Gardens Illustrated
White colour palette in the garden
© Britt Willoughby Dyer

A white garden in the city

Published: May 19, 2022 at 9:45 am
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Designer Sheila Jack’s sparing use of colour in her own city garden transforms a partially shaded space into a luminous oasis of calm, just when she needs it at the end of a busy day. Words Belinda Cooper, Photographs Britt Willoughby Dyer

Garden designer Sheila Jack's home is a Victorian terraced house in west London, with a typical rectangular plot. Measuring roughly 5m by 12m, the garden runs the width of the house.

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“It was very traditional, long and narrow with a lawn and terrace,” says Sheila. “Then we put a studio at the end and wanted to make a relationship between it and the house. We needed a pathway, something that would be good all year round.”

The feeling of the garden was important too. “We wanted somewhere where we could sit outside, that had different areas and moods but also something green and pretty. We wanted that feeling of escape.”

The planting was inspired by childhood visits to Sissinghurst and the idea of ‘moonlight’ gardens, with mostly white flowers that shimmer as it gets dark. Facing south, the garden is sheltered and slightly shaded by the surrounding houses. Sheila was happy to get rid of the lawn and that allowed her to free up more space for plants. The result is simple and relaxed.

Sheila loves the seasonality of the space.“It starts off quite low with lots of bulbs, then the grasses and perennials start coming through. In May, the irises go into bud, then roses become the focus, along with Allium ‘Mont Blanc’, Alchemilla mollis and foxgloves. I also add in annuals such as Ammi majus and cosmos. It gets higher and wilder towards the end of the year, with Chamaenerion angustifolium ‘Album’, Thalictrum Splendide White (= ‘Fr21034’), Valeriana officinalis and umbellifers. There’s a softness to it."

There’s a lushness to it too. “It is a white garden,” says Sheila, “but not exclusively so. It’s mainly green. White is lovely as it stands out in the shade and is a simple foil to other things, but it’s more about the layers, and transparency and textures. Sometimes I wonder if a pale palette is a bit restrictive, but within a small space you have to edit. You don’t need everything.”

IN BRIEF

What Small, urban garden. 

Where West London.

Size Roughly 5m x 12m.

Soil Clay loam.

Climate Temperate, south-facing garden. 

Hardiness zone USDA 9.

Sheila Jack's white urban garden
© Britt Willoughby Dyer

The addition of the studio, by Ecospace, was the impetus for the garden’s redesign.

Sheila Jack's white urban garden
© Britt Willoughby Dyer

In early summer, the path is lined with soft mounds of Alchemilla mollis and stands of the magnificent white Iris ‘Ciffs of Dover’, with the blush-pink shrub rose Rosa ‘Gruss an Aachen’ behind. By the end of the summer, as the planting grows up, the path almost disappears.

Sheila Jack's white urban garden
© Britt Willoughby Dyer

Lateral cedar trellis panels were added to the existing brick wall for extra height and to support scented climbing roses ‘Rambling Rector’ and ‘Madame Alfred Carrière’. The thick, blue-grey leaves of a potted Hosta ‘Halcyon’ add texture.

Sheila Jack's white urban garden
© Britt Willoughby Dyer

The dense, spherical heads of Allium ‘Mont Blanc’ abound in late spring and early summer.

Sheila Jack's white urban garden
© Britt Willoughby Dyer
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A clipped yew dome (Taxus baccata), one of many scattered around the garden for structure and winter interest, nestles at the foot of Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ and Rosa banksiae ‘Alba Plena’.

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