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A City Garden Blends Global Landscapes

This article was written by Jeanine Matlow and was featured in our March issue of Home By Design magazine. Photography by Nigel Correia Gomme. To visit the original Home By Design article and view more photos, click here.


Specializing in designing and building tranquil city gardens like this natural habitat in London, CITYSCAPERS Ltd now covers London, Barcelona, Lisbon, and Tokyo. “We started out in London where gardens are typically small and overlooked and the weather is rubbish,” says Nigel Correia Gomme, garden designer and founder. “The challenge is making the most of limited space and creating gardens that are part of the home and integral to your life, part of your daily routine.”

“Planning outdoor space is much like planning indoor space in the sense that you’re trying to create functional, practical environments that are also beautiful. So, proportion and balance are key,” he says. “Tokyo gardens, for example, can be tiny and surrounded by apartment blocks yet exude serenity when the landscaping elements have been pared back to a minimum and then artfully balanced.”

For this city garden, Gomme was approached by architect Giles Lovegrove who had designed a striking modern extension to the typical Victorian four-story townhouse in Hammersmith. “I hoped to create a space that was modern and tranquil,” says Gomme. “The clients both work in demanding careers and have teenage daughters, so the garden needed to function as a breakout area for dining and entertaining as well as somewhere to unwind and escape the pressures of everyday life.”

One of the most impressive architectural features is a two-story strip of glazing that slices through the back wall and makes the garden dramatically present to the main rooms of the house. “I like to make explicit visual connections between the architecture and the garden when I can,” he says. “In this case, I drew lines out from Giles’s glazing and used these lines to help me structure the space.”

Gomme also designed a pair of water features to echo the glazing in liquid form. “Water is a lovely element to use in the garden. I think we are instinctively drawn to water; our oldest settlements are by rivers and shores, and spas and hot springs are considered therapeutic. In an urban setting, water is great at canceling out background noise and instantly takes the edge off stress, so it is an invaluable element in making the home feel calm,” he says.

As a fan of Japanese garden design, Gomme borrowed and adapted elements he saw in Japan like the vertical cedar slats of the fencing typically seen as cladding on traditional houses. “It is very linear and graphic,” he explains. “Here I used it as a fence with recessed LED strip lighting beneath some sections to emphasize the linear theme at night. Linear repetition creates a consistent backdrop for plants to stand out.” Plants from Japan that work well in London include lush Hakonechloa grass and the big pom poms of Hydrangea macrophylla.

If he had to define the style of the garden, Gomme would call it “Anglo-Japanese, London meets Tokyo,” as he tried to fuse ideas from both places. Because the home is visible from dozens of neighboring windows in other Victorian houses, introducing a grid of ornamental Japanese cherry trees and Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa) created a canopy of foliage that screens the line of sight and provides privacy so the outdoor space feels intimate.

Divided into three connected areas, the garden features a polished concrete patio for outdoor dining that matches the polished concrete floor of the home’s eat-in kitchen, a central hardwood deck, and a slate patio. Each zone has built-in seating that maximizes space and adds structure. These seating areas—two of which face water features—also create destinations to savor different views.

Peaceful outdoor spaces in urban settings can provide escapes from the daily grind. “City life is great. I’ve lived my whole life in cities. They have dynamism and energy,” says Gomme. “But they can be busy, polluted, and exhausting. City gardens are an antidote. Get it right and you don’t need to travel far to unwind. It’s all there in your home.”

Nigel Correia Gomme shares how to create a peaceful haven in your own backyard.

Keep It Simple.
 Visual noise is tiring. Go for a restricted palette of colors and materials for the hard landscaping and leave plenty of space.

Half and Half.
 Balance out the space with plants. Think of it as yin and yang, the balancing of soft and hard elements, and ensure your garden is at least 50 percent planted. In small spaces, use a restricted plant palette and repeat them.

Trunk Show. Trees are good on every level. If you have space, plant them. Choose species that are appropriate in size and ideally ones that fruit, flower, or have good fall color. They are the lungs of your garden and therefore your home.

Liquid Assets. Water has a range of benefits and rewards. It doesn’t have to be a large and expensive water feature. Even a birdbath will do!

Comfort Zones. Make the garden comfortable—provide seating, cushions, and tables for eating and drinking—so that the garden becomes an extension of the home.