Tag Archives: Christopher Woodward



IMG_4060 (1)               Petit Palais garden with pool, palm trees and golden swags.

I was so surprised by the iridescent energy of the garden of the Petit Palais when I visited this month that I stayed out much too long taking in the different views, framed here by a pair of heavy leaved palm trees…

IMG_4056Petit Palais Garden  – pool and palm trees

…and here, guided by the upward-sweeping branches of the cherry trees with their copper-brown trunks and rosy haze of grasses behind and electric green eyes of just-opening Euphorbia characias in front.
IMG_4106Petit Palais garden – grasses, cherry tree, euphorbia

It is a freezing, clear-skied January morning in Paris. The vistas are open and enticing, huge expanses of pale grey and blue laced with gold:

IMG_4021              Pont Alexandre III, Paris.

A glimpse through a side-door into the empty cavern of a between-exhibitions Grand Palais gets my heart thumping – I am always happily seduced by the heady potential of a rough studio-like space:
                                               Side entrance to the Grand Palais. 

Up the steps and through the imposing arch of the gilded Beaux- Arts doorway – The Petit Palais art museum was built in 1900 for the Exhibition Universelle and then completely renovated over four years from 2001-2005 –

IMG_4022Petit Palais entrance.

and then into the sweep of sunlit corridors of this entirely circular building, with towering glass doors and windows in every direction.


A series of windows overlooking the Seine.

The floors are entirely of mosaic in subtle shades of rust, green, black and mustard against soft white:

IMG_4126Mosiac floor, entrance hall, Petit Palais.

The spacious exhibition halls glide seamlessly into a curved outdoor loggia, with a pair of deep blue and white Sèvres porcelain pots on plinths coaxing you on. The swirling mosaic of the floor is punctuated with lovely circular frosted aqua glass sky lights.

IMG_4035IMG_4043 (2)External loggia, Petit Palais, with a pair of Sèvres porcelain pots on plinths.

Even the curving ceiling of the loggia is decorated with a brown-on-gold trellis festooned with powder blue clematis and pink roses:

IMG_4098The Loggia ceiling, Petit Palais.

Looking back against the interior wall of the loggia, the delicate, punched metal chairs and deep green marble tables add just another layer to the subtle grandeur.

IMG_4050Perfectly judged café chairs and table, Petit Palais.

And then, between the soaring scale of the grey-brown Vosges granite columns, you get your first proper look at the garden.

IMG_4053The Petit Palais garden, framed by Vosges granite columns.

If you look up you see the pale gold swags silhouetted against the sky:IMG_4055




Decorative gold swags silhouetted against the sky

If you look across, out into the garden, you begin to get an idea of the intoxicating lushness of the place.

IMG_4048The lush planting of the Petit Palais garden

This interior courtyard was always intended to provide a breathing place for visitors to the gallery itself. It is a grand but inviting framework for a garden – a deftly designed space with curves and columns of the palest mustard, grey and pink stone, with the deeper tones of the roof tiles and the uplifting gleam of decorative gold.  IMG_4083                                  View along the central axis of the Petit Palais garden.

IMG_4105Curves and columns of the Petit Palais garden.

IMG_4103Close up swirly marble table top and skinny milk-green café chair against strong shapes in pale stone.

It has a fundamental dynamism which invites you in to explore and – enriched by simply brilliant  planting – every view is different.
IMG_4060Palm trees adding structure, gloss and glamour.

I love the mix of tropical plants with grasses and evergreen shrubs and perennials. Palm trees add structure, gloss, glamour and a constant sense of surprise. I have never seen the delicate scattered flowers of the winter flowering cherry Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’ against the weighty arching branches of a banana tree, but here the combination works brilliantly, not least perhaps because of the glint of gold peeping through.

IMG_4059Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’ against banana leaves.

Tough stalwarts of the shadier garden are employed with confidence and energy. Here the waxy dark green leaves and perky just opening flower buds of Fatsia japonica look fresh and handsome against the golden stone:
IMG_4111                                                        Fatsia japonica, Petit Palais garden.

IMG_4044 (1)

Euphorbia characias, Acanthus, Fatsia japonica and Bergenia provide an understory for the deciduous trees.

Elsewhere Euphorbia, Acanthus, Bergenia and Yucca plants combine to make a strong rich green understory for the deciduous trees. I have seen photographs of these cherry trees in spring when their vase-shaped branches are covered in deep pink. This is their moment to swan around outrageously like dancers from the Folies Bergères and I would love to catch the sight for myself.

