A south London garden designed by Sheila Jack

A south London garden by Sheila Jack that’s an elegant retreat

A south London garden has been transformed into an elegant retreat with precision-cut concrete and sublimely understated planting. Words Jodie Jones, photographs Lisa linder

When Caroline and Ben Lawrence extended their south London terraced house into the garden they gave one specific instruction to their builders. “We asked them to take care of the tree,” says Caroline. “And to be fair, they did look after it very well. Unfortunately, the rest of the garden looked like a landfill site by the time they had finished.” With double-height glass stretching across the width of the ground-floor extension and their new upstairs study looking out over the garden, they leapt at a friend’s suggestion to contact Sheila Jack. After decades working in magazine design, including as art director of American Vogue, in recent years Sheila has built a reputation for designing elegant, carefully judged, contemporary gardens.

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“I do a lot of work in London,” says Sheila. “There was a lot of rubble left from the renovation work, but when I saw that gorgeous tree I knew we could make a great garden. You’ve got to work with what is there, and the Cercis – possibly Cercis siliquastrum – needed a spot of crown lifting and general tidying up, but it formed the focal point of the design and has really elevated the look of the whole garden.”

Today, looking out from the kitchen, the garden seems far larger than its 6m by 6m reality. The plate glass windows are filled with a swaying mass of meadow-chic planting, a canopy of branches, and a crisp concrete path that curls round to form a circular terrace where a pair of classic 1950s Loop chairs are pulled up alongside a low occasional table. “We were going for low input, high impact,” says Sheila. Discover more about the garden below.
A south London garden designed by Sheila Jack
© Lisa Linder

Pale pebbles were a practical choice to fill an existing French drain next to the house, but also referenced the curves of the overall design in this rectilinear space.

A south London garden designed by Sheila Jack
© Lisa Linder

Created by Swiss designer Willy Guhl in 1954, the concrete Loop chair is a contemporary classic that doubles here as sculpture and seating.

A south London garden designed by Sheila Jack
© Lisa Linder

The concrete slabs were carefully spaced to create planting pockets for cushiony mounds of Soleirolia soleirolii, which is kept close trimmed to curtail its invasive habit.

A south London garden designed by Sheila Jack
© Lisa Linder

Clumps of Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’ are spaced around the garden, producing masses of golden daisies.

A south London garden designed by Sheila Jack
© Lisa Linder

The stilt hedge of pre-trained Carpinus betulus was expensive and awkward to carry through the newly renovated house, but it created an instant screen and a sense of scale.

A south London garden designed by Sheila Jack
© Lisa Linder

Sheila animated the predominantly textural green planting with splashes of colour from ‘Goldsturm’ rudbeckias, violet blue Salvia pratensis, and flaming hot Kniphofia ‘Papaya Popsicle’.

A south London garden designed by Sheila Jack
© Lisa Linder

Even in its first year, the planting in Caroline and Ben Lawrence’s London garden has filled out to blur the boundaries of their tiny space, making it feel much bigger than it is.

A south London garden designed by Sheila Jack
© Lisa Linder
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In a small space it is important to get every detail right; the bespoke fence made from two different widths of chamfered boards in red cedar with precise 6mm gaps between battens.