Horticulture has evolved from a lockdown hobby to a mindful and enjoyable pastime for many. We sat down with Lulu Roper-Caldeck, a London based Garden Designer who inspires urban gardeners with her love of greenery and innovative architectural plantscapes.
How do you describe what you do?
I work as a garden designer, mainly in London but have also recently taken on projects slightly further afield. The work I do for my clients include all elements of the design and build process, from creating designs and drawings of the proposed space to specifying all the hard landscaping elements and selecting plants.
Have you always gardened? How, and from whom, did you learn?
No, I haven’t – I was always interested in design though as I previously worked in fashion and then also interiors a bit before retraining. Both my parents have always been keen gardeners though and my grandfather was a florist, so I guess the influences were always there. My garden design training also included a year of studying horticulture – learning all about plants and how to design with them, as well as pests and diseases and general maintenance. Gardening is a constant learning process, especially within my garden which I treat as a bit of a testing ground. Whilst the gardens I create for my clients are a lot more harmonious in how they are planned and planted, mine is slightly more haphazard and I often buy plants I like the look of just to try them out – see how they grow in London and see whether or not I could then use them in my other designs.
How did your relationship with gardening change or deepen over the various lockdowns?
Yes, it increased as it was how I spent my time, especially in the first lockdown. I had recently moved house to the place we are now, the house itself was nothing special but it came with a huge garden which we immediately fell in love with. At the time we moved in it was completely overgrown with a few rundown sheds and outbuildings. We were incredibly lucky to have a green space to enjoy during the lockdown, and for the first time, it also meant we had time to work on it and were extremely productive. We did a huge amount of clearing and set in place a large vegetable garden as well as lots of other planting. It was important to have the time to reconnect with the soil and actually do some gardening, as being a garden designer most of my work is studio-based.
Are there gardeners that you look up to or have learned from?
Yes, my parents have a great understanding of gardens so I would always tap them up for advice, it’s also nice now that I can share my knowledge with them. I also sometimes collaborate with another designer Matt Jones (@londonplantsman), it is always fun working on projects together and exchanging ideas, he started gardening at a very early age and has the most incredibly wide knowledge of plants. I also love the work of Fergus Garret who has created such a diverse and exciting space at Great Dixter with unexpected planting combinations and an incredible mix of texture and colour. There are also many landscape designers whose work I always refer to such as Dan Pearson, Sarah Price, Teresa Moller and Luis Barragan.
You founded and ran cult fashion and interiors boutique, Darkroom, for many years. How did it feel to leave that behind and move into this new stage of work and life?
It was a fairly easy transition at the time as I was ready for a change of direction. For the 7 years, we had the store, there was so much I loved about Darkroom and felt proud of what we had created. We had a wonderful team and many lovely, loyal customers, we were also lucky to work with so many emerging and talented designers and bought the things we loved. It did, however, come with the usual pressures of running a retail business and when we were hit with a hefty rent increase it made the decision to leave easier. I was ready for something new and wanted to retrain. I felt more than ever the need to be out in nature and loved creating the very tiny garden we had at the time, which in turn then became the catalyst for going into garden design.
How would you describe your personal aesthetic or design philosophy?
As most of my work is in London, I see creating a garden as a way of extending the internal space outside. I enjoy the narrative between the buildings and the surrounding gardens, and it is this blurring of the boundaries which I think unifies my projects. I think gardens should look and feel like they have always been there and not simply an afterthought. I try to create spaces that are wholly immersive, with each element working together and the right balance between the hard landscaping and wilder naturalistic planting
You renovated a listed building, doing much of the work yourself with your partner. What did you learn from that process?
Most importantly about the actual construction process and how buildings are fabricated. This in turn has given me a lot more confidence in the work I do now and the communication I have with my contractor. The most important aspects of gardens are generally hidden such as the foundations, groundwork and drainage, knowing how these work is vital.
Do you have a favourite plant? Or one that you find recurs often in the gardens you design?
I like to incorporate a lot of ornamental grasses in my designs which work well in adding softness, lightness and movement. My favourite plant though would probably be salvia’s – beautiful scents and such a diverse range of colours and forms – they are also a magnet for bees.
Has spending so much time around plants impacted the way you interact with yourself and others?
I think it has probably taught me a lot about patience, slowing down and also that some things are simply out of our control.
What would your dream commission be?
Most of the work I do is residential which I enjoy, however they remain secret and hidden – only to be enjoyed by the client. Whilst I like this intimate relationship of working closely with a client and designing a space for them, I would also love to do more public work. A few years ago I worked on a project with Patternity for the London Design Festival where they installed a modular Life Labyrinth outside of Westminster Cathedral which took visitors on a walking experience through the space and into the centre where they were surrounded by planting which I designed. I loved working on this project due to it being in such a public domain where it was enjoyed by anyone, even if they were simply passing through and needed somewhere to sit and have a coffee. It brings me so much joy to see how quickly planting can bring nature and tranquility into urban and built-up areas, and from this how instantly the sights and sounds of bees butterflies would emerge. It would be a dream to do something on this scale again which could be a permanent green space in the city for passerby’s, visitors and local residents to enjoy.
Finally, this year we are asking all of our Journal interviewees to complete the following phrase to help us celebrate 25 years of You Must Create (YMC):
You Must Create… time to connect with nature.