ISSUE 103  |  Homeward Bound

A Secret Courtyard Garden in Piccadilly, Ancient Tree Ferns Included

December 19, 2013 3:00 PM

BY Kendra Wilson

A small, dark courtyard with an awkward shape: this is urban gardening for many of us. A new garden in the middle of London’s Piccadilly is just such a place, with the added disadvantage of an electrical substation in its midst. If you’ve ever gazed at your sorry space and wondered “What would Tom Stuart-Smith do?”, look no further.

Photography by Kendra Wilson except where noted. 

Above: The garden can be reached through the bar at Keeper’s House, a meeting place for Friends of the Royal Academy arranged over several floors. The Shenkman Bar is now open to the public in the evenings. Garden designed by Tom Stuart-Smith. Photograph by Richard Bryant/Arcaid.

Above: A subterranean garden, surrounded with brick. Stuart-Smith’s approach has been “to make it more of what it is,” with planes of brick on several levels and paving stone at the base. From this somber neutrality shoot up the wonky tree trunks and bright grasses.

Above: The nine tree ferns are ancient and Australian (about 250 years old). They give the garden “an exotic character,” contrasting with the London brick.

Above: Grasses shimmer away in early December. Hakonechloa macra provides emerald green texture during the summer months. Accompanied by the highly scented, evergreen Pittosporum tobira ‘Nana,’ this is a garden that does not go into hibernation.

Above: Simple tables and Leaf Chairs by Arper are dotted around, with plenty of space for standing and talking in between. At the base of the tree ferns: Pittosporum, as mentioned.

Above: The garden is visible from different levels inside The Keeper’s House. The planted roof is the top of the electrical substation. Other than the occasional sign bearing the legend “Danger of Death,” it is not especially alarming. As the Virginia creeper and scented Trachelospermum jasminoides begin to cover the walls, it will be “a very green space,” says Tom Stuart-Smith. Photography by Richard Bryant/Arcaid.

For more courtyard gardens, see Garden Visit: Andrea Cochran’s Courtyard Vignettes and Design Sleuth: Town Garden in Stoke Newington, London.