BLADES OF GLORY
The garden at Sheila and Christopher Richards’ 17th-century house has an unexpectedly contemporary feel, with a network of angular paths and beds full of ornamental grasses. “It’s
like a modern knot garden,” says Sheila, “which is a pleasing nod to the period of the house.”
In the past two years, this small garden in Brentford, west London, has undergone a trans- formation. For two decades, it had been a square lawn with mature shady trees and dark-toned flowers, all of which could be seen in one glance. When honey fungus killed the trees, Sheila and Christopher decided it was time for a change – and they did not have to look far to find a garden designer to help. In 2014, their niece, Sophie
Walker, had become the youngest woman to design a garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Having spent a lot of time at her uncle and aunt’s house, she was full of ideas for it. “I had never seen a garden entirely of grasses and I set it as a challenge to myself,” she says.
The brief was simple: no lawn and no colour. “Christopher is an architect so he only likes black and white,” laughs Sheila. “We told Sophie we wanted a green and white palette, and got rid of all the other flowers.” The only ones Sheila wanted to keep were peonies, but Sophie dug them up by mistake. “Two survived and they’re white, thank goodness, so Christopher approves.”
The new geometric paths, and the grasses that soften them, appeal to Christopher’s eye for
precision and to Sheila’s enthusiasm for plants. “We like the limited range of materials,” she says, “just aluminium, gravel, water and grasses.”
Pink and purple foxgloves have been replaced by lush greens through the summer, and a mix of grasses that take on golden, red and russet tones in autumnal light. In winter, seedheads are left to stand, making a feature in the frost. “I like the fact that it has year-round interest,” Sheila says.
The grasses have been grouped by height and colour; some beds are silver in winter, others more golden. Compact grasses such as Carex
‘Little Midge’ and Pennisetum alopecuroides contrast with those that reach head height, such as Miscanthus sinensis ‘Flamingo’ and
Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’. The planting lets light through and creates movement.
“I wanted it to blow in the breeze,” says Sophie. Sheila loves the result: “When the wind blows, you can hear it going through the grasses and the swaying has a very calming effect.”
Now there is a fresh view at every turn. “The garden is only a hundred and fifty square feet but seems bigger,” say Sheila, “and it’s not all apparent at once.” There is nothing they miss from the old garden – apart from a few peonies, perhaps.