Creating a garden that gives beautiful views
Words by Jake Russell
The celebrated landscape designer Libby Russell explains how she designed one of her most eye-catching London gardens
Albert Place is a Victorian house in Kensington, renovated by Mike Fisher for Studio Indigo Architecture and Design and Emily Todhunter for Todhunter Earle. The garden was designed by Libby Russell of Mazzullo Russell Landscape Design, who spoke to Russell Simpson about working on this unique property.
A difficult project
When Libby Russell began work on Albert Place, the brief was to create a charming London garden that fitted seamlessly with the interior of the house. It needed to be simple and low-maintenance, and because both the drawing room and kitchen had views over the garden, it needed to provide colour throughout the year. At the same time, while creating a calm and quiet space, Libby wanted it to have an individual charm.
Technically, this was a difficult project. A basement was being dug under the property and the garden dropped down to create access from the lower ground floor. This made the garden walls much higher – they were kept at the same level to preserve the privacy of the neighbours – and risked creating a lightless or overshadowed space, even though it faced south. And, because the River Borne ran beneath the property, after the garden was sunk one storey lower, less soil depth remained.
In the end, a clever design solved all these problems at once. Tiered beds were built at the sides and rear, replacing sheer walls with layered stages. This avoided shadowy corners and pockets, Libby Russell explains, by creating a gentle stepped effect, while the raised beds also added to the soil depth. ‘At the same time, by dividing the render and the brick, we could differentiate the space, breaking up the walls so they don’t feel too high.’
The views inside and out
The front garden was also a challenge, because again there was a lack of soil depth. ‘But we still wanted to create an attractive garden, so we used pots with all-season bulbs and planted climbing roses. The trees gave an evergreen structure and the roses and clematis gave soft colours, while also providing interest in the different seasons.
Mazzullo Russell were involved with the project from the start. As Libby explains, the company behind the development, ‘understand the need for the landscape and the architecture to be devised at the same time.’ All the consultants are collected together in one room, with everybody focusing on the key design features from the very beginning. This means you end up with a coordinated project and no surprises.
‘So, we knew what the views were going to be inside and out, knew the flowers would look good from the kitchen, knew the evergreens could be seen from the drawing room, knew the bedroom terrace had a view over the patterns and shapes formed by the paving and brickwork.’
The detail of the design
‘We had to make every square inch work. The paving patterns and the brickwork provide a strong architectural framework, leading the eye to the end of the garden and increasing the sense of space.’
The evidence of this forward planning can be seen in the detail of the design. For instance, the position of the kitchen door and windows coordinates with the brickwork dividing the paved parts of the garden. The colour of the railings is picked up in the garden bench and the dining room seats, meaning inside and outside coordinate. And, the large exterior plant pots compliment the bronze colour of the kitchen doors.
The project was finished in 2021. Though the garden team were forced to plant on the small side, in the intervening years everything has matured, meaning the walls are more thickly clad, enclosing the space in green. Also, the white roses and hydrangeas give real character to the planting, while the outlines are softened by climbers and roses.
Unusual gardens can require more creativity, she concludes, but they often results in a designer’s best work. And this is surely shown by Albert Place.
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