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
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
THE IDEA WAS TO CREATE A FEELING OF LOOKING INTO A SNAPSHOT OF A PAINTING, WITH VIBRANT COLOURS; A TAPESTRY PLANTING, TO BREAK UP THE SCENE
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 gardensillustrated.com to hear Matt discuss his feature garden for Chelsea 2018, and find out more about his work at rosebanklandscaping.co.uk
WHEN YOU’RE IN THE PARTERRE, YOU HAVE THIS ALMOST SERENE SENSE OF PRIVACY, BECAUSE EVERYONE IS SHUT OUT AT EYELINE
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’.