As part of its 150th birthday celebrations, John Lewis commissioned Young Designer of the Year 2013 Tony Woods to create an urban garden for all, complete with bandstand, living walls and a juice bar, on the roof of its Oxford Street shop. Open until August/September, we asked Tony to give us a guided tour…
Tony, what was the brief?
“The garden had to be suitable for public viewing and it also had to reflect the John Lewis brand and history, so I decided to use raised beds to allow the visitors to look through the planting, to the amazing panorams of London beyond, and to show off the company’s heritage and innovation, I incorporated traditional elements such as the timber greenhouse, bandstand and meadow planting with more contemporary features such as the pergola and the pavilion.”
How did you approach the design solution?
“I only got the go-ahead for the project in February 2014, and the garden had to open in May, so I had just a few weeks to design and plant the garden. For ideas about which plants to use, I visited the beautiful gardens at Longstock Park, home of the company’s founder, John Spedan Lewis. Then, as with all roof gardens, I needed to address the matter of weight restrictions; we had to weigh every single feature in the design, from the compost and pots, to the plants and decking.”
In what way does this garden differ from a show garden?
“The public are able to walk on and all around this garden, which they can’t do with a show garden; it also has to look good for four or five months so the planting needed to be able to grow and stay healthy. For weight and durability reasons, I’ve used an artificial turf and to make sure the raised beds were not too heavy, I used composite decking boards instead of real wood. The bases are filled with a layer of polystyrene with a layer of clay balls on top. A special lightweight roof-garden compost, formulated to sustain large plants, goes on top, and a drip-line irrigation system sustains the plants, which has proved vital given the extreme heat and dry periods we’ve had this summer.”
Tell us about the living walls that flank the entrance to the garden
“The walls are constructed from units by Treebox, and have deep pockets large enough to contain compost and plant roots, and I’ve filled them with flowers and textural foliage such as heucheras, Helianthemum (rock roses) and thyme. I’ve also created green roofs to cover the bandsand and kiosk, using meadow plants, and all of them have become a haven for wildlife and birds – I was amazed at how quickly the birds and bees moved in.”
What about the effect of the wind and the sun?
“Ah, yes, it can be very windy up here, and the sunshine intense, so I’ve used multi-stemmed birch trees and drought-resistant herbs, flowers and grasses, things such as lavender, rosemary, Stipa (Mexican feather grass), scabious and the little daisy, Erigeron karvinskianus.”
The John Lewis roof garden is accessible via the Oxford Street shop, and is open daily 10am to 4pm (Sunday, 11.30am to 4pm) until August/September.Read more →