Making a plan for the perfect London garden
Words by Jake Russell
Landscape designer Libby Russell tell us how she created a dream family garden in Chelsea
80 Elm Park Road is an Edwardian house in Chelsea, whose garden was the responsibility of Libby Russell of Mazzullo + Russell Landscape Design. In the third of a series of three articles, Libby speaks to Russell Simpson about this unique property.
When Libby Russell started work on 80 Elm Park Road, she had several priorities: to design a beautiful garden that was low maintenance, to provide enough space for the family to play on the lawn or eat outside, to make sure the new lower ground floor had an attractive view of the garden, and to hide the property’s air conditioning units.
One of her first structural decisions was an avenue of pleached magnolia trees leading from the back of the house to the far side of the garden. At the end of this avenue, a doorway gave access to the air conditioning units and garden shed, concealed by a painted lattice.
‘Walls are always very important in London gardens,’ Libby explains. ‘Evergreen elements are important too, because people want something pretty all year round. Our clients are often away in the summer, but the magnolias give beautiful colours in the early spring.’
A Peaceful Space
Pleached trees are a glamorous way of marking out a pathway. The beds alongside the path were then planted with pale buff roses, as well as blue clematis, to make sure there would be flowers in both the spring and summer. The pale colour of the roses was uniform enough to give the garden a peaceful feel, while the climbers would slowly grow to cover the brickwork. Meanwhile, shade-loving plants were placed under the big tree at the back of the lawn, and attractive climbers like evergreen scented jasmine were placed near the house. Taken together, they give the garden ‘a sense of order, calm, charm.’
Not only were the owners of the property involved in each stage, but there was enthusiastic collaboration between the architects, interior and exterior teams. For example, the lower ground floor was extended to include a staircase leading up to the garden. That staircase was placed parallel to the rear façade, so that it did not intrude too deeply into the garden and so that more light would reach the lower ground floor. However, the white stucco finish needed some colour, so Libby designed a pair of living walls, creating an inset column of green rising vertically through the staircase.
"The fun thing about garden design is that every project is different. Sometimes the designs are more interesting when there are more restraints, because you’ve got to be clever."
Libby has worked in landscape design for over twenty-five years. She founded Mazzullo Russell with Emma Mazzullo in 2014, and within seven years it was named in the Top 50 Garden Designers by House & Garden and Country Life’s 100 designers in the UK. Together, they work all over England and in parts of Europe too, with a mix of major London houses, country gardens, and smaller gardens where they feel that they can bring something original.
She compares her work to ‘alchemy’. As ever, you need to balance between the dictates of the space – light, shade, soil, aspect – and the requirements of the client. Then there’s her own creative input too: ‘We create very precisely designed gardens, but we like a lot of romantic planting, so that your soul is anchored by the cleanness of the design and the good execution of the work, but the softness of the planting allows that romance and you feel like you’re in an oasis miles from anywhere.’
Much of that process is subconscious, blending together a wide range of inspirations with the particular requirements of the setting. However, when asked whether she has a favourite kind of project, Libby replies: ‘The fun thing about garden design is that every project is different. Sometimes the designs are more interesting when there are more restraints, because you’ve got to be clever. I love the large English country garden, but some of our best work has been done in London, where the confines make the planting design more difficult.’ Looking at the garden at 80 Elm Park Road, it’s hard to disagree.