The other surprising element of the garden is the extensive use of grasses. Here is the most elegant use of pampas grass I know, and the Miscanthus sinensis look graceful and distinguished with their pale fragile heads and rosy winter foliage.



IMG_4109Grasses, including Pampas grass Cortaderia selloana & Miscanthus sinensis, Petit Palais garden.

On either side of the main steps into the garden there are two magnificent fleets of strapping white-painted Versailles planters filled with handsome specimens of palm tree and Magnolia grandiflora:

IMG_4074IMG_4115 IMG_4080

Versailles planters with specimens of palm and Magnolia grandiflora, Petit Palais garden.

I go into the café to warm up and eat an elegant slice of lemon cake with my coffee. “Bon appétit, Madame” says a guard, who is also taking a break. “You must have become very cold out there”. I can barely feel my fingers, but I have had a brilliant half hour. The guard leaves,  bows slightly and wishes me a ‘bonne journée’. I am indeed having a very good day, I think, as I gaze for one more time at the banana leaves and the dancing Miscanthus heads catching the winter light:
IMG_4119Winter heads of Miscanthus sinensis and banana leaves catching the winter sunlight, Petit  Palais garden.

Back in London, I am at the Royal Academy on a glowering January day, a week or so before the opening of its ravishing Painting the Modern Garden exhibition. I am still musing about what it takes to make a successful garden within the walls of a gallery or museum.

IMG_4266Royal Academy, Painting the Modern Garden, 30 January – 20 April 2016.

Clearly one of the main challenges is to create a garden that will look good all year round, often within a very limited space. I head for the Keeper’s House, now a restaurant, café and bar, open to RA friends until 4pm and after that to everyone. Tom Stuart-Smith created a garden here in 2013 in what he describes as ‘one of those curious architectural left over spaces’ with almost no natural light. His aim was to make the garden feel as if it has been dug out of the space with an ‘almost archaeological’ quality.

First glimpses of the garden from the windows of the sophisticated mohair velvet sofas of the Belle Shenkman room are as vibrant and seductive today as they would be in midsummer.



Views from the Belle Shenkman Room at the Royal Academy onto Tom Stuart-Smith’s garden.

The green of the spreading arms of the 250 year old Australian tree ferns brought into the UK under license is dazzling, and Stuart-Smith is superbly vindicated in his use of his favourite  grass, Hakonechloa macra. In its winter form it is a fiery, eye catching streak which lights up the garden further.

You have to go down a flight of stairs to start climbing back into the garden which is elegantly tiered and tiled throughout in dark brick so that the ground and walls are of the same deep earthy tones. The exuberant tree ferns are accompanied only by the hakonecholoa, the low-growing evergreen shrub Pittosporum tobira ‘Nanum’, with just two climbers, Trachelospernum jasminoides and Virginia Creeper for the walls and railings. Here, restraining the planting palette is key.


IMG_4294Ground level views of the Keeper’s House garden, Royal Academy.

When you look up, the energy of the tree ferns is celebratory and infectious.

IMG_4285Looking upwards, Keeper’s House garden, Royal Academy.

I go back into the gallery and start climbing the stairs. What Tom Stuart-Smith has achieved so cleverly is a garden that delivers from any level in the building. I look down through huge panes of glass from the second floor onto David Nash’s blackened wood sculpture, ‘King and Queen’.  The tree ferns and egg-yolk yellow grass are a wonderful foil for these dark figures. This is a fine platform for art and the Academicians must enjoy selecting work for this space.


IMG_4297IMG_4299IMG_4296View onto the Keeper’s House garden, Royal Academy, with ‘King and Queen’ by David Nash.

In 2010 my design partner, Helen Fraser, and I were asked to develop a planting scheme for a new garden at the South London Gallery on the busy Peckham Road.  IMG_4258IMG_4261Exterior of the South London Gallery with and without bus

The Fox Garden was a new space that emerged as part of the 6a architects‘ extension of this constantly innovative contemporary art gallery.


The garden would link the ncafé, NO. 67, with a new building, The Clore Studio, and was flanked on one side by the enormous exterior wall of the main 1891 gallery, and on the other by a tall garden wall.  A much simpler proposition than the Petit Palais or Keeper’s House gardens, but nonetheless a rather unevenly lit garden with the need to look good all year round and to offer change throughout the seasons. The noise and grime of the road outside would increase the sense of surprise when the visitor came across the garden for the first time.slg before 1slg before 2Framework of The Fox Garden – the towering gallery wall with elegant new buildings by 6a architects at either end and a wonderful, sinuous brick path.

