Butter Wakefield’s Ingenious Design Ideas for a Charming Urban Garden
Garden designer Butter Wakefield was tasked with transforming the garden and roof terrace of a townhouse in Chelsea, creating a space that offers year-round structure and visual interest. In an interview with Clare Foster, she explains how she has crafted natural environments that seamlessly extend from a new extension.
When Miranda Perrett enlisted Butter Wakefield to redesign her townhouse garden in Chelsea, she had a specific vision in mind: a natural aesthetic with abundant greenery to soften any hard landscaping. Miranda wanted a garden that would look beautiful throughout the year, with a gentle and unforced appeal. Butter opted for a simple and symmetrical layout, recognizing that symmetry, although not always effective, can bring a sense of calmness and balance to small spaces.
The use of limestone paving from Stone Age, mirroring the limestone in the ground floor extension, creates a small terrace and continues as steps to the upper level of the garden. Unlike spanning the entire width, the steps run through the middle, accompanied by raised beds on either side. Butter explains, “We wanted to bring the greenery down and across this space to create a more pleasing visual experience.”
To provide a contrasting element to the limestone, narrow Belgian bricks were employed for the upper terrace and retaining walls, arranged in herringbone patterns reminiscent of parquet flooring. These bricks, ingeniously wedged in place, are unpointed, giving the entire surface a more natural appearance and allowing self-seeded plants to grow between them. “We laid the bricks on a free-draining aggregate to ensure the garden’s sustainability,” Butter explains.
Mirrors have long been utilized to create an illusion of space in small gardens, and Butter incorporates them effectively in the lower terrace, positioned behind trellis from The Garden Trellis Co and painted in Farrow & Ball’s ‘Downpipe’ for a subtle effect. A panel at the far end of the garden, situated above a simple water feature with a bespoke lead cistern from Redfields, echoes this use of mirrors. The table, chairs, and benches in the terrace area are crafted by James Fuller of Home & Garden Ironwork, using galvanized-iron pieces that are light and transparent. Butter advises against using bulky furniture in small spaces.
The lighting scheme in the garden is understated, with warm glow emanating from Davey & Company wall lanterns. John Cullen Lighting designed the rest of the garden’s lighting, incorporating small antique brass uplighters on the steps and under the multi-stemmed shrubs to create intriguing shadows. Butter notes, “All the trees needed was a little tickle. It is easy to overdo lighting in a small garden.”
The planting primarily consists of evergreen species, with a framework of four multi-stemmed Pittosporum tobira complemented by Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Golf Ball’, Skimmia japonica ‘Finchy’, and compact Hydrangea paniculata ‘Little Lime’ in the raised beds on either side of the steps. Perennials in a refined color palette, including Geranium nodosum ‘Silverwood’, Tellima grandiflora, and various hellebores, ensure year-round flowering, while alchemilla and erigeron spill onto the paving. Butter emphasizes the importance of having something in bloom at all times, no matter how subtle, and selected jasmine and climbing roses for their delightful scents and ability to climb up the walls.
The roof area is anchored by three multi-stemmed Amelanchier lamarckii trees, chosen for their resilience against exposed conditions. In large containers, Pittosporum tobira ‘Nanum’ forms cushions of glossy green foliage, interspersed with pink-flowered scabious and Geranium nodosum. Erigeron cascades over the planters, softening their sharp edges. Butter explains, “We aimed to envelop the space in greenery.”
At the heart of this welcoming and unpretentious garden lies a seating area furnished with Royal Botania’s ‘Zenhit’ teak-framed furniture. Light galvanized steel containers from Outdoor Design are positioned along the edges, overflowing with lush planting. Above these containers, a transparent toughened glass surround acts as a wind barrier without obstructing the natural light.
The roof terrace offers a distinct ambiance compared to the lower garden, featuring thermo-treated bamboo decking from Loknan. This engineered, high-density material is lightweight and highly durable, making it perfect for roof gardens. Wooden cupboards built into the planters provide concealed storage for cushions and a mini fridge. Butter notes, “This roof terrace is a small area, more akin to a room than the lower garden, but it deserves the same level of attention to detail. My mantra is to avoid being overly clever in small spaces. Less is always more.”