Landscape of Dreams

bannerSusie White reviews ‘Landscape of Dreams’ and discovers the visionary style of Isabel and Julian Bannerman.

Isabel and Julian Bannerman have been designing gardens and garden buildings together since 1983 and have been described as ‘mavericks in the grand manner, touched by genius’ (Mike Hogg, World of Interiors). The cover of this book about their gardens gives a hint of their style; pheasant eye narcissi in a misty orchard give a sense of something lying beyond. There’s mystery, fantasy and theatricality in their work, and the book is filled with evocative photographs, mostly taken by the Bannermans in an intriguing record of the making of these extraordinary places.

jacketIn his Foreword, HRH The Prince of Wales quotes John Bunyan “So I awoke, and behold it was a dream”. For these are dream spaces, a combination of architecture, landscape, interior design and planting. Isabel describes their influences in the first chapter as being drawn from all the decorative arts, architecture, books, travels, land art, places and memories of childhood gardens. They have always had a fascination with ‘lost’ country houses and in the 1980’s Julian bought The Ivy in Wiltshire, boarded up, derelict and clothed in creepers. After its restoration they made the celebrated garden of Hanham Court, moving in 2003 to the magic of Trematon Castle in Cornwall.

As well as describing their own gardens, there are chapters on some of their major projects which include work at Highgrove, a garden in the Windward Isles, Arundel Castle and Waddesdon in Buckinghamshire. These are grand houses with owners with the means to develop them but there are so many ideas here and details to absorb and learn from: lines of ivy creating green risers in a series of steps, ivy clipped tight into diamond patterns against a wall, double plinths of box supporting topiary.

The Bannerman style often uses elements from historic gardens, particularly of the sixteenth or seventeenth century, such as follies, grottoes and arbours. Their materials range from rusticated stone and tufa rock to antlers, tree stumps, shells and pine cones. Buildings might be thatched or roofed with shingles, pediments crowned with conglomerations of antlers, imaginary ‘ruins’ created in a mixture of new stone and salvaged stonework. There’s also a sense of playfulness. Wood is used to make obelisks, balustrades or urns where you might expect stone. Giant urns sprout, not living, but gilded bronze agaves.

side-houghton-hall-pg-82For their gold-medal winning Chelsea Flower Show in 1994 the Bannermans invented a town garden in an imagined cathedral city with an enormous mulberry tree and roses clambering over ruined arches. At Highgrove a pair of green oak temples and the famous Stumpery. The Gunnera Fountain has giant leaves emerging from the middle of a green swamp of a pond with the jungle atmosphere of Ankhor Wat. The preliminary drawings and garden plans help you to see their ideas develop. (pictured right: Houghton Hall).

The planting of these visionary gardens is inspiring. Certain favourite choices are repeated such as the great white cherry, Prunus ‘Tai-Haku’, irises, gunnera, ferns and peonies. The beautifully lit photographs are filled with roses, poppies, ox-eye daisies and wildflowers. The Bannermans like to use what they call ‘non-plants’, the kind that are considered so common that you don’t find them in garden centres, like honesty. Achieving that slightly wild look is not easy, as Isabel says: “Trying to make it look as if gardening is not happening particularly is a very tricky deception“.

This glorious book is not only beautiful to look at, it is written in wonderfully descriptive language. I found my head filled with ideas as well as thoughts about what gardening is all about. And I recommend looking at Isabel’s incredible photographs, shot against black backgrounds at


(Pictured above: Wychwood)

In the Epilogue, she says that they have done many smaller gardens: “but these and many larger gardens we have made will all have to wait for volume two.” I look forward to reading another book!

‘Landscape of Dreams: The Gardens of Isabel and Julian Bannerman’ is published by  Pimpernel Press Ltd Price £50 Hardback Publication October 2016 ISBN 978-1-910258-60-6

Photographic credits: photographs ©2016: Isabel and Julian Bannerman and Dunstan Baker.

Our guest reviewer Susie White, is a freelance garden writer and lecturer. Her own garden, with its naturalistic planting, often features in her Guardian Country Diary. She is a member of the Garden Media Guild.