Our solution was use tough, hard-working plants which could create an impact for as long a season as possible. The star plant has perhaps been Nandina domestica – or heavenly bamboo – which has thrived here and provides an almost constant succession of white flower sprays followed by red berries:

IMG_4255IMG_4243IMG_4253IMG_4256IMG_4250IMG_1463Nandina domestica – or heavenly bamboo – creating a lush and welcoming atmosphere in The Fox Garden, South London Gallery on a January day.

We have used three flowering dogwoods – Cornus kousa var Chinensis – including a fabulous almost outsize specimen directly outside the café. These illuminate the garden in June, matching the glamour of Paul Morrison’s covetable gilded wall painting in the café atrium, and provide a period of rich autumn colour.

slg cornus

IMG_5568Cornus kousa var Chinensis – with a close up of the beautiful white bracts which surround the tiny flowerhead.

Non Summer 2010 005Non Summer 2010 005

Views through to the flowering dogwood from the No. 67 dining room with its exhilarating  Paul Morrison gold mural.

IMG_2229Claret red autumn colour of the Cornus kousa var Chinensis with Lawrence Weiner’s swooping ‘wall sculture’ on the gallery wall, part of his 2014 ‘All in Due Course’ exhibition.

Other repeated plants are Euphorbia characias with its long lasting lime green bracts…IMG_2179                                      Euphorbia characias with its lime green bracts.

…and Libertia grandiflora which we love for its white flowers in May, long lasting seedheads, and year round architectural presence:

IMG_5567IMG_5555Libertia grandiflora which makes everyone smile the garden in May.

The Libertia even makes Heidi smile – Heidi, gardener of The Fox Garden, is of course the secret ingredient:IMG_5543                                        Heidi – The Fox Garden’s secret ingredient.

Happily it seems that gardens within museums and cafés are providing so much enjoyment that there are new gardens in development wherever you look. Right here in the South London Gallery a new garden by artist Gabriel Orozco is slowly emerging to be unveiled in the autumn of 2016.

A couple of miles away at the Garden Museum, next to Lambeth Bridge, Dan Pearson is designing a completely new garden within a substantial extension by Dow Jones Architects.


 Tradescant Knot Garden, Garden Museum – image thanks to www.culture24.org.uk.

The design has been a challenge, not least because a decision had to be made to lose the knot garden of the existing Tradescant Garden, but Garden Museum director Christopher Woodward tells me ‘Dan has designed a new garden which will try to startle the visitor with unusual shapes and beauties and surprise you with unfamiliar plants … I hope the space with have something of that atmosphere of the Zumpthor-Oudolf pavilion at the Serpentine a few years ago’.

ImageProposed garden café within the new Dow Jones Architects’ pavilions. Garden to be designed by Dan Pearson. Visualisation by Forbes Massie, image courtesy of The Garden Museum.

The Garden Museum is in the safest possible hands with the thoughtful and often magical input of Dan Pearson. The reference to my absolute favourite of the Serpentine Gallery‘s annual summer Pavilions – the 2011 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion designed by architect Peter Zumthor with planting by master plantsman Piet Oudolf  – makes the new garden a tantalising prospect.

I look through my photographs and find only a few hazy images of my visit to this blackened, open-roofed, box-like cloistered garden that landed for a few summer months next to the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens. I remember being surprised and deeply cheered by the almost physical pull this hidden garden had on passers-by on a completely beautiful day in an already completely beautiful green space. The contrast between the plain, rather severe building and the planting (which became taller and blousier and more relaxed as the summer wore on) was compelling, and the impact of sunlight and shadows on the space was exciting and dynamic.

IMG_4521Images of the Piet Oudolf planting within the Peter Zumthor Serptentine Gallery Pavilion, September 2011.

I hope that when it is warm again I will have the chance to return to Paris to visit a museum garden that fell off my list on my recent trip.  The Musée de la Vie Romantique is housed in a green shuttered villa in Montmartre which belonged to the 19th Century artist, Ary Sheffer. It is said to have a lovely garden and outdoor café with poppies, foxgloves and fragrant roses. I read somewhere that it is the perfect place to sit amongst the roses sipping tea and pretend to be Georges Sand who famously lived nearby. Now this is a whole new angle on museum garden visiting.

A piece I have written for The Daily Telegraph on other gardens to visit in Paris will be published in the Spring.













garden museum against blackUnspeakable February storms and not being able to drive for a couple of weeks has meant that apart from being chauffeured to see this extraordinarily transformed – because so rarely flooded – water meadow in Suffolk:IMG_0695

there has been a slightly feverish need to get a horticultural fix in the city wherever it can be found.

