Founder of Garden Club London Tony Woods explains how he created a paradisical retreat for one of the South Bank’s most recognisable residences.
Take Courage House is a Georgian home with a story to tell. Moments from Borough Market, this former brewery building has all the hallmarks of a heritage property. Period proportions and original features recall its past, while modern interventions, from Tom Dixon lighting to Neil Stokoe artwork, speak of its rebirth as a contemporary family home.
Emblazoned with the phrase “Take Courage”, the brick exterior harks back to its previous incarnation as a clerical building for the Anchor Brewery. Today, this painted advertisement has found its way onto countless Instagram feeds. But nowhere is this conversation between old and new more apparent than in the walled garden. Backdropped by The Shard, this secluded spot is a gallery of organic textures pairing layers of planting with thoughtful design.
“It’s like a secret garden,” explains landscape gardener Tony Woods, founder of Garden Club London and the mastermind behind the project. “You fight your way off the tube, come through a busy market then enter to find yourself enveloped in wisteria and jasmine. It’s just this Narnia. A different world.”
Where Tony’s clients will often seek to leave their mark on a space, here the team were given free rein. In this case, it meant a restrained approach. Named the Best Small Residential Garden Design at the Society of Garden Designers’ 2021 awards, the studio was heralded for its inventive use of existing plants and features.
“The house dictates the brief to a certain extent and in this case, it’s an original walled garden with soil underfoot,” explains Tony, who often works in spaces that have been newly designated as gardens. “I can imagine someone working for the brewery planting a rose and enjoying that smell against the backdrop of smoky, busy, dusty London, as it was back then.”
Far from adding white-rendered raised beds and flowers in on-trend colours, Tony looked at drawing from the history of the space to create a timeless sanctuary. “We tend to make it lush and green and only drop in the essential landscape elements,” he says of Garden Club London’s approach – which here saw existing plants, such as Viburnums, retained. “We aimed to keep this garden’s original character while introducing contemporary details that give it a certain freshness and a lift.”
Modern design principles have had a profound effect on the space. “It’s another living room,” homeowner and designer Juliette Sherwood posits. By using straight lines, Tony has achieved a cubic effect reminiscent of a cosy, interior space. Above, a living corridor delineates the garden between the functional and the decorative. These parasol trees have a “green pergola” effect and, as Tony puts it, assure you have both privacy and atmosphere.
The straight-edged aesthetic is softened with the addition of a circular fire-pit-cum-barbecue which sits in the middle of the garden. “Juliette didn’t want the seating area tucked away in one corner,” Tony recalls. It therefore becomes a focal point around which other elements are arranged.
We aimed to keep this garden’s original character while introducing contemporary details that give it a certain freshness and a lift.
- Tony Woods, Garden Club London
Sightlines were also a major consideration for Tony and his team, who were excited to work on a garden which is not framed by an expanse of glazing. Instead, it reveals itself gradually. “You don’t directly approach the garden,” he explains. “You can peek out of a window, or you have to come round the corner – so you never see everything at once. You have this sense of suspense and excitement as you enter.”
A potager garden replicates the sights and smells of nearby Borough Market. “We deliberately made the paths very narrow so you have to brush against the plants,” Tony explains. This way, the scent of lavender and herbs is released as you walk past. At night, lighting adds an atmospheric glow to the space by isolating key features, as well as playing with shadow.
Fresh from Chelsea Flower Show, where the team created a Mediterranean garden and a balcony design combining English chestnut shingles, scented jasmine and archways, Garden Club London has also been working on projects in the capital and Europe. “Balcony escapism”, as Tony refers to it, puts a spotlight on using small exterior spaces to maximum effect.
For Tony, the garden of Take Courage House will always be a special project. “You want to create a lush, abundant, green garden but, at the same time, it has to have usability. This garden demonstrates that you can have both.” By carefully pairing classic and contemporary features, it aptly reflects the style of the house, too. With its distinctive character, one gets a sense that this leafy retreat is firmly anchored to its history. “You can feel gardeners of the past that have been there,” Tony muses. “That makes it really special.”
Take Courage House is available to buy for £5,000,000