Ornamental grasses and a geometric path create a calm space in this London garden designed by Sophie Walker
No lawn, no bright flowers and limited maintenance was the brief from the owners of a west London house when, in 2014, they asked, Sophie Walker to redesign the garden. Their once-pretty cottage garden had become increasingly shaded by the trees they had planted 20 years earlier; the lawn had neveramounted to much and, when honey fungus claimed a majestic acer and several fruit trees they decided it was time for a change.
Sophie’s solution was radical. Using the clearance of the trees and the light that was let in as a starting point, she set out to create something completely different to what had gone before. “Unusually for London, the house is a 17th-century cottage and I wanted the garden to feel like a field or a meadow,” she says, “very soft and engaged with the wind and the sky.” Sophie decided that ornamental grasses, with their swaying forms were the answer. Now fountains of miscanthus, clouds of eschampsia and stands of Calamagrostis x acutiflora rustle and swish, animated by the breeze and the light. Taller grasses such as Miscanthus sinensis ‘Silberfeder’ and M. sinensis ‘Professor Richard Hansen’ are situated further from the house, while lower-growing species such as Eragrostis spectabilis mingle with herbs by the back door. The space now feels free and open, but with mystery. The same stands of grass that appear so ethereal in the sunlight also act as effective screens, concealing parts of the garden at first glance.
To discover them, you must follow the angular, aluminium-edged path, a stark contrast to the tickling grasses around it. “I like the idea that you go into a garden to have a journey of some sort, even if it’s to come back to where you started from,” says Sophie. “You could walk anywhere across the lawn before, but this garden helped me learn the power of the path; that the garden maker can set out that journey and give that direction.” The owners are delighted with the result, describing it as mesmeric. The path is proving a revelation too, especially for self-confessed ‘geometry nerd’ Christopher, who walks in the garden every morning. “I like to vary my route, though,” he smiles. “I get up and think ‘Today I will go this way, and see where it leads.”