Adam Sykes found his dream house project by chance along an unlikely street in southwest London: an intriguing example of Modernist architecture surrounded by Edwardian houses. Evocative of the Californian-style homes in and around Los Angeles – where Adam had lived – he got straight to work beautifully remodelling the interior of this 1960s Brutalist relic. From the very start, however, one eye was turned to the garden: “There was a very conventional and formal city garden here originally; I wanted to redevelop it into something much softer and less rigid, to complement the house.”
Having previously worked with Andrew Eden of Town and Country Gardens on his former roof garden in South Kensington, Adam asked Andrew to begin developing an initial planting design. “The first thing I said was, ‘you’ve got to have palm trees’,” notes Andrew. Coastal evergreens are the defining feature here: a magnificent fan palm (Washingtonia robusta) stands close to the house, furnishing an open-plan kitchen/dining area with an air of laid-back exoticism, along with a shimmering black pine, spiky Trachycarpus and a feather-leafed jelly palm (Butia capitata). You can see more of how Andrew helped to give Adam’s London a West Coast vibe below.
Having softened the hard edges of this mid-century property with a stylish interior, the aim was to achieve a sense of ‘messy contrast’ in the surrounding garden. The result is an eclectic mix of structural foliage and tranquil, naturalistic planting that channels southern California.
The clean lines of Adam’s strikingly Modernist, single storey house, designed in 1963 by architects Peter Foggo and David Thomas, are softened by a mix of colourful perennials and vigorous ornamental grasses, including Miscanthus sinensis, which integrate seamlessly with cycads, pine and palm trees to create a relaxed, transcontinental feel.
12 key plants from Adam’s garden
A well-worked soil, improved with lots of organic matter, promotes happy, healthy growth: flourishing clumps of dazzling Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora ‘Columbus’, Verbena bonariensis and Scabiosa columbaria subsp. ochroleuca leave little room for gaps in the borders.
Strawberry and acacia trees, inherited from the former garden, offer seclusion for the property as well as protection for more tender exotics such as the Washingtonia and jelly palms. The evergreen structure is then continued through stout, bushy pines and robust Cycas revoluta.
Verbena bonariensis Reliable, vigorous and long-flowering perennial extending compact, flat flowerheads of light purple. A tall, branching habit allows it to float above dense planting schemes. Leave stems for structural winter interest. 12m. AGM. RHS H4, USDA 7a-11b.