Arabella Lennox-Boyd, garden designer

Tracking down Arabella Lennox-Boyd is practically a military operation, such is the enormous scale of her work and personal commitments.

Not only will she be returning to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in May after an absence of eight years to design The Daily Telegraph Garden, but the five-time gold medal winner has recently completed plans for a peaceful garden for patients at Maggie's Cancer Caring Centre in Dundee.

There is a virtually limitless list of projects that bear the Lennox-Boyd tag, including the National Trust gardens at Ascott House and Sheringham Hall, a roof garden for Number One Poultry in the City of London, and the gardens at Eaton Hall, Cheshire.

And with Chelsea looming large in just a couple of months, there will be many expectant eyes eagerly awaiting the new design.

"I was driven by simplicity in the garden elements that I used - but we are dealing with a Chelsea garden and I do love plants so I had to have some, although I kept them to a minimum," she reveals. "Water is a very strong element and hedges will be very important."

While not willing to share too many design secrets, Lennox-Boyd stresses the garden is not going to be overly fussy. "There will be a very majestic tree, which will be the dominant feature at the end of the garden, and low planting of ferns, irises and arum lilies.

"There may be some roses and low-growing ground cover, and it will all be very simply designed and include a large, flat pond with water lilies."

The pressure will be on to a certain extent, considering the track record of wins that Lennox-Boyd has clocked up over the years at Chelsea - including the gong for best garden in 1998.

But she stays calm in the face of that intense expectation. Needless to say, the rigours of designing gardens for the rich and famous - including singer Sting, the King and Queen of Belgium and the Duke and Duchess of Westminster - have been equally demanding.

Splitting her time between a thriving practice in central London and her Lancashire home, Gresgarth Hall, Lennox-Boyd is continually on the go. But despite winning accolades for her designs both in the UK and abroad, she insists that a love of the art of gardening is her major motivating force.

She explains: "It never occurred to me I might be successful and I never courted publicity, but I'm quite determined and when I do something, I want to do it well. When I first started it was just for the love - and I still love it, particularly plants."

Of Italian birth, Lennox-Boyd left her native Rome to settle in the UK and moved to Gresgarth Hall in 1978.

She says that her Italian background is a big influence in her garden design work - especially at Gresgarth, where she lives with Sir Mark Lennox-Boyd, former parliamentary private secretary to Margaret Thatcher.

"I like luxurious planting. Around the house at Gresgarth it's an Italianate feel but moving away the garden merges into the landscape for a more natural feel," she explains. "It took me quite a long time to come to terms with the landscape there and it was very alien for me, coming from Italy."

It will come as no surprise, considering Lennox-Boyd's background, that the landscape design for the new green space at Maggie's Cancer Caring Centre in Dundee is heavily influenced by classical Italian gardens.

Work on the garden began in February. It sits between the Maggie's centre and Ninewells Hospital to give patients a chance to enjoy relaxation and reflection in beautiful surroundings.

Lennox-Boyd donated her design to the centre, and purposely addressed practical considerations such as maintenance. She explains: "I thought of what I would want to do if I was there and I decided I would design a little garden for people to use as a refuge when they're suffering and upset.

"It was important to link Maggie's to the main hospital because that is where most of the patients come from.

"I didn't want the patients in the hospital to feel the Maggie's centre was this unapproachable place."

At the heart of the garden is a labyrinth, meant to mirror the quest for information and peace of mind undertaken by many cancer patients. A large, flat open space will be used for outdoor events and a small garden has been designed for patients and their families to use as an outdoor room.

Lennox-Boyd adds: "The landscaping and planting plan calls for indigenous Scottish species to be incorporated with ornamental trees and shrubs to give colour and variation between spring and autumn.

"The surrounding landscape is very beautiful; it will be wonderful to see when it opens in the summer."

CV


1978: Moves to Gresgarth Hall, Lancashire
1979: Landscape architecture course at Thames Polytechnic
1989: Publishes Traditional English Gardens
1990, 1993, 1995, 1998, 2000: Wins gold at RHS Chelsea Flower Show
1993: Publishes Private Gardens of London
1998: Wins Best in Show at Chelsea
2002: Publishes Designing Gardens
2003: Made Honorary Doctor of Design by University of Greenwich.


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