Grand gestures and offbeat visions
Designers Julian and Isabel Bannerman have added fresh drama to some of Britain’s great gardens. Mary Keen discovers what drives them
Julian and Isabel Bannerman are garden designers by appointment to HRH the Prince of Wales and have been dream weavers to many other owners of large gardens. Incurable romantics, their idols are offbeat visionaries, and they live life to the effortless max. The Bannermans met at Edinburgh, where Isabel was reading History and History of Art and Julian was running Bannerman’s Bar, which was the in-place for everyone connected with the festival and the arts. After experience filming, building and painting (“but you have the hands of a sculptor, not a painter”, Henry Moore told him), Julian ended up in Edinburgh, working for Richard Demarco’s gallery. Demarco, the Scottish painter and arts promoter, lit the touchpaper for the Traverse Theatre and countless wider contemporary projects, and he certainly qualifies as an “offbeat visionary”. Julian describes the experience of working with Demarco as “a walking Open University”.
Both Bannermans have been obsessed with architecture since childhood. They still are, confessing that their inspiration always comes from man-made buildings and places. Isabel says “we hate a wilderness”. The first time I came across them was when they were working on the creation of the grotto at Leeds Castle, with sculptor Simon Verity. Two of my daughters were also helping out over a long summer holiday. It sounded wild. They all slept in an empty house and danced outside to the car radio. The daughters loved it.
In 1990 I was asked by Lord Rothschild to help him choose a designer to restore the Pulhamite rockwork behind the Dairy at Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire. The meeting was held in a London heatwave and Isabel, a beautiful nymph to Julian’s Bacchus, arrived in black linen shorts. Compared with the landscape architects who were their competitors, they just looked so cool
Visionaries: the Bannermans, left, and their Campo Santo at Wormsley