Courtfield Gardens West, London

English gardens are a lot like buses. Especially the number 10–from Hammersmith to King’s Cross–during the current roadworks in Knightsbridge.

There was even Callistemon planted here: the Australian bottlebrush

Callistemon (Australian bottlebrush) at Courtfield Gardens West

I think I probably averaged around three garden visits a week this summer. It was a hard job, but I was dedicated to the task at hand, with eight long years of catching up to do.

Whilst strong forms of plants were used, clever combinations ensure nothing overly dominated the rest

Strong plants forms don’t need to dominate if they are cleverly balanced and combined

But now we have reached cold old December, many gardens have closed their gates for winter and most others look a little (understandably) tired and same-y. And so, in large part, I have hung up my boots ready for the wonderful deluge of bulbs come Spring, accepting the unfortunate correlation with bus arrival times.

Planting reach right up to the buildings, softening the vertical built elements at Courtfield Gardens West

Plantings soften the vertical built elements at Courtfield Gardens West

There are some positives to be had, however. Do you remember me promising to post about the London Square gardens I visited, way, way back in…um…shall I admit it?…June? It turns out it’s pretty uplifting to sort through these photos and be reminded of that abundant, fresh spring growth and warm, comfortable temperatures and the joy that will, inevitably, come round again before too long.

Just stunning textures in this planting, with beautifully naturalistic placing of plants

Just stunning textures, with naturalistically interwoven placing of plants

So in between the three indulgent trips we have booked abroad this winter, which I’m hoping keep me sane for this first, already somewhat challenging winter (and enable some unscheduled garden arrivals whilst we’re there), I’m very much looking forward to revisiting–at least through my Mac–some of my favourites from the year that got a little swept aside by the lure of getting out to the next.

Once inside the square areas open up to feel expansive, yet enclosed

Once inside the square, areas open up to feel expansive, yet enclosed

First off the blocks is Courtfield Gardens West. This was ridiculously stunning. It was also one of the three gardens I had most requests to write about. But–you know I’ll be asking–why was it so good?

1. Surprises
Informal, shady pathways contrast with the more open areas of Courtfield Gardens West

Informal, shady pathways contrast with the more open areas of Courtfield Gardens West

Courtfield Gardens West isn’t a square of grass with plants around the outside. It’s a thoughtfully laid out oasis of balanced masses and voids with multiple pathways, screened off sections and surprises every which way you turn. It’s like an adventure visiting for the first time, not knowing what you might find, but compelled by the last delight to keep exploring and find the next.

Just one of the delightful pieces in the children's garden at Courtfield Gardens West

Just one of the delightful pieces in the children’s garden at Courtfield Gardens West

There is incredible variety, in planting material, planting style, ornamentation, functionality; it really feels like there is something (lots of things!) for everyone here. I particularly liked the fun, engaging but incredibly beautiful children’s playground, with not a piece of primary-coloured plastic in sight.

2. Wildlife Garden
The Wildlife Garden at Courtfield Gardens West

The Wildlife Garden at Courtfield Gardens West

My very favourite surprise, however, was the wildlife garden. With dapped shade twinkling through the leafy trees, highlighting reflections on the pond and pops of native flower colour, it was somewhere you could happily spend all day.

Such a perfect blend of natural but cared for in the enclosed wildlife garden at Courtfield Gardens West

Such a perfect blend of natural but cared for in the enclosed wildlife garden

It’s not uncommon for gardens or squares to have a corner of ‘wildlife garden’. However, these are more frequently dumping areas for compost and timber where nettles grow to the mutual benefit of insects and tired, overworked gardeners. The wildlife garden at Courtfield was in a whole new league of its own.

The more you look, the more you see. I particularly love the wooden doors on the shed in the distance

The more you look, the more you see. I particularly love the wooden doors on the shed in the distance

This wasn’t a ‘leave it and see what happens’ garden. This was an immaculately planned garden with all the essential elements–ponds, raised water bowls and other diverse habitats–required to maximise wildlife interaction. All put together with the most stunningly beautiful aesthetic.

Fritillaries, cowslips and violets adorn the land around the pond in the wildlife garden

Fritillaries, cowslips and violets adorn the surroundings to the pond in the wildlife garden; there has been a substantial increase in the numbers and varieties of birds that have been spotted in the area since its creation

I loved that they hadn’t been put off by the health and safety police (a simple, unobtrusive, rustic fence protected children from the water), they hadn’t been put off by the ‘messier’, less controlled look of a naturalistic garden (they enjoyed both formal and informal areas) and I loved that this section of the garden had come about by someone seeing a wonderful win-win with a filming company and fighting through red tape and committee meetings to deliver something so special. It warmed my heart that the time and effort (and presumably head bashing) to achieve this for everyone was clearly deemed worthwhile, despite the busy, busy lives we all lead.

