This client had teenage children who no longer valued the garden, possibly as it was so overgrown, and had inherited one of those 1970s 'Conifer and Heather' gardens, well past it's Best Before Date!
The client wanted a garden that was informal and natural, yet sufficiently modern to help blend the modern house into its environment: quite suburban front yet backing onto a stretch of oak woodland.
The aim was to create a functional and welcoming garden to spend time in, relaxing or entertaining friends and family, and enjoying a little light gardening.
The front garden was outdated and had to be made more welcoming, with better access to the front door. (I dislike the style of architecture that implies the car is more important than the people!).
My plan was to create an ‘American front stoop’ effect (using decking and pergola to suggest rather than attempt to inappropriately exactly reproduce) which would bring the front door area farther forward than the garage door. I wanted to create an area that could be really enjoyable to spend time in, which would also create a sense of welcome and anticipation to anyone arriving.
The client wanted to improve conditions for wildlife by including ponds and bird feeders.
There was a beautiful willow at the entrance to the drive, but advice needed to be sought concerning its potential for invading drains and foundations.
Access to the side was cramped and needed improving...
The client required an entertaining area at the east side of the house and there were many large conifers and fruit trees in the garden, most of which had outgrown their space and needed removing.The house was dark inside because of the shade from so many trees!
The back garden was shady and very damp close to the house, quite unsuitable conditions for lawn.
In order to use the back garden more fully, the area needed to become more attractive and access to the greenhouse improved.
Although the area seemed very suburban, the rear backed onto woodland and the back garden was a home to many animals. Even a badger run passed through the garden! Badgers can be very destructive, so quite some thought was needed.
A plan was drawn!
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The garden is now welcoming and colourful. It is strongly structured into separate areas, but with soft planting creating an informal natural atmosphere. The presence of wildlife is considered throughout the design.
The hard materials used have a weathered appearance and colours which will complement the house.
The front garden is transformed into an area with its own almost ‘Colonial’ identity. The herb garden will provide functional year-round interest and is raised for easy access and to keep the herbs cleaner. In front is a seat so you can sit and enjoy the scents, or put down the shopping while you find your keys!
The mock-colonial stoop creates a transformed, welcoming entrance. Hard-wood decking is used which, left to weather naturally, will attain a soft, silvery grey. The pergola, painted white, leads to the renewed white front door, the steps up to the kitchen, and along to the raised fish pond. It continues, furnished with climbers, around the North-West face of the house, leading to the back garden, and incorporates the specimen Lawson’s Cypress. Paving is used alongside the house.
The newly laid drive, in rustic colours, leads past a flower bed and the newly painted garage door (Crown Solo: ‘Herb Garden’) to generous steps inviting you up to the colourful side garden.
As you walk along the stepping stones on the left is the children’s garden and picturesque summerhouse and to the right are colourful and deliciously scented flower borders, surrounding the decorative circular patio, which doubles as the clothes drying area.
The colourful summer border has a backdrop of an espaliered hedge. This will be made from specimen trees with sturdy trunks, able to withstand the investigation by badgers that there is certain to be, along their chosen pathway. The hedge screens the functional areas of compost bin and shed beyond. As you continue into the garden you encounter the main patio area with BBQ and seating, with views of the summer border and the dovecote. The patio itself is softened with occasional planting within cracks and planting holes. From the patio you can step into the conservatory, or continue round to the circular lawn and recline in the swing seat, listening to the water movement in the wildlife pond. The dovecote is easily visible from the swing seat, but far enough to avoid disturbing the birds as they feed.
Behind the swing seat is the winter border which provides colour and interest when seen from the kitchen above during the cold winter months. To the right is the fernery, designed to take advantage of the shady conditions to the rear of the house.
From the fernery, you can walk along the crunchy gravel path, between the winter and summer borders, to the vegetable garden and greenhouse. The vegetable garden has raised beds so that it can be used with the ‘no-dig’ system. It will have a 1m decorative fence to two sides, within which will be rabbit-proof fencing completely around it. The hard surfacing of this area is hoggin, otherwise known as self-compacting gravel, a hard-wearing and relatively rigid surface fit for moving wheelbarrows upon. To the right is the shed and composting area, beyond which is an area of wild flower planting to encourage beneficial insects and their prey, to sustain a natural balance in the garden.
Opposite the shed is the greenhouse. It has new guttering and a water-butt to provide water for this area of the garden. Outside the greenhouse is a further patio and a bench for resting weary bones in between gardening, or just appreciating the quiet and seclusion of this part of the garden. The woodland area beyond will be colourful in spring, but will be a peaceful quiet green through the summer. The badger path continues through this area and it is hoped that they will enjoy the natural planting.
Lighting for the site will comprise a mixture of wall-mounted lights, security-lighting above the garage and the stairs to the kitchen, and solar-powered lights around the garden.
The build was started by felling 22 trees...
