House In The Trees - Case Study

Landscaping : O’Keefe Landscapes
Photography : Darryl Osada


Located in the heart of London, the property runs parallel to and within short-walking distance from one of London’s largest and most spectacular Royal Parks.
Once the entire site was cleared to a blank canvas, careful planning and accurate planting was used to obscure the surrounding buildings on three sides of the property’s boundary walls.

An “L” shaped new build house was constructed on two levels, transforming a derelict and overlooked site into a contemporary home with a series of garden spaces.

The footprint of the house and layout of the garden was carefully positioned to enjoy a south-west facing aspect, whilst the intention of the planting was to obscure overlooking buildings. This “garden of trees” incorporates light-open branched species with light and airy-feathered foliage, allowing light to flood into each area of the garden whilst obscuring the view of the surrounding buildings.

A home and garden was created; by planting vertically with “layer upon layer” of impressive 6-10 metre high trees, together with boundary planting of 4 metre Pleached Acer Campestre (Field Maple) trees and a 3 metre-tall Taxus baccatta (Yew) hedge – forming a dense vertical green screen which develops into a “wave-formation” running parallel with the curves of the drive, creating a habitat for an array of wildlife.

Beyond the electronically operated Main Gate, which slides effortlessly open to reveal the house, the ‘endless’ garden and a pleached-tree-lined resin-bonded-gravel driveway to the garage. One-point perspective (dating back to Renaissance design) was used to create a strong visual effect. The overlapping of “semi-transparent-shapes” in the form of Birch, Oak and Honey Locust trees, draws the onlooker’s gaze up the garden (like a stage set – low in the foreground and “climbing – level by level”) into the distance.

The dynamic use of water adds impact and dramatic perspective :
The reflective pond, an impressive central element – cuts it’s way through the levels of the garden, providing continuity, tranquility and calming sound. Water bubbles-up from its source at the highest level (midway in the garden) running “downstream” towards the main living area – the heart of the house, creating an air of serenity. A sense of flow is achieved through the use of a sequence of cascades, utilising and enhancing the changes in level within the garden.

This extensive city garden space  combines simple and minimalistic style with energetic and bold planting. The local ecological bio-diversity is enhanced by “wildflower meadows” – featured throughout the entire project, providing a “blanket” of colourful wild flowers and grasses at Ground level and at First Floor Roof level where a modular green roofing system not only “greens-up” the area, but increases natural diversity – enticing  bees, butterflies and insects to boost the local ecology.

The garden not only boasts a sophisticated cocktail of mature specimen trees – a statuesque Cornus controversa (Handkerchief Tree), Quercus phellos (Willow Oak), multi-stemmed Betula Nigra (River Birch) and Gleditsia triacanthos (Honey Locust Tree) – but also the project brings together formal and informal planting incorporating an “evergreen-backbone” of Taxus and Buxus and an abundance of perennials blended with grasses.

An intimate entertaining area with a large contemporary oak dining table, bordered by tall terracotta pots, is located in a sheltered “courtyard space” adjoining the Kitchen. Partly shaded, and obscured by the feathery leaves and open branches of the largest Gleditsia (Honey Locust Tree), a specimen Espalier Morello Cherry tree features as the main focal point at the heart of the space.

Hard landscaping incorporates massive slabs of textured fossilised honed limestone with “stepping stone” path details of the same material complimenting the resin-bonded gravel drive.

At the rear of the house, two limestone-paved Courtyards – a pair of external vertical spaces, planted with tall Gleditsia trees – can be viewed through glazed panels on all three sides of the Ground Floor living and entertaining spaces, adding dramatic effect to the view from the First Floor Gallery above.

When night falls, a sophisticated lighting system adds drama and tone, illuminating the trees and the movement of water, highlighting planting in pots as well as the main architecture of the building, whilst creating magical shadows and making this project a space to be enjoyed at all hours of the day – a retreat from city life.