3. Pride
A Victorian style gazebo was added to the garden in 2012, enabling residents to enjoy the garden in all weathers

A Victorian-style gazebo was added in 2012, enabling residents to enjoy the garden in all weathers

It wasn’t just the wildlife garden that warmed my heart. I chatted to one of the residents who had volunteered his time over the weekend to welcome strangers into his square. Pride and passion exuded from this chap; the garden clearly made a huge difference to his quality of life and he was full of enthusiasm to share it.

That huge big plane tree was such a feature in this garden, providing a real sense of longevity

A huge plane tree provided a real sense of longevity and great sense of theatre

Whilst the garden was professionally designed, I still sensed there was a wonderful connection with the residents. This garden was so special, so unique, so beautiful that surrounding neighbours couldn’t help but be drawn in, dazzled and elated. Gardens like this don’t come cheaply and there was meticulous attention to detail in the planting and maintenance. Seemingly, the residents felt it was worth every penny and I got the sense this was probably one of the most intensely used squares of all.

Whatever your mood, you could find just the right spot in this garden

Whatever your mood, you could find just the right spot in this garden

Not just because there was so much to it, but because real thought had been put into its use. There were all sorts of seating types, in all sorts of places, from the open bench looking across the lawns to private, quiet spots in which to enjoy a moment of solitary reflection. It was a garden made for using.

Tropical style plantings added a real wow factor; yet nestled under native trees they felt grounded in their space

Tropical style plantings added a real wow factor; yet nestled under native trees they felt grounded in their space

At the Brooklyn Botanic Garden last week, we looked at complexity and coherence, amongst other characteristics, and I think these two elements perfectly sum up Courtfield Gardens West. There is so much to them, so many layers, so much variety and yet with very clever structure and planting the whole is entirely cohesive, one area flowing seamlessly on to the next, each the richer for the contrast of the other.

A large plane tree takes pride of place and provides huge presence to Courtfield Gardens West, London

The old plane tree takes pride of place at Courtfield Gardens West, providing a link to the origins of the gardens: the fields surrounding Earls Court Manor House of years gone by

Of the twenty gardens I saw that weekend, this is the one that has most stuck in my mind over the last six months. This is the square where I’m always searching for ‘for sale’ signs as I walk past. Some gardens have such impact on you, just one visit can last you a lifetime.

I even love simplicity of this personalised bench at Courtfield Gardens West

I even love the simplicity of this personalised bench at Courtfield Gardens West

Maybe it’s useful that English gardens are like buses, or my head would be full to bursting with no time to rest and reflect. We value and appreciate the ephemeral things in life; perhaps I can get used to these part-time gardens, when they bring so much joy for those wonderful, few, short months of pure magic.

I was amazed to see this label, from Victoria, Australia, still attached to this beautiful, thriving tree fern (Dicksonia antartica)!

I was amazed to see a label, from Victoria, Australia, still attached to this beautiful, thriving tree fern (Dicksonia antartica)!

7 thoughts on “Courtfield Gardens West, London

  1. Adriana Fraser says:

    How delightful Janna! I love the play of light and shade through the trees and the thoughtful, restful, planting scheme. It has given me more ideas for my next garden back in my beloved Dangenong Ranges. Hopefully The right for sale sign comes up for us both. Your references to three planned trips —- An intriguing ‘teaser’ for us.

    • jannaschreier says:

      It’s beautiful, isn’t it? And I’m glad it’s given you some ideas. The majestic trees in the square certainly provide some resonance to the Dandenong Ranges. It sounds like your new garden might be closer than I thought, timing wise. I’ll keep all my fingers crossed for the perfect place!

  2. germac4 says:

    The gardens all look gloriously green and lush, especially as it is getting hotter and a bit windswept here….so you can dream of English summer gardens all through winter!

    • jannaschreier says:

      It did take me a while to get used to Canberra’s straw colour. We arrived in late February, so you can imagine. But then I fell in love with it. I do think beauty is found is the uniqueness of each region. So we’ll have our green and you’ll have your hot, windswept Springs but each is gorgeous in its own way. Hope the summer is kind to you (and your garden!).

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