Ordrup … the garden of the landscape designer G N Brandt


While tracking down material about how Arne Jacobsen used geometry and proportion in the process of design - specifically to see how and where he used the Golden Rectangle - there were several intriguing references to work by the Danish gardener, landscape designer and teacher G N Brandt.  

Brandt was a generation older than Jacobsen - some twenty-four or twenty-five years older - and they might not normally have known much of each other’s work particularly in the late 20s when Jacobsen had just finished his studies and just qualified as an architect but in 1927 Jacobsen married Marie Jelstrup Holm whose family lived in a villa in Ordrupvej and in 1929 the couple moved to Ordrup - to a house at Gotfred Rodes Vej 2 that Jacobsen designed and had built for them and where in 1931 he then added a design studio and office for his architectural practice … so for some fifteen years, until Jacobsen fled to Sweden in 1943, he lived and worked just a few streets away from where Brandt lived in Ørnekulsvej. The walk from one front gate to the other is 450 metres so each must have known of the house and the garden of the other.

Most books about Jacobsen note that he was interested in plants and both planting and the landscape setting or garden are important for many of the buildings that he designed but at Gotfred Rodes Vej, it is an awkward triangular plot so the house is set with considerable care and skill so, although the garden by Brandt and the garden by Jacobsen are very different in style, they are both designed to control the way spaces around the houses are linked and how views of the house from the garden and how views out from the house to the garden are controlled. 

In any period, but particularly in a period of change or transition, it is interesting to see where new ideas about shape or form or even the use of colour and texture, that are being tried out in architecture, can also be traced through other areas of design so obviously, of course, in the design of furniture and the design of interiors but also in planning and, as with the work of Brandt, in garden design.

In part, as with Jacobsen’s own house at Godfred Rodes Vej, Brandt’s house and garden in Ørnekulsvej is of interest because it was his own home so it was a place where it was possible for him to do what he wanted and a garden where he could experiment without having to satisfy a client.

Brandt had travelled to England, where he was inspired by gardens of the Arts and Crafts period and elements of English garden design, particularly the informal cottage garden, can be seen in his design for his own garden in Ordrup. There are areas of planting that are designed to look natural, like woodland, but also he used geometric proportion to give the whole garden a sense of order and structure and he planted hedges to create a sequence of tightly controlled spaces. That underlying geometry might not be immediately obvious to the visitor but this is never-the-less fascinating as an intellectual game for a design where there is clearly a complicated balance of influences and styles within a relatively restricted space that takes sophisticated ideas from gardens of a grander and more ambitious scale and refines them down to a tighter and more restricted domestic scale.

Although the garden of G N Brandt in Ordrup is compact - the main garden and his house fitted within an area of just 1,600 square metres - there are many influences incorporated in the design. It comes at a distinct point of change in architecture as the garden was laid out in 1914 so at a point when the 19th century was very certainly over but before what we would recognise as definitely modern forms of garden layout had been established. There are references here to English cottage gardens of the Arts and Crafts movement in the late 19th century but there are also ambitious references to classical gardens based on geometry as well as an underlying structure you might find in the formal gardens of a country house in the 18th or 19th century as well as areas of natural planting like a woodland glade.


the entrance to the garden from Ørnekulsvej


The garden is at the north-west corner of the cemetery of Ordrup. The land had belonged to Brandt’s father, a horticulturalist, but was later acquired as an addition to the cemetery. Officially G N Brandt was in charge of municipal gardens in the wider area of Gentofte, including the cemetery at Ordrup, so it would appear that the house and its garden became an official residence.

There are six separate areas to the Ordrup garden that are marked out and divided by high, square-cut hedges that form a series of enclosed but tightly linked spaces. 