The weather app on my iPhone last Tuesday foretold that despite black skies and continuous sheets of rain all morning – it would be sunny in the afternoon.  By 1pm I could sense there might be some truth in this. I slammed the front door behind me and headed speedily for the Chelsea Physic Garden, lured by the idea of witnessing a snowdrop theatre and the knowledge that this beautiful walled garden in which grapefruit and pomegranates ripen to full size -outdoors! – would be the most sheltered place I could find if the weather suddenly turned on its head.

snowdrop theatreThe snowdrop theatre was sweetly enchanting in its perfection and an intelligent, uncluttered way of comparing the different cultivars.  You enter a dangerous world, of course, and it was swiftly done to lose my heart to the gorgeous, lantern shaped, seersucker-petalled Galanthus plicatus ‘Diggory’:

Image.aspxDespite its glamorous appearance, ‘Diggory’ is a vigorous snow drop, if fairly slow to increase,  and would work perfectly happily in a semi-shaded garden situation.

But I soon fell, even more seriously, for another, quieter, utterly lovely snowdrop, Galanthus plicatus ‘Wendy’s Gold’ :another wendy's gold close up wendys goldI love the slight glow of its rich yellow markings and the slim bell-like simplicity of its petals.  ‘Wendy’s Gold’ is the favourite snowdrop of botanical artist, Helga Crouch http:/www.wildlybotanical.co.uk  whose storybook garden in Essex I have written about for the December 2014 edition of Gardens Illustrated Magazine. Helga has a reliable eye for the exquisite and it was brilliant to see ‘Wendy’s Gold’ for myself, better still to learn that it is again an easy garden snowdrop and best of all to be able to buy some there and then at the Physic Garden.

But it was also riveting, within the perfectly groomed context of the snowdrop theatre, to see that the darting elegance of the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis holding up so extremely well against its less well known – and more expensive – rivals.


There was a great, very simple idea at the Physic Garden for using Galanthus nivalis in large pots – mass planting the snow drops in a mound of soil and using moss to cover the bare earth:

big pot nivalis sunpot shade

Naomi Slade was giving a talk at the garden when I visited and spoke about the different approaches to planting snowdrops in pots.  There is also really helpful practical advice on the website http://www.galanthus.co.uk.

The main reason that collections of snowdrops are kept, preciously and expertly, in alpine houses is to get the watering regime right.  Potted snowdrops need watering throughout their full growth cycle, not just when they are in flower. If they are allowed to get dry and badly wilted, ‘even once’ says Galanthus, (this is where gardening can feel seriously intimidating), the bulbs are likely go dormant prematurely and may take a couple of years to flower well again. The pot should never be allowed to freeze either  – snowdrops are fine, of course, when the ground is frozen but they become vulnerable when in freezing temperatures above ground.

But most gardeners agree that it is still worth a try. The best chance of success is to use a large container and fill it with a thoughtful compost mix – Naomi’s recipe is for John Innes, leaf mould, bonemeal and grit – which, snow drops being greedier than you might think both in pots and in the ground – you replenish every year. In a shady, city garden Naomi proposed a large pot with snowdrops for the early spring and a handsome hosta for summer.  I recommend snow drops planted at the base of the compact, reddish-green Hydrangea preziosa which work brilliantly well in a container and are, of course, bare stemmed at this time of year.


One of the most effective use of snow drops I have seen in a small garden is in the front gardens of the beautiful painted 17th Century wooden lakeside houses in Broek in Waterland just outside Amsterdam – a cosy and atmospheric place to stay if you are visiting the city.broek misty house broek in waterland lakeIn the garden below, the design is clean and spare – a row of glossy topiaried trees densely underplanted with snowdrops, smart and pretty against the deep gloss of the cool grey and white paintwork of the house.

broek snowdrops broek snowdrops closeupBack in Camberwell, my friend, the artist Charlotte Verity  http:/www.charlotteverity.co.uk urged me to walk down the hill to see ‘one of the great London sights of spring’.  camberwell front garden close up massed flowersIt was indeed brilliant to see such a wild sea of white snow drops and mauve Crocus tommasinianus in a world of quiet front lawns and too many recycling bins.