Almost at once the client’s life was made better, as the downstairs bedrooms had always been gloomy; now they were bright!
The first step was to clear the rear garden; there were a lot of skips used...
To reduce the waterlogging, a herringbone drainage pattern was put in, draining to a soakaway at the tip of the garden. The porous pipe has fines-free gravel put around it, so the water flows easily from the damp soil into the gaps in the gravel, then into the pipe, which is laid to a fall so carries the water away.
Once the drainage was in, the rear and sides were ‘stoned up’, in landscaper’s terms. This means that hardcore foundations were compacted in place, ready for the paths and patios.
The fencing here was more to define the boundary than to defend it! The pattern is a variant on ‘Weardale Fencing’ which has two top and two bottom rails and consequently a smaller diamond in the centre. The posts lying here were for the espaliered-hedge fence, the back-drop to the long ‘summer’ border. I chose Amelanchier lamarkii for this hedge as it is such good ornamental value.
A very deep hole for the wildlife pond! There’s planting shelves, and a deep centre that shouldn’t freeze, to protect small organisms. I was wearing a thick wetsuit when it came to positioning the water-lillies. It’s quite difficult to reach down far enough when all that neoprene wants to float on the surface…
There were 6 conifers in a row here before! Not much space to get through… I chose to retain one as it gave privacy to the kitchen upstairs. This pergola along the house really enhances the ambience of this walkway. It will be clothed in different clematis cultivars, coordinated to flower at different times through the year. No white paint for this stretch of pergola either: this area wasn’t to distract from the rest of the garden.
My lovely friend Liz, part of my planting team and a qualified horticulturalist in her own right. She is sitting on the soon to be hidden,horrible front paving.
What terrible front access this house had, skirting around the garage, like a second-class citizen.
Liz works as a gardener in Durham City: firstname.lastname@example.org
I love the sense of open-ness and clarity here. A space in waiting.
The garden was created from the back to the front, rather like painting a floor: you start at the window and work your way to the door, or you’re trapped! With gardens, all the rubbish gets piled up at the front or deliveries are tipped there. The front’s always left to last, after everything has been cleared away. So this photo shows precious new turf already laid, the summerhouse erected (turned out to be very complicated…) all alongside fresh excavations.
The design for the back and side garden was very rounded, curvaceous and enticing, whereas for the front, with it’s very modern feel, I changed to hard angles and level changes made with vertical elements.
In a way, I defied convention, because I was leading people into the garden, but the steps were getting narrower rather than opening out invitingly. By adding the stepping stones, leading off enticingly in a curve, the pull towards the back overcame the narrowing steps and allowed me the space to put a flower bed throughout that transition. (I’ve added this next photo, out of sequence, to illustrate the point.)
The square pond, the raised herb bed and the different deck levels, alongside the height of the pergola, all give this area a tremendous amount of visual interest. The pond and bed were made double-skinned: blocks, functionally very strong, to the inside and decorative walling to the outside.
The build was finished in September. The following photos show development of the garden over the next few years.
November, fantastic shadow patterns in the low light.
One year later.
Four years later, just as verdant and colourful!
I planted this using leaf mould from my own garden, in the bottom of the planting holes, and Saxifraga x urbium (London’s Pride) as a ground cover in between.
One year later the ferns have started to fill out and the Saxifraga has taken hold in a few spots.
Four years later; complete success!
I think it’s time to trim back the Saxifraga at this point, as the clean line of the path has been lost and that is unwanted since this is not a cottage garden!
With the extensive nature of this garden, I was able to have borders with a seasonal focus. The main season for being in the rear garden would be summer, so that gave me a good excuse to go to town with lots of colour!
This photo is in spring, just after the bare-root perennials were planted. The (hundreds of!) bulbs were planted the autumn before and are just peeping out…
The perennial were just infants here, but the bulbs created bright splashes of colour.
The first summer
Only two years later! Please excuse the poor quality of this photo. It was taken with a phone camera before the days of the Smartphone…
Four years on, late summer and looking lush!
One of the few trees spared from the chop! I had my suspicions that it could be pruned to a better shape…
The secret to successful tree-shaping is grabbing your branch of choice and pulling it away to reveal what that part of tree would look like, were it removed. This is always useful, especially if you can find an assistant, so you can move away to gain a better view.
As you can see, judicious pruning created a thing of beauty! I particularly love the unexpectedly beautiful twining stems.
It is very dry under a holly tree, but bulbs such as Cyclamen hederifolium can cope as can dead nettle, Lamiummaculatum. Warning: don’t let the latter get into good soil as it will smother everything!
I spend a good proportion of my planting budget on bulbs as they have such a lovely cheering and colourful effect! From green spears pushing through frosted ground…
…to beautiful bold colour combinations!
This lovely garden in County Durham has given the owners and I much pleasure; I am very proud to have created such a beautiful, uplifting, well-functioning, yet relaxing environment.