On the public road, on Ørnekulsvej, there is a small, unassuming and modest gate that leads into the first part of the garden where there is a gently curved path, lined with mature trees and shrubs, that runs roughly parallel to the main path on the axis of the cemetery to its left. This path and the area of planting were long enough to hide the house and its garden from the public road and gives them a sense of seclusion. That path brings you to first a high gate and then, immediately inside the gate, there is the second area of the garden that is a long and very narrow area that runs across the line of approach. It is simply grassed but slopes gently down away from the path to the right and is a curious space, almost like an alley. It also extends to the visitors left for a short distance where it ends in a high hedge and there is now a seat on the central axis where you can sit and look down the full length of the alley. This appears to be a buffer or a break that is there to prepare you for the enclosed and contained areas of the garden beyond but might also have been a way of implying that the garden was larger than it really was because although it runs for the full length of the plot there is nothing to suggest that the garden might not extend somehow into the trees beyond. 


the view down the alley from the seat with the gate and the path to the road on the right and the path to what was a door into the house on the left


A gate directly opposite the path from the street, on the far side of the alley, is in the position of a door into the house on its side gable. Although the house was demolished in the 1960s its outline is now marked out with pale blocks of stone that are inset into the grass. It was a modest villa with one main floor but over a basement and with attic rooms that were lit by large dormers to the front and to the back. There was a large bay window to the front and with a small front garden that faced north-east towards the main path of the cemetery. The house was surrounded by planting of flowers but the area is now relatively clear, laid to grass, but with the remains of a back terrace of the house facing south west.

Perhaps one point that is important but is no longer obvious because the house no longer survives but for the visitor arriving at the cross alley, the only way to get into the main garden would have been, apparently, by first entering the house.

At the back of the house was a paved terrace and from there, stepping down the gentle slope, there is a series of three narrow rectangular gardens that are set across the slope, and all three are defined by high hedges to form a series of tightly-enclosed spaces like outside rooms. 


from the gate from the cemetery, the front garden of the house with the outline of demolished building showing the position of the large bay window on this side and the remains of the paved terrace at the back of the house with the way into the series of gardens to right end of the hedge

the canal garden from the west

the canal garden in Winter from the lower south-east corner


First is an orchard with apple trees. Then the second garden has a deep ditch running across the main axis, filled with water to create a narrow canal - described in some accounts as a moat - with the banks planted with marsh plants. There are low stone arches at each end of the channel where the water flows in and and out and the area around is paved. Beyond, further down the slope, is the third garden, again defined by high hedges but planted as a woodland.

It is the canal garden and this last area of woodland that are laid out with the proportions of a Golden Rectangle …  an underlying geometry that Brandt used in other gardens … and this hints at the complexity of the ideas and theories he employed even in such a small space. A Golden Rectangle has specific proportions that are considered by some to not only be significant in terms of their mathematics but also to be inherently beautiful. However, in an area such as this, defined by high hedges that, even when trimmed, take their own outline and in a space broken by shrubs and planting then, without being told beforehand, it would surely have been impossible for any visitor to see, let alone appreciate, that underlying geometry. It is, at the very least, a romantic conceit.

Throughout the garden there are challenging juxtapositions … of compact scale but grand concepts, informal planting but within a formal structure so natural planting but an over-riding sense of being contained within carefully controlled spaces. That sounds as if I didn’t like the garden but in fact it is really very beautiful - a fascinating garden that is worth seeing at any season and a garden that feels private and enclosed and very tranquil … so a garden for the introvert for contemplation.



the last or lower garden ... the woodland from the west



background notes:

Gudmund Nyeland Brandt (1878-1945) was a horticulturalist and a garden and landscape designer and a teacher; a writer as well as being the gardener for the municipality of Gentofte … the large suburban area immediately north of Copenhagen.

Brandt designed a number of public gardens around Copenhagen including the courtyard garden of the Design Museum; the park in Hellerup around the house at Øregård; a small park around the marina in Hellerup and the famous garden on the roof of Radiohuset in Copenhagen. 

Away from the city, in 1920 he was responsible for remodelling the garden of Marienlyst - a country house on the outskirts of Helsingør - and in the mid 20s designed the grounds around the Cathedral School in Viborg.

The site of Brandt’s house and the surviving garden are at Ørnekulsvej 3, at the north end of the cemetery in Ordrup, with one gate into the garden from the main central path of the cemetery and a separate gate for access to the garden from Ørnekulsvej. 

There are frequent trains to Ordrup station on suburban line C from Copenhagen and the garden is 400 metres walk to the west of the station on the far side of the high street and on the far side of the cemetery.


the alley from the bottom of the slope looking up towards the seat with the gate leading to the path to the road at the top on the left and the trees of the cemetery beyond