At the top of the hill, Crocus tommasinianus is planted in a more restrained semi circle around a single multi stemmed Magnolia:

closed crocus circle closed crocus close up

The difference in colour intensity after half an hour of February sunshine never fails to amaze me:purple crocus circle purple crocous close up

The great thing about this semi circle of purple is that everyone stops to smile at it for a few weeks and then the lawn returns obediently to green as the year progresses.  I love the idea of secret plantings of crocus. I have a friend who stealthily planted his wife’s initial in the lawn one September so that she would see a silvery-mauve letter ‘O’ suddenly emerge the following Spring.  And I remember seeing a great photograph of long herbaceous borders in the garden at Petersham Nurseries – in a scheme designed, I think, by Mary Keen  – in which the grass path between the borders was planted with crocus creating a playful, chequerboard effect for early spring.

But enough of gorgeous spring days.  When the weather, even in London, was truly atrocious in the middle of the week, the only solution was to go flower hunting inside.

The feisty floral artist, Rebecca Louise Law (www.rebeccalouiselaw.com) was having a solo exhibition at the Coningsby Gallery.GalleryInviteCAROUSEL-1080x580Entering the space you are drawn immediately to the sunnily-lit main installation, ‘The Hated Flowers’:

the hated flowers

hated flowers close upIt is an absolute pleasure to come close to the pink, yellow and red flowers dancing deliciously and plentifully form the sky light on their spun frame of glistening copper wires.  Daughter of a Head Gardener at Anglesey Abbey, Rebecca trained in Fine Art at Newcastle University and has been working in ambitious and original ways with flowers for seventeen years.

I wondered why the title  “The Hated Flowers”?  Rebecca explains that it is a “piece I have wanted to do ever since I experienced the ‘Floristry’ world.  Coming from Art and using flowers as my material, I found it fascinating listening to Florist’s opinions and trends on what flowers to use.  The first rule of high class Floristry is to never buy Chrysanthemums or Carnations, not even to stock them.  I suppose I just wanted to make a statement about this’

We have a very good conversation about the powerful tyranny of fashion in everything including flowers.  Rebecca also tells me more about some of her other works in the exhibition which explore her constant struggle with the ephemeral nature of cut flowers.

There were some wonderful smaller installations: glass cases filled with an alluring complexity of papery dried flowers, butterflies and other treasures.

Also some seductive still life photographs – in collaboration with the photographer Tom Hartford:

pair still life

I really liked these: wonderful homages to Dutch Still Life painting with the Rebecca Louise Law twist of introducing tiny plastic figures into the scene – a Busby Berkeley capped lady swimmer with towel ready for a bathe, a few suited executives ploughing their way through the jungly foliage, a little family group of horses neatly trotting along a leaf.

On the other side of the River, I was blown away later that day by the scale, billowing shape and gorgeous subtlety of her installation in the main body of Garden Museum to celebrate the Museum’s current exhibition, ‘Fashion & Gardens’:

garden museumMy friend, Alice Burroughes and I could not wipe the smiles from our faces.  Museum Director, Christopher Woodward emerged to say hello.  He revealed that the best thing currently about his job was lying on the floor at the end of the day to look upwards: garden museum ceiling

Alice suggested they provide bean bags to encourage people to lie down or that they copy the mirrored trolley idea at Norwich Cathedral which lets you admire the ceiling without strain.

But actually it was fine just noticing the difference in the flowers from different viewpoints. Wonderful and peaceful against black:garden museum against black

hazy and fragmented against the stained glass:


Alice and I could not resist one last plant fix and walked back to the Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House to see ‘A Dialogue with Nature, Romantic Landscapes from Britain and Germany’.

One particularly luminous watercolour to recommend: Caspar David Friedrich’s ‘Moonlit Landscape’ thought to have been painted around 1808:

Caspar_David_Fried_2807602bA fantastic, ethereal painting in which a full moon floats brightly and symbolically (representing Christ) above a shadowy lakeside scene.  The painting is unusual because it is a ‘transparent’ – the moon’s almost halo-like clarity is achieved by inserting a piece of plain paper behind a hole cut in the painting.  The idea was for transparents to be viewed in a darkened room, lit from behind by a candle, accompanied by music. An unsurpassably civilised solution to a wet and windy night.

Tonight, however, I confess that I will be spending the evening with 7 boys and one girlfriend watching Wales v. France, Six Nations Rugby, on the telly.

My name, Non, is the name of the mother of St David and I am 100% Welsh. One final toast to Rebecca Louise Law who created this supremely cheerful trailing and fluttering column of daffodils for the London Welsh Centre on St David’s Day – March 1st 2011! St-Davids-Flagr-360x480