We take a tour of some of the sophisticated private gardens created by in-demand landscape architect and Vogue contributing editor Miranda Brooks.
In the 18th-century, there was one name that the owners of England’s grand country estates – the aristocracy and newly rich industrialists – called on to create spectacular gardens. Lancelot “Capability” Brown built sweeping lawned landscapes such as those at Hampton Court and Blenheim Palace, renowned for their “natural” style that still defines the notion of the traditional English garden.
Fast forward to the 21st-century and there is again one name that the Rothschilds and Guinnesses of this world, as well as the international rich such as Ron Perelman, turn to when they desire sophisticated landscapes for their homes around the world in both town and country. Miranda Brooks may not yet have the profile of her legendary predecessor, but her influence on the modern private garden is unquestionable. The recent fad for long grass lawns and patches of meadow can partly be credited to her work and, as a contributing editor to American Vogue, she has the power to make flowers fashionable or trees trendy. (Her appointment at the magazine came after she designed the garden at Anna Wintour’s country home in Mastic, New York).
British-born, New York-based Brooks is classically trained in garden design – she studied Landscape Architecture at Birmingham University and worked for several years for renowned gardener Arabella Lennox Boyd in London – and has an architectural approach to design instilled by her architect father. Yet there is also a distinct romanticism about her work and a strong sense of place that can be seen in all her designs, from Marrakech farms to Manhattan courtyards. Her commissions may be smaller in scale than the great gardens of the past (though an estate she recently worked on in East Hampton, New York, covered 27-acres), but in terms of subtlety and sophistication her creations are the classics of the future.
As we take a tour of some of her most thrilling work – including that Wintour garden – we talk to Brooks about modern landscape design and her favourite gardens around the world.
How would you describe your philosophy of landscape design?
Listen. Listen and be present both to the landscape and to the client.
A strong architectural design is evident in your work, yet the overall look is very ‘natural’. How do you achieve this?
An architect for a father, an art history background, and growing up on a farm in the English countryside.
Are there certain features that you consider essential to a good garden?
I think it’s a little more abstract than that. The essence of the landscape needs to be coaxed out so that a strong sense of space can be developed. This is then reinforced by appropriate materials and plants.
Art and sculpture is often a feature of your gardens. How do you incorporate this into the landscape?
Recently I have had the luck to work with clients who had fantastic sculptures. The structure of the garden remains an exercise in what was right for the house and landscape, but areas and walks were made for the sculptures
Which other landscape architects – both past and present – are you inspired by?
The list is long and always being added to. The unknown creators of old gardens with magical atmosphere. Humphry Repton, Mughal gardens and in particular Babur’s garden in Agra. My old boss and mentor Arabella Lennox-Boyd, Tom Stuart-Smith and Piet Oudolf.
You are a contributing editor to American Vogue – do you notice any parallels between fashion and landscape design?
I am interested in all forms of design. I am full of admiration for fashion designers as they have to create for each season and the production for the shows is incredible. Luckily landscape design moves at a slower pace and thankfully should not consciously follow fashion and should still entrance 30 years on.
Are any of your clients conscious of building grand Capability Brown-style gardens?
I am working for a client right now who wants to build for the future generation and leave his mark on the landscape of his farm in Maryland.
To what extent do environmental and sustainability issues inform your work?
Primarily it affects what I plant. Most people don’t want to spray but I like to plant things that are appropriate or even indigenous to the area. I am anti lawn and try to keep mowing and irrigation to a minimum.
What would you say are the current trends in garden design?
The on-going and elusive low maintenance garden. Everyone wants an organic vegetable garden at the moment with no genetically modified seeds.
What advice would you give to someone looking to make the most of their garden with a few quick and easy changes?
In the country I would say look at how you mow and consider more meadow areas which only need mowing once a year. And in the city make sure that the hard landscaping is well detailed and beautiful materials are used.
Please describe your ideal garden.
Scents, discovery, light and shade, grass with daisies, moss, a little piece of theater where children get excited, wonderful views and things to eat.
What is the most unusual garden you have designed?
Probably some of my city projects which are more theatrical. My most unusual commission was made at a Barry White party in Bombay!!!
Which are your five favourite gardens to visit around the world?
1. Chastleton in Oxfordshire for its mixture of unkempt and beautifully maintained for hundreds of years.
2. A friend’s garden in Andalucía built around a 12th-century Moorish water source. I love it for its sounds, scents and details.
3. Cetinale in Tuscany - extraordinary views and created by its owner.
4. Ninfa in Italy again - for its romance.
5. Le Prieuré Notre Dame d’Orsan in the centre of France - I love it for its structure and impeccable detailing.
What is your definition of luxury?
If luxury were an object it would be…?
My Japanese teacups.
If luxury were a place?
Hard to choose but perhaps where I’ve just been hot-tubbing in the Catskills.
If luxury were a person?
If I had to think of luxurious person I know… I am torn between two great appreciatives – my friend, architect and decorator Daniel Romauldex, and India Jane Birley.
If luxury were a moment?
Reading my favourite stories in bed with my children in the morning.