Designing a garden

Just over a year after my first meeting with Alex, her new garden is built and planted up. And, of course this is where the fun starts. Waiting for spring for all the bulbs to emerge, heralding the start of a new gardening year in a brand new garden.

Alex had inherited a garden of long thin strips. Two thin borders either side, a thin concrete path and a slightly less thin lawn which stopped just short of the shed at the end of the garden. This all contributed to give the impression of a narrow, long garden with a shed as the focal point. Now I love a good shed but it’s not the thing you want your eye to be drawn to as soon as you look out the kitchen window.

The garden did have some pluses. A mature wisteria near the patio, some mature shrubs and in the borrowed landscape of the surrounding gardens some lovely trees that framed the garden.

In discussion with Alex, the brief was to create a journey through the garden, build a pergola to show off the lovely wisteria and to disguise the shed as best as possible. Plants were important. So was a small lawn. In discussion about where the sun fell in the garden the idea was raised to create a small patio area half way up the garden as a stopping off point to sit with a cup of coffee and benefit from the afternoon sun.

Design for the new garden

Armed with the brief I set out to create a garden that tied these elements together into a coherent whole. The late victorian, three story, semi detached house is built of beautiful London brick with a red brick detail. This was the starting point for the design. To tie the house to the garden I designed a brick path that runs through the garden.

Brick detail on original outhouse and new brick path

Brick stepping stones across the lawn lead to the sunny patio and onward past generous flower beds to the working end of the garden. In front of the shed a new gravel area houses two compost bins and a raised bed for growing veg. This area will, in time, be screened by a beech hedge. Three small trees will also help to divert the eye from the shed. These will be beautiful throughout the year with either blossom, fruit, coloured stems or fiery autumn foliage. New plants will create borders full of interest from early spring to late autumn and will attract wildlife to the garden.

Looking back towards the house

The layout of the garden with the path zig zagging towards the shed draws the eye to the borders and opens up the garden to reveal a much larger space. Once the new plants have established and filled out there will be waves of plants as you walk through the garden. The border in front of the new patio will have taller see-through planting of grasses, Verbena bonariensis and elegant Veronicastrum virginicum which will create a new ‘room’ to sit and relax.

New teak pergola and wisteria

I am helping to look after the garden for the first year of it’s life to help make sure it establishes happily. I am looking forward to seeing it develop as the years go by. Gardens are living, changing things and this is just the start of this garden’s existence which I hope brings happiness to Alex and her family.

3 thoughts on “Designing a garden”

  1. How amusing that it is s square to the house, which is what makes it not square to the fence. I do not do design, so prefer plain symmetry and squareness. I would have had it all square to the fences and angled to the house like it was. Being diagonal to the fences is of course more relaxed, but the squareness to the house is almost a mockery of a craving for squareness. It is the squareness that makes in not square. (I don’t mean to be redundant. It is just an odd concept to try to explain.)


    1. Hi Tessa, Hi Tony. Happy New Year!
      To Tony, firstly, I think Tessa has had to decide whether to make a rectilinear or a curvilinear design within this oddly slanting, tapering plot, whilst creating an interesting journey from the house to the far end, including elements that the client has requested.
      Given that the client wants to retain the shed and divide the garden into five open spaces or “voids”, each one specific as to it’s purpose, it works like this, progressing from the house to the far end:
      1. Patio, with pergola for the Wisteria. Leading to
      2. grass lawn, with stepping stones in brick, leading to
      3. a sunny deck, with table and chairs, leading to
      4. A brick path flanked by planting, leading to
      5. A vegetable garden, with compost bins and the shed, all screened-off by a beech hedge.

      It makes sense to make the rectangular voids run square to the house in this asymmetric plot. Rather than being “relaxed” as you put it, it lends strength to the structure of the garden.
      If the rectangular voids were following the fence-lines as a base, it would be all leaning like a drunk, disconnected from the house.
      A garden is designed from the middle, going outwards to the edges. NOT from the edges going inwards. And then you hide the edges! Planting! Planting!

      Hi Tessa.
      The only criticism I have with this scheme is the angled route of the stepping stones across the lawn, to the deck. I would have run these blocks straight ahead, to follow the line of the solid brick path beyond the deck.
      Nothing wrong with a long axis, you know?
      It’s like, I’ve got to row my boat aslant a cross-tide, to get from A to B, and it introduces an oddness into an otherwise strong design, based on the right-angle.
      Looking forward to seeing the garden planted.
      X. Nick. “Strimming in the rain” Bell.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Fortunately, I am not a designer. My garden is spread out on steep and irregular mountainsides, but I am always trying to put things into squares and straight lines, just like I do at the farm. My colleague down south is a landscape designer, and strives to obscure the straightness, squareness and flatness of his home garden in western Los Angeles. There is more diversity of species in his compact urban parcel than on the ten acres of my garden, and perhaps as much as the 150 acres on the farm! You would not believe what he fits in there. (You might have seen it in Sunset magazine or in the Sunset Western Garden Book.) He cringes at what I do in my garden. I like this particular landscape because it makes square cool . . . in a rather unsquare manner.


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