October 21, 2014

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Chelsea Flower Show 2014: introducing the Telegraph Garden

Design duo Tommaso del Buono and Paul Gazerwitz are creating a ‘contemporary Italian garden’ for the Telegraph’s Chelsea Flower Show entry this year

Double act: Paul Gazerwitz and Tommaso del Buono are known for their sophisticated gardens 

The Telegraph garden at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show is being designed by Tommaso del Buono and Paul Gazerwitz. Before meeting in their studio in Shoreditch, they suggested I visited a couple of their clients’ gardens in Kensington to get a feel for their designs, and a taster of what they are planning for Chelsea.

The first, behind a large detached house in Holland Park, was a green and uncompromisingly symmetrical garden of sunken terraces and clean shapes, set along a straight axis: a stunning entertaining space. And a theatrical one too, for flanking the lawn, paving and seating was a number of domed and cubed topiaries of assorted sizes and plant species (including clipped camellias) – all immaculately groomed. Textures, shadows, changes of light, and subtle seasonal shifts were what this garden was about, with the topiaries making it feel very Italian.

The second, much smaller garden near Hyde Park, was a complete contrast, full of jumbled flower beds like an English country garden in the city. The two most emphatic design features were a pattern of little raised herb and vegetable beds enclosed in wattle hurdles, and an intimate seating area over which a pair of mulberry trees had been trained and clipped to form a flat green roof – another touch of the Mediterranean.

The Italian influence comes from Tommaso, 50, who grew up in Florence and moved to London as a student. “I was planning to be an architect, but then discovered you could do a course called landscape architecture. I had always loved gardens. And I loved the idea of the bright lights of London.

“My mother had lived here, and was very encouraging, though I didn’t think I would stay here for long.” After graduating from Thames Polytechnic, he worked in the practices of Brian Clouston and Michael Hopkins, mainly on modern, commercial schemes before losing his job in the recession of the early Nineties.

A sophisticated garden

It was fellow Italian Arabella Lennox-Boyd, one of the UK’s leading garden designers, who offered him his next job. “I was a bit snobbish at first about the idea of working on private gardens, but in fact with Arabella I found my vocation. I worked for her for 10 years on many different projects in many different countries, and it was brilliant. She taught me a great deal, especially about plants.”

By contrast, Paul, 49, was an enthusiastic horticulturist from a young age. “I was very precocious, telling everyone when I was 10 that I was going to be an orchidologist.” A German-speaking American, with a grandmother who was a passionate vegetable grower, he was brought up in Brooklyn and Long Island, where he entered all the local produce shows “And won!”

Torn between studying art or horticulture, he decided to combine the two and read landscape architecture. “For part of the course I came to Europe, which was a second home to me, studying in Denmark, and coming over to England to look at the gardens.”

After working for a spell in Manhattan, he moved to London, where he was also employed on big commercial schemes first by Clouston and then Gillespies. He knew Tommaso socially, and a chance encounter with him on Portobello Road while he was job-hunting resulted in an offer to join Lennox-Boyd’s practice. Two years later, in 2000, he and Tommaso decided to set up their own studio.

“We knew we would work well together,” Paul tells me. “It wasn’t so much that our strengths dovetailed, but that we had a mutual love of the same things – a similar aesthetic.”

A modern town garden in Blackheath designed by the pair

“There is a bit of the German-Italian thing going on,” adds Tommaso. “Paul is very methodical and thorough. I am more bish, bash, bosh – less interested in the engineering and fine detail.”

They don’t impose a particular style on all their gardens, they told me, but there are certain motifs. “We like a strong, simple, logical structure with clean lines,” explains Tommaso. “Nothing too fussy. And with plants softening the lines.” Layouts are often formal, and their planting veers more to the traditional than the new-wave naturalistic. “What we love is to take historic elements, like pleached trees and woven basket beds, and put them into a contemporary context.”

I wondered how the work was divided. “In the early days, when we were building things up, we shared all the jobs and talked through everything together,” says Tommaso. “We still show each other our work and are always aware of what the other is doing, but mostly we do our own separate projects.” A team of six works in the office with them.

They have worked on an impressive array of gardens, ranging from Mick Jagger’s former home in Berkshire and Ronnie Barker’s former home in the Cotswolds – which sported a red telephone kiosk and much other quirky architectural salvage assembled by Barker – to a massive chateau in the south of France with a maze of formal compartments. The Bamford family, owners of JCB and Daylesford Organic, have been clients for a number of years, and Tommaso has been advising on the landscape around their home in Barbados, originally set out by Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe, which boasts pleached tropical fig trees and a pergola cloaked in jade vine.

It was Lady Bamford who invited Tommaso and Paul to create their first and only previous Chelsea garden in 2008 – though Tommaso had worked with Lennox-Boyd on some of her Chelsea designs. The garden featured a modern kitchen, wheat fields, and vegetables grown in wicker baskets, and earned a Silver-Gilt medal.

A quirky backyard space, typical of del Buono Gazerwitz

For the Telegraph this year, they are creating what they describe as a “contemporary Italian garden”. It will be a green garden, “reinterpreting traditional Italian elements” says Tommaso, “with a strong axis line, controlled shapes, pots, roof-trained trees, and a modern version of a grotto in the form of a water wall.”

At their own homes in London, Paul has a small garden and Tommaso has a terrace, but for the past five years they have been time-sharing a cottage in Suffolk together, alternating weekends and surprising each other with new plants. It is an unusual but rather appealing way to run a garden – given two people with such similar tastes. However, Paul is reluctant to show me any photos. “It is a work in progress,” he laughs. Like Chelsea.

A preview of the Telegraph garden 2014

The 2014 Telegraph garden combines some of the guiding principles of Italy’s great horticultural tradition but reinterpreted for a 21st-century design. Inspiration for the garden has come from revisiting the components traditionally found in celebrated historical Italian gardens, to create a bold and uncompromising modern garden.

All the plants in the garden are both appropriate and suitable for the conditions typically found in the north of Italy, a climate very similar to Britain. The garden will be enclosed on two sides by a bay hedge (Laurus nobilis) and shaded at both ends by the canopy of 12 roof-trained lime trees. The sunken lawn at the heart of the garden will be punctuated by domes of clipped box and Osmanthus x burkwoodii. The formality is softened by a range of herbaceous plants in deep blues and lime green with a touch of deep pink. Modernist touches include stylish outdoor furniture and a dramatic, glittering wall of water at one end of the garden, to calm the hubbub of the show.

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