In Conversation with Georgian Garden Designer Lynne Bridge

Georgian garden designer

In Conversation with Georgian Garden Designer Lynne Bridge

Lynne Bridge is a garden designer with a difference. After retraining 15 years ago as garden designer and landscape historian, Lynne has extensive experience working on Georgian garden design and being sympathetic to the existing layouts that sit in these often, secret landscaped spaces.

Etons of Bath’s Creative Director, Sarah Latham talks to Lynne Bridge about how she started her career, what she loves about working on Georgian garden design and .how best to combine it with Georgian interior design.

What was the driving force that led you to become a garden designer and landscape conservation expert?

My gardening ‘epiphany’ happened late at night in front of the first ‘vertical green wall’ I had ever seen at Pershing Hall designed by Patrick Blanc – a wonderful garden installed up six floors of a historic building in a central Paris courtyard filled with plants and even birds – I was hooked – ‘how did he do that’? Realising swiftly Patrick was obviously a master at his metier, I understood this was a complex blend of horticultural and botanical elements combined with structure that all gardens require. A more traditional route to training was followed, and I discovered there were specific university courses on garden and landscape design with an emphasis on horticulture and draughtsmanship and many archives and libraries full of information to explore. As soon as possible, I grabbed the opportunity to change careers and train as a garden designer, four years full-time through universities in Edinburgh, Gloucestershire and Bath to learn the necessary skills and acquire credentials that have given me sound professional expertise. Those years provided enormous resources as a theorist, designer, researcher and yes, I do get my hands dirty as a gardener too!

To answer the question – I wanted to create beautiful sustainable gardens professionally that enhance the lifestyles of my clients.

Where do you get inspiration from for a new project for Georgian garden design?

First and foremost it is the space – the genius loci – particularly with older gardens that includes architecture of the buildings, views, sight lines, shadow, light and shade. Secondly, the inspiration comes from the clients – this is their private space, often for family who will use the gardens on a regular basis so listening carefully to their expectation is very important – seeing the garden through their eyes. My third source of inspiration comes from any trees, shrubs and plants and their setting within the existing hard landscaping. Older gardens have layers of garden design and planting laid down over the centuries of families that lived in these houses – and like us they too were good designers who knew their plants and those that performed best in the local soil. They also had the skilled garden labour to install and regularly maintain the gardens they created and in some cases endured and evolved over a very long time.

Once I’ve understood those elements their inspiration and direction can be conveyed with a couple of hours of meetings with clients, time spent in the gardens and understanding the perspectives. We can then move forward to concepts and ideas that begin to show clients their gardens through my eyes and interpretation.

What is it about Georgian properties and landscapes that you most admire?

Georgian architectural styles and classical Palladian influences are highly valued, the building design and proportions, crisp outlines and large windows that permit views of the surrounding vistas and landscapes are admired as much today as they were in the eighteenth century. The settings in which these buildings are placed were also much considered – their architects looked to the outdoors where houses and gardens were linked together through views, access, style and modernity of their day. The Georgian historic period in design has become well documented and therefore as landscape historians and garden designers we are able to understand their reasoning and implementation of indoor and outdoor living. In more recent times gardens have been relaxed from their integral role alongside the house with fewer clients recognising they are best undertaken together. I admire enormously the Georgian commitment to all things stylish – the veritable ‘lifestyle’ they embraced in their Georgian interiors, Georgian garden design, fashions and entertainments.

When it comes to Georgian properties is there a certain style of garden/landscape that suits best or can more modern design work?

Yes definitely. Georgian architecture’s clean lines and proportions provide one of the most attractive backdrops to different styles of garden design. Elements of formality can provide garden structure whether topiary, clipped boxwood or yew hedges and these fit effortlessly into Georgian settings. The stone boundary walls of many period gardens are perfect for pleached and espaliered trees with under planted borders – we are at odds in our modern lives in this respect – clients often want ‘privacy’ from views. The Georgian house and garden therefore act as the perfect canvas for contemporary design but with some restraint. Hard landscaping with stone, gravel and iron railings enhanced with wood structures – gazebos, pergolas and garden buildings provide the outdoor space with considerable opportunity for modern day usage.

