• Avant Gardener Profile: Ludwig Bull

    Clara Mary Joy

    Meet Ludwig Bull, a lawyer and CEO, finding solace in nature amidst his tech-oriented work life. Originally from Saxony, Germany, he values Eccleston Square's lush garden and community spirit — intrigued by the square's unique dynamics, despite its private nature. Emphasizing nature's role in reflection and mental clarity, Ludwig's love for bonsais reflects his connection to the natural world.

    Today we take a walk with Ludwig Bull, a lawyer and justice activist who lives in Pimlico’s coveted Eccleston Square. Dating back to the 1830s, Eccleston Square encloses an abundant and beautifully manicured garden surrounded on four corners by London’s traditional stuccoed houses. This unique urban topography testifies to the influence of English Romanticism in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, characterised by a sense of unity between man and nature that positions the garden square as the perfect symbiosis between town and country living. Echoes of this ideology still permeate the garden today, which offers a solace of natural tranquillity in the heart of West London. Following a devastating storm in 1987, the garden as it stands currently was rebuilt with the addition of a tennis court and playground by the residents of the square, fostering a love and care that continues today. Accessible only to residents of the square, Ludwig offers us a tour of this guarded urban oasis.
    To start with, I just wondered if you could tell me a little bit about yourself what you do, and where you call home.

    My name is Ludovic. I am the CEO of a legal tech startup in London, we specialise in building an online justice system that makes it super easy for people to take legal action and to get good outcomes, trying to decrease the cost of legal services for the average person. We’ve been growing pretty aggressively, and I’ve had to deal with young startup founder situations where suddenly companies grow really quickly and you have to adapt.

    Nature is probably the only thing that I found truly de-stressing, other than practising martial arts, it feels like the ultimate sort of balance to my pretty intense, tech-orientated work life. I'm from Germany, originally from Saxony, which is in Eastern Germany, and I'm from the capital of Saxony, which is Dresden. I've always been very close to nature since I was a young boy because we used to go hiking a lot in the really beautiful areas of nature close to where my family live, near Switzerland. Because I grew up in so many places, it is this Bohemian landscape that I really identify with this idea of home, rather than any particular area or country. The painting Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich is inspired by this Bohemian landscape. He painted a lot of this area in a very typically romantic way.

    It sounds like the natural landscape factors heavily in your idea of home and origin. It is interesting that you talk about the Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich because the ideology behind the creation of Eccleston Square is strongly linked to contemporary ideas surrounding the importance of human connection to nature. Did the square play an important factor in your decision to move here?

    Yes! The garden was maybe the main reason we moved here. Garden squares are great for so many reasons; first of all, the fact that you have greenery like this right in front of you when you wake up and you look out the window, it makes such a difference to your entire day. When you’re in my apartment, you look outside and all you see is trees.

    I use the garden a lot, obviously more in the summer than in the winter; in the summer it's a great place to just lie in the sun, you know, reflect, be with your friends, have picnics, get drunk. It’s a place where I feel like I can forget where I am. I feel like nature to a certain extent is universal; you know, nature always is connected in some way, like whether you're in Switzerland or Hyde Park, as soon as you're in a place where you're just surrounded by trees, it doesn't really matter, you’re in nature and it's sort of universally connected to all other natural places.
    You moved in just before lockdown. Did you feel like the garden acted as a touchpoint of community during quarantine? How do you remember using the gardens during lockdown?

    I moved in just before lockdown, so unfortunately I don’t have anything to compare it to, but the gardens definitely increased the communal spirit of the square when we were all at home. We would take daily walks in the garden and whenever we saw anyone in there we would always say hello and chat (at a safe distance).

    In the summer, you always talk to your neighbours. Your neighbours will come over and bring you some wine, invite you to their picnic, introduce you to people. I’ve had some really nice interactions with people I’ve only ever seen in the square. But I would say that even the aura of the garden radiates beyond the garden itself. We are all connected to that one central natural place. You always greet anybody who's walking around the square, because, you know, we're all part of it, which is really special, I think, especially in a city like London, where we live in total anonymity, and nobody ever really talks to each other, but this totally changes when you have a common space.

    I love how this shared space fosters a strong sense of community. Do you feel like the social dynamics within the square are different from your average park?

    Yes, I think the intimate size of the garden fosters a sense of community around shared ownership. It’s a really interesting perspective because we're all like part of the garden. But personally, I've always felt very uncomfortable with the idea of private streets and gardens, coming from Germany, it’s something very alien to me, the idea of a private space in the middle of a major city is so unheard of. Unlike a lot of parks in London, we have proportional maintenance to the amount of people that come here, whereas other green spaces will often be left to deteriorate in quality. Whereas here, the flip side is that you have this really nice clean and well-maintained space. But I do find the privacy of the park uncomfortable, because I feel like, you know, ultimately, green spaces in the city should be accessible by anybody because ultimately, we're all inhabitants of the same city.

    I’d like to ask about the little greenhouse in Eccleston Square? How does this function in the garden and to the residents?

    Our gardeners use the greenhouse; they are extremely professional and very, very talented, and they cultivate an incredible variety of species in the garden. I mean, if you walk around and you see all the plants here, it's it's really impressive how you have such a huge variety of different trees, flowers, different bushes, just all over the garden. I think you can see that there’s been a long tradition of maintaining and funding [this garden], trying to bring together all these different varieties and species in one place to give you an eclectic experience of nature.
    Are there any more formalised community events that take place in the garden?

    A lot of people have parties in the garden, and we join other people’s parties. The only time the residents were ever asked to participate collectively was for a funeral procession, where they carried the deceased former resident around the square. It was really lovely, I believe he’d lived here a long time.

    You have such a beautiful green space right on your doorstep. Does this love of nature feature in your home?

    It doesn’t, currently, but I’ve always loved bonsais.

    Thank you so much for speaking with me. Do you have any final reflections you’d like to share?

    Yes, I feel like there is so much that nature can do for us, especially living in the city. Something that nature allows you to do is actually give you the ability to reflect and engage in exercises that let your mind drift. That’s something I think we get very, very rarely, mostly because of the digitalisation of our lives we’re constantly connected to the internet. And, like, I think one thing that nature can actually do is like to really take us out of that, and just let it sort of sit under an apple tree, right? And reflect. And sometimes people even have good ideas when they do that.

    We extend our deepest thanks to Ludwig for sharing his urban oasis with us, and hope you enjoyed coming along with us on this journey.