Landscape designer, John Brookes MBE, died earlier this year at the age of 84, regarded as the ‘the man who made the modern garden’, he spent a lifetime designing gardens and landscapes in Britain and around the world. Some of his best-known gardens include the College Green Garden at Westminster Abbey, Fitzroy Square and the Barakura English Garden in Japan.
One of his more recent designs was for my house. Completed in 2017, it is a rare privilege to sit in our beautiful courtyard garden and appreciate his eye for beauty, space and detail.
I first heard of John Brookes as an impressionable architecture student at Brighton Polytechnic in the late 1980s. The landscape lectures were memorable and enjoyable, and included a great introduction to the modernist landscape designs of John Brookes.
Fast forward several decades and I’m building my own home on a tight plot in Emsworth, Hampshire. I realise that the outside spaces will be critical to the home’s success and that I need a landscape designer. John Brookes’ home and garden at Denmans is only 30-minutes down the road from me.
When I meet John, he was already in his 80s and still working (I wasn’t sure he would be). My site was an un-presupposing brownfield site with no natural features, but he was enthusiastic none-the-less and keen to understand how the courtyard spaces interact with the architecture. He said he’d fit my project around some other work he was doing in Argentina. He would do the concept design and I would do the detail (something I readily agreed to, before realising how hard landscape detailing is!).
His design features a quarry-tiled courtyard (tiles flowing from inside to outside), using a running stretcher-bond pattern in two directions to define two outdoor areas; one for outdoor eating that connects to our dining room and a reflection-pond that connects to our living room. His simplicity of design belies the skill it takes to distil the essence of the space. The space flows harmoniously with the house, suits our life-style and feels twice the size it actually is.
John began work in the 1950s and vigorously broke with previous garden design traditions and the emphasis on showcasing plants by advocating the use of gardens as extensions of the home. Also ahead of his time, he introduced the notion that a garden could be low-maintenance as well as beautiful.
His energetic writing, teaching, and appearances on television meant that he became widely regarded as the ‘king’ and the ‘godfather’ of garden and landscape design.
His influence and legacy in design is far-reaching and will be long-lived. But from my very personal perspective, his legacy is the daily enjoyment of living in the outdoor spaces he created for us.