the man who invented the modern garden

John Brookes MBE

“When I began my career you either had grand country houses, which tried to imitate Sissinghurst, or small town gardens where people would plonk plants around a central lawn and leave it at that. No one gave much thought to design. I wanted to show that design is the starting point, particularly in small gardens, as they need a lot of thought.”

It was Brookes who coined the phrase “room outside”. It caught his sense of a garden as a usable living space, not a collection of individual plants. His drawings applied a simple “grid system” to each site, basing it on proportions he found in its house or the main rooms inside. He insisted that this grid unified a garden and helped its designs to flow. He believed that such a pattern could be arranged with any basic shapes, including beer mats, but it was never as easy as he made it seem.
In this sense he indeed “made the modern garden”. It really was he who brought modern principles of design and use into the spaces of smallish private gardens in Britain. He saw plants in terms of form and mass, rather than as individual flowery specimens. He liked pergolas made of white poles. He was a very early apostle of planting in gravel areas. He realised that people liked to eat in their “room outside” and he wanted them to overlook a garden that they could easily manage.

Robin Lane Fox, Financial Times
John Brookes’ gardening legacy lives on in the ‘room outside’” 13 April 2018.