Visionary Garden Designer John Brookes MBE Dies

Living at Denmans Gardens in Fontwell, John Brookes MBE died on Friday 16th March at St Richard’s hospital in Chichester, he was 84 years old.

‘I am not a gardener. I am a landscape designer.’ So John Brookes MBE would admonish anyone who mistook him for the former.

Regarded as the ‘the man who made the modern garden’, Mr Brookes spent a lifetime designing gardens and landscapes in Britain and around the world. Some of his best-known gardens include the College Green Garden at Westminster Abbey, Fitzroy Square, Barakura English Garden in Japan, and the English Walled Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Born in Durham in 1933 Mr Brookes began practising garden design in the late 1950s, having worked with Dame Sylvia Crowe and Brenda Colvin in London. Recognizing the rapidly changing lifestyles of what was then ‘modern life’, he vigorously broke with previous garden design traditions and the emphasis on showcasing plants by advocating the use of gardens as extensions of the home. Also ahead of his time, he introduced the notion that a garden could be low-maintenance as well as beautiful.

Denmans Garden

In 1980, after a two-year stint teaching interior design for the Inchbald School, he founded the Clock House School of Garden Design at Denmans, Fontwell, West Sussex where he lived until his death. He also set up schools of design in Chile, Japan, and Argentina. His energetic writing, teaching, and appearances on television meant that that he became widely regarded as the ‘king’ and the ‘godfather’ of garden and landscape design. His influence and legacy in design is far-reaching and will be long-lived.

While his forthcoming memoir, A Landscape Legacy (Pimpernel Press), tells the story of his remarkable life in his own words, Mr. Brookes will be remembered by his friends for his sharp wit and straight talk; his love of pugs, Chopin nocturnes, blended whisky, yellow mimosas and ’Annabelle’ hydrangeas, and walking on the South Downs; warm summer evenings at his garden, Denmans, in Fontwell West Sussex; pub dinners, latterly at the Spur in Slindon; and his constant encouragement, not always gentle, to lovers of design. He loved to entertain and could make a mean cottage pie at the drop of a hat for unexpected guests. Never a namedropper, Mr. Brookes revelled in pleasing his clients – the true test of success, he believed, of a garden’s design. His keen eye, impatience in getting a project finished, and generosity of spirit will be missed by many friends, admirers, students, and colleagues around the world – from Britain to Russia to Argentina and the US.

Sussex Local Magazine’s gardening writer Andrew Staib interviewed John at his home in Denmans Garden shortly before he passed away. Andrew’s article will be available to read in all editions of Sussex Local and online here on our website after 1st April.

Denmans will likely reopen at the beginning of June and will be part of the John Brookes-Denmans Foundation. Find out more by emailing [email protected]

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