CALM WA­TERS, BUZZING B

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Front Page -

For as long as I can re­mem­ber, Ara­bella Len­nox-Boyd has been at the top of the gar­den de­sign pro­fes­sion. Re­cently she in­vited me to see her own gar­den and we had an en­light­en­ing and en­gross­ing week­end ex­plor­ing it, her ca­reer and her ideas. Gar­den­ing is her pas­sion and it has taken her through the good and bad times in life. She has re­cently re­cov­ered from ill­ness, but still has a busy Lon­don prac­tice em­ploy­ing a staff of five. Com­mis­sions have in­cluded the land­scap­ing for the Serpentine Sackler Gallery (de­signed by Zaha Ha­did) and gar­dens for Sting and Sir Ter­ence Con­ran. 40 years ago, be­fore she mar­ried Mark Len­nox-Boyd, Ara­bella lived in St John’s Wood with her daugh­ter and had a fairly large gar­den. She asked her once-a-week gar­dener and friends what she should do with it. When it was fin­ished, the gar­dener sug­gested that if she started de­sign­ing gar­dens he could im­ple­ment them. Need­ing an in­come, Ara­bella set about help­ing friends with “el­e­men­tary, back-of-en­ve­lope sketches” for their plots. She en­rolled to study land­scape ar­chi­tec­ture at the then Thames Polytech­nic, where Roberto Car­dozo, a Brazil­ian, was a lec­turer. He was highly orig­i­nal and was a strong in­flu­ence on her. Ara­bella had dis­cov­ered what she wanted to spend the rest of her life do­ing. Her Ital­ian back­ground – she was brought up in Rome sur­rounded by won­der­ful ar­chi­tec­ture and dra­matic spa­ces – af­fected her un­der­stand­ing of scale and vol­ume. She was also in­flu­enced by the gar­den at Tyn­ing­hame House in Scot­land, owned by Lady Hadding­ton – its huge, deep bor­ders, gen­er­ous clumps of plants, more in­ti­mate ar­eas; a ro­man­tic gar­den where ev­ery plant had its place. On com­plet­ing her course, Ara­bella worked on sev­eral sub­stan­tial projects with other ex-stu­dents be­fore set­ting up on her own. An early mem­o­rable gar­den – which she is still in­volved with – was for an old child­hood friend in Rome who went on to be­come Queen Paola of Bel­gium. It had huge scope and in­cluded plant­ing in the park as well as more ex­ten­sive for­mal gar­dens. Ara­bella de­signed the gar­den like a Per­sian car­pet, di­vid­ing it into rooms. There are huge ter­races, and ar­eas with colour­themed plant­ing and co­pi­ous yew hedg­ing. Ara­bella has a strong at­tach­ment to her gar­dens and em­pha­sises the im­por­tance of a strong re­la­tion­ship with her clients. Her friend­ship with this client is fas­ci­nat­ing – they have very dif­fer­ent lives but the gar­den has been the com­mon thread that has kept the re­la­tion­ship go­ing. Her first Chelsea Flower Show gar­den was in 1979, for with Michael Bal­ston (for Wil­lie Lan­dels). It was beau­ti­ful; it had two In­dian tents and Moghul bee­hives with the de­sign based around an In­dian car­pet. Be­ing Chelsea vir­gins, they com­mit­ted the heinous crime of leav­ing some plas­tic pots ex­posed “and the plant­ing re­ally was not good”, Ara­bella says. But Rus­sell Page, the land­scape ar­chi­tect, com­mented, “I don’t of­ten com­pli­ment other de­sign­ers, but I like this gar­den.” They won a sil­ver gilt. Her next Chelsea out­ing was in 1990, for The Daily Tele­graph. The then edi­tor Max Hast­ings ap­proached her say­ing, “Do what you want, I trust you.” She won gold and has since won five more. Ara­bella started work­ing on her 12-acre gar­den at Gres­garth Hall, in Lan­cashire, in 1978. It is, she says, her most im­por­tant gar­den as it has taught her so much. She mar­ried Mark, her sec­ond hus­band, in 1974 and they moved there as he was MP for More­cambe and Lons­dale. At first sight, Ara­bella was not en­am­oured with it. In Italy she had grown up on a hill look­ing down on huge vis­tas and the stag­ger­ing Ital­ian land­scape. Here, the house was set in the bot­tom of a val­ley sur­rounded by heavy wood­land. Mark’s fa­ther re­ferred to it as Wuther­ing Heights. While car­ry­ing on with her de­sign prac­tice, Ara­bella set about clear­ing trees to ex­pose the un­du­lat­ing sides of the val­ley, beau­ti­fully shaped by nat­u­ral land­slides many years ago. They en­larged a lake to cre­ate a larger mass of wa­ter which bounces light into the site and cre­ates a calm, ro­man­tic edge to the for­mal steep-ter­raced part of the gar­den by the house. Oc­tagons perch on the edge of the ter­races, cre­at­ing el­e­vated but in­ti­mate places to sit over­look­ing the dra­matic val­ley. Walk­ing around her gar­den, it was, for me, rem­i­nis­cent of Chelsea press day, buzzing with fas­ci­nated gar­den­ers (it is open to the pub­lic 10 days a year) ad­mir­ing her trade­mark herba­ceous bor­ders backed by su­perb yew hedges. The strong herba­ceous play­ers in her im­mac­u­late bor­ders now are

Colour and im­pact: Ara­bella Len­noxBoyd, above left, has trans­formed the gar­den at Gres­garth Hall. Her colour­ful bor­ders in­clude Aconi­tum x cam­marum ‘Bi­color’, left and Lil­ium li­jian­gense, far right

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