planted parterre that drew us in and made us catch our breaths in delight. Immediately adjacent to that, also in front of the house and looking out to the view was a more conventional lawn flanked by twin borders. Same designer, same location – two very different experiences. While admiring the horticultural excellence of the latter, it didn’t draw me in and make me want to linger as the more detailed and planted parterre did.

We have also seen his work at Trentham Gardens where most photos I have seen don’t do it justice. The photos I saw on line and in books all made those enormous parterres look very bitsy. In real life, the plantings are large and exuberant and they wrap around, obliterating that bitsy look that is a legacy of historic design features. Visiting a garden in person is a very different experience to looking at photos or videos.

On our July visit, we were planning to rush down from Shropshire to catch the Wednesday opening at Broughton Grange – another private commission of his. We really wanted to visit in person because we have only seen it in photos and it features that Stuart-Smith trademark of clipped caterpillar hedges undulating through a parterre. It was the inspiration for our own caterpillar garden at home which has nothing to do with caterpillars but is defined by the undulating internal hedging.

Bradley-Hole at Bury Court

So too was Christopher Bradley-Hole’s grass garden at Bury Court a direct inspiration. There is another private garden of his design and execution that is sometimes open by appointment. I found it last trip – in Surrey, I think – but we just ran out of time. I was planning to find it again and see if we could include it this time.

Early Pearson at Torrecchia Vecchia

We came to the work of Dan Pearson a little later. We have seen an example of his early work at Torrecchia Vecchia in Italy, his public sector work around the Kings Cross redevelopment in London and the perfection of a smaller, private commission in the Cotswolds. It is such gentle, but inspirational gardening. On this visit, we planned to go to Chatsworth Castle, specifically to search out his part of the garden. As I recall, it was a re-creation of this that won him gold at Chelsea a few years ago. Then we were heading north to see his ongoing work at Lowther Castle. My impression is that it is a softer, more English take on a romantic garden in the style of Ninfa in Italy but I have only seen photos.

Pearson perfection in a private Cotswolds garden. This was my first choice of image but then I went away and thought I have done exactly what I have referred to – picked the one section of the garden that is full of sharp detail and more pictorial in style.

Parts of the garden were like this…

and this. Maybe what made this garden so successful is the sensitive marriage of both pictorial and immersive styles in the one domestic space.

While in the north, we were going to take in the historic topiary at Levens Hall because we are not only going to look at the modern gardens and experiencing some of the historical work gives  context to what followed. I would happily have gone back to see Arabella Lennox-Boyd’s private garden, Gresgarth, which is in the same area (roughly speaking) if time allowed.

The enchanting Hitchmough meadow at Wisley in its early days

I have written often about the magic of James Hitchmough’s Missouri Meadow garden at Wisley when we first saw it in 2009. Magic is not too strong a word, even 11 years later. It was enchanting. We also watched it disintegrate and lose all its charm on subsequent visits and that is what made us interested in seeing how some of these looser, more naturalistic plantings mature over time. It made us realise that no gardens are maintenance free though some are lighter on maintenance requirements. And different skills are needed to manage such plantings. Given that Wisley is staffed with some of the very best and keenest horticulturists in the country, I am sure that major lessons have been learned. We wanted to see what those lessons were and how management of these plantings has evolved both by the designers and those tasked with their ongoing maintenance.

More recently, Dunnett at Trentham Gardens

Hitchmough and his colleague, Nigel Dunnett, were both leading lights in the much-acclaimed Olympic Park landscaping which we visited several years later. Also Dunnett at the Barbican rooftop garden in London, though it was the unexpected discovery of his work at Trentham Gardens that was the greatest highlight. That has been extended greatly (Trentham extends most things greatly, really) and we wanted to see both the newly planted areas and how those original plantings had matured.

We were also planning to spend two nights in Sheffield to look at their public sector work on greening the grey of the inner city. But the real highlight was when I found that their private, home gardens were both opening one Sunday afternoon for the National Gardens Scheme. I structured the whole itinerary of our UK leg around that Sunday afternoon. This would complete the set of having seen public sector work, private commissions and how they choose to garden in their own space. Maybe even meeting them and being able to talk briefly. We were also planning to see James Hitchmough’s borders at the Oxford University botanic gardens which are reputedly excellent and lasting the distance better than his earlier meadow at Wisley.

Wildside – created by a master gardener and plantsman

Finally, we had arranged to return to Wildside, one of the most innovative and exciting gardens we have seen, created not by a designer but by a plantsman. We are really sorry to miss the opportunity to meet with Keith Wiley again, especially as he has now started work on the last area he had to develop.

