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Meeting John Brookes, the man behind Room Outside

It took me 14 years to meet landscape designer John Brookes. We were both writing books for the same publisher when our editor suggested they could combine our books to produce the ultimate outside and inside guide to home design. It never happened, sadly.

John lives 15 miles from me near Chicester, with a studio at the centre of Denmans Garden, one of his own creations that is also open to the public. He has now published 24 books. It all started with Room Outside (1969), which has just been republished. Despite being over 40 years old, it’s the best book on the market about the using garden space to really live in. We can use our outdoors more fully if the integration of house and garden is planned well. The space surrounding a building (known as a “transition zone”) – whether terrace, courtyard, patio or veranda – is often seen as a buffer zone for circulation, kept free of trees to avoid the mess of leaf fall, branch damage and disturbance to foundations or simply out of fear of damaging wall surfaces. Buildings, especially houses, need the softening impact of nature or they can look forbidding, with hard edifices that make too much impact for domestic comfort.

Inevitably, in North America and warmer climates the transition zone is more effectively used for outdoor living. In the UK, we sometimes need to be reminded of our natural instincts to be outdoors and enjoy the efforts of our gardening labours. John points this out in this influential first book, explaining how to do this in an easy-to-access way with soft and hard surfacing, planting design, ground shaping and drainage, special features, garden furnishings. In short, he tells us how to make an outdoor room.

John has the look of someone who lives his own philosophy, rugged and weather-beaten due to a life spent outside As I discuss these things, I want to get out and be doing that now. Planting plants that we can see, smell, be near. Enjoying their scale, shape and experience their biological detail, not to mention the comparative colour, texture and shape. Standing back you realize that the assemblages we put together whilst making our gardens are truly awe-inspiring in their variety.

John recently judged the Slant Landscape Awards. The winners’ ideas, he told me, filled him with optimism. “River-Some” from South Korea and “Parque Del Delta” from Argentina. And a new online garden design school allows you to access John’s knowledge first hand. For a modest sum you can download videos and learn garden design from the master – from the comfort of your kitchen table.


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