Todd Longstaffe-Gowan takes on a range of diverse projects both in Britain and abroad. Many of them have included an element of conservation; Todd brings to his garden design a sense of the complexities of our relation to the past that is informed by his training and experience as an architect, landscape architect, cultural geographer and historian. He has a strong interest in the sculptural and dramatic potential of landscapes, and in the ways in which their aesthetic possibilities relate to the uses, activities and symbolic functions for which they are destined. He is a leading authority on the history and development of designed landscapes and he holds several advisory roles including Gardens Adviser to Historic Royal Palaces (with responsibilities at five Royal Palaces in Greater London), and Landscape Adviser to the Crown Estate Paving Commission (CEPC) in Regent’s Park. He is a founder member and President of the London Parks and Gardens Trust.
Since entering private practice in 1990, Todd has advised on a great number of public and private landscapes. He has developed and implemented long-term landscape management plans for the National Trust, Historic England, and a wide range of private owners in the UK and abroad. He has similarly had extensive input into the conservation and redevelopment of a variety of historic landscapes including The Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace Gardens, and The Crown Estate in central London. He lectures widely on landscape history and design and he leads a course as part of the MA in Historical and Sustainable Architecture at New York University’s London campus. He contributes regularly to a range of publications, and is the author of The London Town Garden 1700-1840 (Yale University Press, 2001), The Gardens and Parks at Hampton Court Palace (Frances Lincoln, 2005), and The London Square: Gardens in the Midst of Town (Yale UP, 2012).
My work has, I suppose, been influenced in equal measure by Humphry Repton and Burle Marx. Curious bedfellows, indeed; but a reflection of my exotic childhood and my passion for the English landscape.
If one garden has changed my life it must be Cerro Santa Lucía in Santiago, Chile. I experienced as an eight-year old when my family moved to South America to live. I found this extraordinary oasis built atop the remnant of a volcanic cone, erupting at the very heart of Santiago, mesmerisingly beautiful and endlessly fascinating.
London Town Garden
This Kensington garden exhibits the richly-textured, historically-sensitive and playful designs characteristic of the landscape architect and historian Todd Longstaffe-Gowan. Slightly broader than a typical terraced house plot, this rear garden is bounded by a four-metre high wall along its northern end. Under Longstaffe-Gowan’s practised hand, this London town garden has been transformed into a timeless estate in miniature. The primary framework for the design is comprised of clipped yew applied by turns as screen and topiary. To achieve the whimsical spires and screen, bespoke oxidised steel frames were fabricated, within which the yew was planted. These elements define a concise circulation system and hark back to seventeenth-century Dutch gardens. In dividing the garden with yew, it is imbued with drama and, paradoxically, made to feel larger. A timeless tenet of English landscape design — the ‘conceal and reveal’ — has been dramatically applied to create spaces for roaming and relaxing. In separating the two spaces with the barrier of a hedge, the seating area towards the back becomes a hidden oasis as well as a belvedere — elevated three metres above the neighbouring gardens — to be discovered by curious visitors. Todd remarks ‘I always feel you shouldn’t give away the big gesture when you first walk into a garden. You need something to tease… the element of surprise is so important.’ The south-facing four-metre high wall has been reinterpreted with some surprising features of its own. Traditional climbers like wisteria are intermixed with shrubs like Buddleia alternifolia and Philadelphus ‘Belle Ètoile’ that have been trained to grow up the wall. The interplay of traditional and unexpected plantings applied to a vertical surface invites a sense of wonder and renders it part of the landscape. Todd has said, ‘Seeing a plant in a different situation changes your idea of it. There are probably dozens of shrubs that could be trained like this. Something like Buddleia alternifolia is ungainly in its normal habit, but has responded so well to being grown up this wall.’ In applying novel forms to typical shrubs, Longstaffe-Gowan creatively invites us to imagine new uses for all sorts of proven performers.
West Indian Garden, The Caribbean
This elegant West Indian paradise embodies the richly-planted, wonder-inducing, and sensitive work of Todd Longstaffe-Gowan. The juxtaposition of clean modern lines and raw materials in the architecture highlights the dazzling abundance of the landscape. The dynamic rapport of architecture and landscape reflects a close collaboration by the designers of each.
Here, the landscape architect was engaged before the architect. This meant that Longstaffe-Gowan could work collaboratively with the design team in all matters pertaining to the house and its setting. He, indeed, played a part in selecting the architect — London-based Jamie Fobert — as he suggested to the client that they invite a handful of then up-and-coming architects to prepare sketch proposals with a view to selecting the designer who seemed right for the project.
Fobert’s resolutely modern design is enriched by its context amidst the property’s luscious plantings. The richly-textured landscape is woven into the fabric of the house through a number of hybridised indoor-outdoor spaces and complementary materials. The simple lines and muted tones of the travertine-clad house accentuate the riotous foliage of the surrounding plantings. Speaking of his design, Todd remarks ‘green is a wonderful and generally undervalued colour that takes on many extraordinary and ever-changing hues in bright, tropical light. Within this green tapestry, I’ve threaded a few shrubs with delicate flowers, including Plumeria, Cestrum, Murraya, Petrea, Galphimia, Tulbaghia, Plumbago and the delicate, yellow-flowered Russellia equisetiformis ‘Tsunami’. I’ve also wired native orchids into the trees and plunged pots full of the same into the shrubs beds to give them a little lift’. The seemingly unruly tangle of palms and ground ferns weave a primordial spell that is decidedly timeless even as the house is most definitely of the present moment.
The swimming pool presented an opportunity for Longstaffe-Gowan to create an irregular lagoon that appears to erupt form a capacious rockwork bristling with ferns, coral plants, and ficus. The grey-greens and beiges used to face the steps and floor accentuate the Jurassic quality of the landscape. Beyond the natural forms manifest in the pool, and its sprawling marble and sandstone terrace, the atemporal quality of the property is heightened by a lofty perimeter wall. According to Todd, ‘We needed high-perimeter walls for security, but instead of the usual expanse of reinforced concrete, ours were faced with elegant layers of stone, inspired by a wall the client had seen in South Africa’.