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Russian gardens: Private garden near Moscow

Russian gardens: Private garden near Moscow
Russian gardens: Private garden near Moscow
Russian gardens: Private garden near Moscow
Russian gardens: Private garden near Moscow
Russian gardens: Private garden near Moscow
Russian gardens: Private garden near Moscow

This one-hectare garden, by British designers Sally Court and Helen Billetop of CGD Design, is only three or four years old but is rapidly maturing. It is located just outside Moscow, in the wealthy residential suburb of Barvikha. Early one sultry morning at the end of May I met up with Larissa, the head gardener, who drove me out of the city along the main highway to visit the garden. Thankfully we were driving against the tide of the commuter traffic that makes life such a misery for Muscovites. As we finally turned off the busy roads and into the countryside, the cool air of the forest came as a blessing.

Russia had just emerged from a particularly long, cold winter; the final snows had melted only a few weeks previously. Yet suddenly the temperature had rocketed to thirty degrees and showed no sign of falling. Such extreme weather conditions are fairly typical for Russia, representing challenging conditions in which to create successful gardens, as many British designers are now discovering.

The client had asked Sally and Helen for a traditional English garden, and in many respects this is what has been achieved. Adjacent to the house, for example, are the formal elements of a rose garden, glasshouse and potager that would not be out of place outside any English country house. However, as I started exploring the informal gardens leading down to the waterside, I realised that to describe this as an English garden doesn’t really do it justice. The fact that the garden is located in the middle of a forest and on the edge of a lake immediately gives it a very Russian context. What I love is how Sally and Helen have created a soft and relaxed planting style that is reminiscent of the English cottage garden tradition, whilst maintaining a feel that reminded me very much of some of the great Russian country estates of the ‘silver age’. This is largely because much of the original forest has been left undisturbed within the garden – here are pines, birches and other typical Russian trees. The stream and the lake at the bottom of the garden add to the Russian feel, reminding me (albeit on a smaller scale) of Turgenev’s estate at Spasskoye-Lutovinovo. The ‘English’ design and planting elements have been adapted to suit this environment. To my mind it is a very successful combination of English and Russian styles.

The sheer scale of the planting here is breathtaking, as is the level of maintenance that goes into it. Larissa works seven days a week during the peak season and oversees a small team of staff who keep the garden looking in tip-top condition. There is not a single weed to be seen – definitely not a feature of traditional Russian gardens, which tend to be much more relaxed in that respect.

The garden has already won several awards and has been featured in the Russian ‘Dom i Sad’ (House and Garden) magazine. But it is still a work in progress; indeed, the owner has just purchased an adjacent acre of land which CGD will be developing in the near future.

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