Gardens Illustrated
George Cullis garden
© Katharine Peachey

A space revived: a small courtyard garden in London

Published: April 27, 2022 at 10:38 am

Landscape architect George Cullis has transformed a dark, enclosed London courtyard into a green oasis, alive with birds, insects and the subtle rhythms of nature. Photographs Katharine Peachey

High walls and a three-storey building at one end meant that when landscape architect George Cullis first saw this garden, the impression was of being in a deep gorge or chasm. “It was tile-paved with a collection of olive trees and shrubs in pots, all struggling with the shady conditions,” he says. The client, who lives in Singapore for part of the year, wanted something beautiful but low maintenance. This could have meant formal topiary and clipped shrubs but George chose a different route. “The house was being remodelled with a fully glazed rear elevation, allowing views from the front door straight through to the garden,” he says. “There seemed to be the opportunity to bring the garden into the house by creating something as natural and loose as possible, while still bearing in mind the need for minimal maintenance. I didn’t want to make a garden that stood still.” Read more about the garden below.

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In brief

What Small courtyard garden with high boundary walls. Where London. Size 6m x 4m. Soil Imported top and sub soil with added drainage. Climate Temperate, north-facing garden. Hardiness zone USDA 9.

George Cullis garden
© Katharine Peachey

High surrounding walls mean this north-facing garden is in shade for much of the day so George had to choose his plants carefully, opting for plants such as ferns, astrantias and Sarcococca confusa that are happy in these conditions.

George Cullis garden
© Katharine Peachey

The planting is richly textural, with the contrasting foliage of Pittosporum tenuifolium, Hakonechloa macra, Onoclea sensibilis and the toothed, pinnate leaves of Rodgersia aesculifolia, with its panicles of creamy flowers adding another element to the mix.

George Cullis garden
© Katharine Peachey

The Malus ‘Evereste’ brings interest and life to the space throughout the year, with soft, pinky-white blossom in spring. This ties in nicely with some rogue pink astrantias, which George has decided to leave.

George Cullis garden
© Katharine Peachey

George divided the space to include seating areas and access to storage at the rear, combined with generous planting. A condenser unit has been cleverly disguised with iroko cladding and a green roof.

George Cullis garden
© Katharine Peachey

Despite the small space, George has used repeat planting to great effect as can be seen here in the golden leaves of Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’ lighting up the space.

USEFUL INFORMATION Find out more about George’s work at studiocullis.com

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Read more about how George uses colours and layers in planting a small space. 

Authors

Natasha is a writer, editor and curator interested in gardens, craft and people. She has worked for Luciano Giubbilei and holds the RHS Level 2 Certificate.

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