The planting can then be in keeping with the client’s practical needs. ‘Low maintenance’ and ‘sustainability’ are the contemporary words I hear at most initial client consultations. My interpretations of ‘contemporary’ are hard-working trees and shrubs that give a show during at least one or two of our seasons. Then perennials and herbaceous plants that look after themselves given a little bit of help from us. Evergreens balanced with deciduous shrubs for year round structure and interest particularly viewed from inside during the winter months highlighted by clever outdoor lighting. Lawns are very high maintenance and my personal recommendation is a lawn less than 15m2 is not worth having in an urban setting unless clients are dedicated to upkeep.

In spite of our famed ‘British’ weather and its vagaries it is important to have water in the right places – irrigation systems installed at the outset on minimal settings never lose their summer-time charm keeping modern gardens lush, healthy and sustainable!

Are there any particular types of flora/fauna that are better suited to Georgian garden design?

Our contemporary world of plants is enormous in comparison to Georgian eighteenth century plant nurseries and availability. Classics like Hydrangea, roses, topiary, clipped buxus and yew hedges are still favourites. But many more recent imports are making their way into our gardens while the use of ‘old’ plants in a different way are increasingly revived by designers. Collections of ferns under planted with hundreds of Allium bulbs and hedges of Ceanothus that light up lilac and blue in May, Acer trees planted simply in beds with clipped buxus balls and a water feature laid to gravel, an urn filled with Agapanthus on a stone plinth under planted with Lavandula at the end of a hedged pathway as an eye catcher from the house.

These are really just different ways designers plant gardens that provide ‘horticultural theatrics’ year round. There is an increase in ‘edible gardens’ in addition to herbs, where we insert seasonal fruit and vegetables into herbaceous beds or containers among traditional plants – architectural shapes like artichokes, golden fennel, courgettes, kale and rhubarb that then find their way on to plates and into cocktails. Some perform as perennials concealing themselves in the winter months, giving again the following year. Nature never stops showing us how to do it differently she just needs our help in putting the right thing in the right place.

Out of all the Georgian garden design projects you have undertaken, is there a particular favourite?

Some of my favourites – in the course of a week in the summer when gardens are dizzily growing, I may revisit the roof gardens with views over Bath’s Thermae Spa, a family garden with stunning vistas across Bath complete with puppy and children, a townhouse garden in Kensington’s Notting Hill with absent NY owners, another week a large garden in Edinburgh that I designed and planted four years ago where a clay court overlaid with a neglected tarmac tennis court was replaced by an orchard, meadow and ponds. Gardens never stop growing and one of the joys of establishing working relationships with clients is that these go on for years.

If you could have any garden of your choice to go with a Georgian house, what would it be and why?

Firstly it would depend on size! If the garden is an acre or two, then adopt a hierarchy of what is close to the house to be formally planted with a few surprises of olfactory waves, pathways that take interesting routes away from the buildings to a more informal planting style, and at boundaries areas of outdoor privacy and some working garden spaces. If it is a smaller garden then a slightly formal style of topiary and boundary hedges, surprises in sequential planting that give those ‘horticultural theatrics’ throughout the year and lots of edible garden spaces. Avoid a lawn if at all possible – hard landscaping, inventive pathways, spaces to sit, eat and have fun, gravel and wherever we can re-purpose and up-cycle outdoor materials are all better alternatives. And last but not least the best outdoor furniture affordable – whether beautiful British wood bench seating, French dining arrangements or Italian lounging – make a place to sit back and enjoy the outdoors.  It could be anywhere but preferably Bath or Edinburgh’s New Town!

If you’d like to chat to Lynne or have questions about Georgian garden design please call 01225 639002


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