Wiley at Wildside in 2014. Keith was explaining his plans for his last area to be developed – now under way.

When an unsolicited invitation arrived to visit the private garden of a leading designer – you don’t ask for such a privilege, you understand – we were a-quiver with excitement. In the end, we couldn’t make our dates fit so it was not to be. This is perhaps just as well because it would have escalated our disappointment to a whole new level when everything had to be cancelled.

And that was the trip that was not to be in this strange era we are living through.

NB: If you want to know more about any of the gardens or designers mentioned here, a Google search will bring up a wealth of information. Putting the name in the search box on the top right of this page will bring up more information and photos on most of them from our personal perspective. 

 

Alliums at Mount St John. It was interesting going through my photos. In pictorial gardens, I tend to have framed landscape views and vistas or photographs of man-made focal points. In immersive gardens, I mostly take photos on a close-up scale – and many more of them at that. My photos are much more about colour, plant combinations and plant forms.

 

The garden at Bury Court

Layers of Oudolf plantings in the walled garden

One of the gardens that so impressed us on our 2014 visit that we wanted to go back and have another look was Bury Court Barn near Farnham in Surrey. On this recent visit, we were honoured to be taken around by the garden owner himself, John Coke. I say honoured because while this garden is attributed to two big name designers – Piet Oudolf and Christopher Bradley-Hole – this does not accurately reflect the skills and hands-on involvement of the garden owner himself. It is very much his place.

The front garden was the first to be done and is a walled area. We have seen a number of large scale Oudolf plantings now. Bury Court is early Oudolf but, more interestingly, it is domestic and private in scale and design which makes it very different. The perennial plantings are still big, bold and bouffy but on a scale suited to this environment.  I look at the photos and I see how much thought has gone into the combinations and juxtaposition of plants but when you are surrounded by them in person, it is more an experience of being enveloped by the vibrancy.

One of the prettiest of meadows

The meadow is signature Oudolf, I realised when I spotted the Trentham grass rivers. And tactile, evocative, full of gentle movement and startlingly pretty. Again, deceptive simplicity. John Coke wryly noted that to keep it looking as it does makes it the most labour intensive area of the garden. We saw the same hands-on intensive maintenance going into Les Carrés Américains at Le Jardin Plume in Normandy. There are lower maintenance styles of meadow but they won’t look like this one.

Clearly the white wedding border by the functions hall in a converted barn

Bury Court has embraced the wedding and events market, as have many gardens. We have done the opposite and shunned weddings at least, but that is another story. I couldn’t help but notice the brilliant placement of all the event paraphernalia. They do the full shooting box – wedding ceremony, function, corporate events and all but it has been organised so that it does not dominate or dictate the nature of the entire property and the privacy of the home has been preserved by clever design, not barriers. Despite a sophisticated functions set-up, it still feels a personal and private garden.

The techniques of separation of different areas of this garden are both subtle and effective

Considering they started with quite a lot of buildings (oast houses, even!) and the area is not huge, the design skills that underpin this discreet separation are considerable but hidden. As I commented on the perfect Cotswolds garden, the thing about really-o, truly-o good design is that you don’t notice it but it underpins the entire garden environment and experience. As we sat having coffee in the front grass garden, there was a wedding taking place but it was entirely removed from us. I would have asked John Coke about this subtle separation had I thought about it at the time. It was only afterwards that it occurred to me that this was what had been achieved and that it was done by skill, not chance. My guess is that this is the result of a collaborative effort between the designer of the front garden, Piet Oudolf, and the garden owner himself.

The grass garden at Bury Court

I wanted to go back to Bury Court to have another look at the grass garden, a more recent major garden designed by Christopher Bradley-Hole. Despite my initial cynicism (how could a garden comprised almost entirely of grasses be remotely interesting?), I found it nothing short of inspirational when we first saw it in 2014. In the intervening three years, it appears that the flowering perennial count has dropped We worked it out to be about one perennial to eight grasses on that earlier visit but that seems unlikely now that the grasses have matured.

A bold Japanese-inspired summer house and reflecting pool

This grass garden is signature Bradley-Hole, I am told – sharp-edged, geometric design filled with gentle movement and informal plantings. On a second visit, I noticed the level of unobtrusive detail that underpins this garden – how the slight change of ground levels is handled, the definition and the materials used to strengthen the sharp lines of the design, the proportions of the summer house, the pond and the total space. Again, highly skilled design can be so subtle that you are barely aware of it yet it provides the foundation for everything else.

Now I want to see this garden in the autumn when the grasses are all shades of tawny gold and brown.

Again, I have too many photos of this particularly good garden to use in this post so have added an additional album to our Facebook garden page.

Garden owner and creator, John Coke