Who’s who

Lyri­cal, the­atri­cal and play­ful, this hus­band and wife de­sign team in­ject en­ergy and drama into Bri­tain’s grand­est gar­dens

Gardens Illustrated Magazine - - Contents - WORDS AMBRA ED­WARDS POR­TRAIT CHARLIE HOPKINSON USE­FUL IN­FOR­MA­TION I&J Ban­ner­man, Tre­ma­ton Cas­tle, Sal­tash, Corn­wall PL12 4QW. ban­ner­man­design.com Tre­ma­ton Cas­tle gar­dens are open from May to Septem­ber. NEXT MONTH Plants­man Keith Wi­ley of Wild­side Nurs­ery.

The de­sign duo of Is­abel and Ju­lian Ban­ner­man on their cre­ative col­lab­o­ra­tion

For ev­ery teenage boy who loathes school, for whom GCSE maths is an in­sur­mount­able ob­sta­cle, and who bum­bles out into the world with no clear idea of what to do next, trav­el­ling here and there, turn­ing his hand to this and that – for this boy (or maybe his mother) Ju­lian Ban­ner­man is a shin­ing bea­con.

He has made not one suc­cess­ful ca­reer, but two ( his bar, Ban­ner­man’s, was the place to see and be seen in 1980s Ed­in­burgh). He has made in­flu­en­tial friends: he hob­nobs with dukes and princes, hol­i­days with fash­ion icons, and even the haugh­ti­est gran­des dames of Bri­tish hor­ti­cul­ture have been melted by his easy charm.

And, most im­por­tantly, he got the girl. When a beau­ti­ful and tal­ented his­tory of art stu­dent, a decade and more his ju­nior, walked into his bar, he fell in­stantly in love with her eyes the colour of an English sea, and within months she had re­solved to join him in his rack­ety life.

Mar­ried life be­gan at The Ivy, de­scribed by Is­abel as a “capri­cious ar­chi­tec­tural star­let of a house”, a derelict 1727 baroque ex­trav­a­ganza ma­rooned among the new hous­ing es­tates of Chip­pen­ham. Here they lived on the pay­ment they re­ceived for tak­ing in spoil from the mas­sive re­de­vel­op­ment go­ing on around them in the town. They shaped it into mounds to hide the ugly lit­tle houses and planted a dou­ble lime av­enue – clearly a higher pri­or­ity than a flush­ing lava­tory or a kitchen sink. It was their first land­scap­ing project to­gether. It was at The Ivy that they made two new friends who would fig­ure large in their lives; painter and an­ti­quar­ian David Vi­cary and writer and his­to­rian Can­dida Lycett Green.

Ju­lian paints a colour­ful pic­ture of Vi­cary, an ec­cen­tric fig­ure liv­ing like Miss Hav­isham among his cob­webbed trea­sures, but with a con­nois­seur’s eye and an en­cy­clopaedic knowl­edge of old houses and gar­dens, which he was glad to share with his ea­ger young neigh­bours. “I learned so much from him,” says Ju­lian. “He taught me how to look.”

It was for Can­dida Lycett Green that Ju­lian and Is­abel built their first folly – a cu­ri­ous sum­mer­house of flint and bro­ken brick. De­lighted, she showed her friends, and the Ban­ner­mans’ path in life was set. Within the year they were at work for the Roth­schilds at Wad­des­don Manor, restor­ing a lost 19th-cen­tury rock and wa­ter gar­den – a job that ex­panded into de­sign­ing an award-win­ning of­fice com­plex. Next, for the Getty fam­ily, they made a Pi­ranesi-style ru­ined tun­nel and a spine-tin­gling oaken tem­ple in the woods (it would be­come a Ban­ner­man trade­mark to treat green oak as if it were stone). But it was their ‘stumpery’ for HRH The Prince of Wales at High­grove that pro­pelled them into the lime­light – a hosta gar­den meta­mor­phosed into a dream­like wood­land re­treat.

The Prince has de­scribed the Ban­ner­mans as the heirs of the 18th-cen­tury land­scape ar­chi­tect Wil­liam Kent. “He’s jok­ing,” says Ju­lian hastily. But you see what he means. They can do Kent’s the­atri­cal op­u­lence (as at Arun­del Cas­tle), but also his de­li­cious light­ness of touch, as in their play­ful cir­cuit walk at Woolbe­d­ing in West Sus­sex. And they can do lyri­cism and ro­mance in spades, not least in their own gar­dens. Over 18 years they made a fab­u­lously at­mo­spheric gar­den at Han­ham Court near Bris­tol, the ruin that suc­ceeded The Ivy. Then in 2012 they moved again, this time to a cas­tle in Corn­wall.

“Mad­ness,” ad­mits Is­abel. “We were meant to be down­siz­ing…” Al­ready the an­cient walls are swagged with her beloved old roses, and lav­ish scented bor­ders have been coaxed out of the thin, sha­ley soil. Peonies and iris span­gle the grav­elled en­trance court, and a pha­lanx of ba­nana palms stands guard by the watch­tower. This gar­den alone would be a full-time oc­cu­pa­tion: the en­ergy of this pair is bound­less.

“We couldn’t stop even if we wanted to,” laughs Is­abel. “We haven’t got a pen­sion.” And be­sides, there are still so many ideas to be ex­plored. Just as in the 18th cen­tury, the Ban­ner­mans’ gar­dens are the­atres of ex­per­i­ment. Gar­den build­ings, Is­abel points out, of­fer a free­dom to play with ar­chi­tec­tural con­ceits that would never be vi­able on a big­ger scale. But she is at pains to ex­plain that these are but ‘di­ver­ti­menti’ in a larger en­deav­our – cre­at­ing a land­scape that is not only vis­ually, but emo­tion­ally rich – a per­sonal Eden where peo­ple can live out their dreams.

“Peo­ple think we’re just about wacky build­ings, and we’re not,” says Ju­lian, mo­men­tar­ily down­cast. On the con­trary, he dreams of mak­ing a land­scape with ne’er a build­ing in it – a deep green val­ley with a river rush­ing through it, where he would shape a water­fall with a walk­way be­hind it, so they could stand be­hind the crash and thun­der. Around it, they’d plant noth­ing but ferns. What need would there be of any­thing more? Ex­cept some­where, surely, Is­abel would find a spot to plant a sin­gle, swoonily scented ram­bling rose.


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