A Landscape Legacy by John Brookes

Book of the month: A Landscape Legacy by John Brookes

Our book of the month for April is A Landscape Legacy, the autobiography from the late John Brookes. Read the review by Tim Richardson.

A Landscape Legacy
by John Brookes

A Landscape Legacy by John Brookes
The revealing autobiography of the UK’s very own master of modernism, covering a career that spans half a century.
Garden critic and regular columnist, Tim Richardson

The back of this well-presented memoir by one of the elder statesmen of the British garden-design scene is emblazoned with the statement, ‘The Man Who Made the Modern Garden’. Well, yes and no.

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It was certainly true in the UK, where for almost a decade before the publication of his seminal Room Outside (1969), John Brookes had been making a splash with Chelsea show gardens and small-garden designs. The early Brookes look was fiercely geometric, with angular pools, black-painted pergolas and ‘architectural’ plantings. But  the Californian Modernists – notably Garret Eckbo and Thomas Church – had been busy ‘making the modern garden’ for several years already.

There were, however, some salient differences between the Brookes style and that of the Americans. As Brookes explains, his design system was based on the architectural concept of ‘the grid’, whereby the volumes of the garden are directly extrapolated from those of the house. Spatial design is paramount, while matters such as planting are relegated to the status of detail. Most garden-design courses taught today are still based on this grid principle – with mixed results, since the method tends to lead to competent yet often unoriginal designs.

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Brookes’s genre-busting work in the 1960s and 1970s will inevitably be the focus of future historical interest in the work, but the designer is understandably at pains to present his international career in the round, including the creation of his own garden at Denmans in West Sussex. This memoir is a fitting companion volume to Barbara Simms’s 2007 monograph on Brookes.

Pimpernel Press, £40,

ISBN 978-1910258934