Pri­vate view

Given a free hand and a blank can­vas, de­signer Matt Keight­ley, has cre­ated an am­bi­tious gar­den of many parts, cen­tred around a mod­ern parterre planted with pin­point pre­ci­sion

Gardens Illustrated Magazine - - Contents - WORDS JANE PER­RONE PHO­TO­GRAPHS STEPHEN STUDD

De­signer Matt Keight­ley was asked to cre­ate a mod­ern and vi­brant parterre with a sense of both seclu­sion and im­pact

The chance to carve a 20-acre gar­den from scratch for a client with bound­less am­bi­tion and re­sources is surely the stuff of dreams for any gar­den de­signer. For Matt Keight­ley this op­por­tu­nity came in 2014, the same year his first Chelsea show gar­den won the Peo­ple’s Choice award, pro­pel­ling him into the pub­lic eye in sud­den and spec­tac­u­lar fash­ion.

For the next three years, Matt and his firm Rose­bank Land­scap­ing put every­thing into the project at Great Plains, cre­at­ing one am­bi­tious area af­ter an­other, in­clud­ing a stumpery with 150 oak stumps and 70 tree ferns, a top­i­ary gar­den, a sculp­ture walk and a 100m hot bed with about 15,000 plants. But one of the first ar­eas to be de­vel­oped was the parterre close to the house, a show gar­den-sized, green­ery-framed, ta­pes­try of colour and tex­ture that looks sim­ple, but re­quired pin­point pre­ci­sion to ex­e­cute suc­cess­fully.

The parterre presents an ini­tial co­nun­drum to the viewer. One of the found­ing prin­ci­ples of any parterre is that it can be viewed from an el­e­vated po­si­tion – usu­ally the house – and yet key to Matt’s design is a bound­ary of tall box­head horn­beam ( Carpi­nus be­tu­lus) at eye level. “Lots of peo­ple would look at the gar­den and say, well you’ve blocked the

house out, but that was care­fully con­sid­ered,” he in­sists.

Here’s how it works: the horn­beam canopy, which starts 1.8m from the ground and reaches 4m over­all, is low enough to of­fer pri­vacy when walk­ing within, and yet the gar­den is fully vis­i­ble when viewed from the owner’s favourite van­tage point in­doors. “When you’re in the parterre, you have this al­most serene sense of pri­vacy, be­cause ev­ery­one is shut out at eye­line,” Matt ex­plains. The kitchen is where the owner spends most of his time, and from that spot he gets a per­fect view of the gar­den be­low the horn­beams.

And the client – en­thu­si­as­tic to see his gar­den in all its glory as soon as pos­si­ble – got Matt in­volved be­fore he’d signed the papers on the house. “It was all just pad­docks and no real land­scap­ing to note,” says Matt. “A blank can­vas.” The soil – seams of clay and bal­last – wasn’t promis­ing, but for a project on this scale, there were few lim­its when it came to im­prov­ing plant­ing con­di­tions. “There wasn’t any com­pro­mis­ing, he just wanted it done prop­erly,” says Matt.

The client’s only re­quest for the parterre was a bold colour scheme, along with ma­ture trees that would lend in­stant ma­tu­rity. “The whole idea was to cre­ate a feel­ing like you are look­ing into a snap­shot of a paint­ing, with vi­brant colours; a ta­pes­try plant­ing, to break up the scene.” So box domes, cones and low hedges to re­flect the ver­nac­u­lar of the tra­di­tional parterre, but the plant­ing be­tween dis­rupts that for­mal­ity with dar­ing and un­ex­pected


colours and com­bi­na­tions, giv­ing year­round in­ter­est but peak­ing in early sum­mer.

The gar­den comes to a crescendo in the cen­tral beds, where ter­ra­cotta urns are sur­rounded by deep-blue Aga­pan­thus ‘Tor­nado’ and bright-orange Dahlia ‘David Howard’. The plant­ing soft­ens as you move through towards the edges of the space, as the gar­den is de­signed for me­an­der­ing through rather than sit­ting in; there are no seat­ing or fo­cal points at the end of the paths.

The plant­ing fol­lows a rhythm of vi­brant red and pur­ple tones from plants such as Rosa Mun­stead Wood (= ‘Aus­bernard’) and Cos­mos atrosan­guineus Cho­camocha (= ‘Tho­mocha’), tem­pered by yel­lows of Leu­can­the­mum x su­per­bum ‘Ba­nana Cream’, as well as the blue of Agas­tache ‘Blue Boa’. Low-grow­ing tex­tu­ral fo­liage comes in the form of mixed thyme, Stipa tenuis­sima and Al­chemilla ery­thro­poda, while Pachysan­dra ter­mi­nalis un­der­plants the larger peren­ni­als along the fringe to soften the paving’s edge.

The re­sult is a de­light­ful jewel box of a gar­den, where each com­part­ment can be trea­sured in­di­vid­u­ally or en masse – ei­ther from within the pri­vacy of the horn­beam en­clo­sure or from the owner’s spe­cial spot in the kitchen. Lucky him.


Sub­scribe to the Gar­dens Il­lus­trated pod­cast at gar­den­sil­lus­ to hear Matt dis­cuss his fea­ture gar­den for Chelsea 2018, and find out more about his work at rose­ban­k­land­scap­


Name Great Plains. What Mod­ern parterre as part of a larger gar­den. Where Berk­shire. Size Parterre mea­sures 20x15m, but the whole gar­den is close to 20 acres. Soil Im­proved clay. Cli­mate Tem­per­ate. Har­di­ness zone USDA 8. 66 IN BRIEF

Left Taller vis­i­tors may need to duck as they en­ter un­der a canopy of box­head horn­beam, planted ma­ture for in­stant im­pact. Each seg­ment of the parterre is packed with a suc­ces­sion of colour, in­clud­ing in sum­mer dahlias ‘David Howard’ and ‘Karma Choc’, and Kniphofia ‘Tof­fee Nosed’.

Above De­signer Matt Keight­ley was asked to cre­ate a bold parterre close to the house.


Paths, edged by a mix of low-grow­ing plants, in­clud­ing clumps of thyme and Al­chemilla ery­thro­poda, quar­ter the gar­den. They’re made of the same buff York stone as the ter­race that wraps around the house, but cut into smaller plank shapes. “Chang­ing the for­mat gives it a very sub­tle break­line and gives you a dif­fer­ent feel­ing when you en­ter the space,” says Matt.

Left Matt uses dar­ing colour com­bi­na­tions. In the fore­ground he has teamed the white of airy Gaura lind­heimeri ‘Whirling But­ter­flies’ and Dahlia ‘Twyn­ing’s Af­ter Eight’ with the scented pink Phlox pan­ic­u­lata ‘Franz Schu­bert’, but has placed th­ese pale colours along­side the blue of Aga­pan­thus ‘Tor­nado’ and orange pom­poms of Dahlia ‘David Howard’.

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