Garden Tour: A Small, Lush Retreat with Secluded Seating Areas
A shift in focus and some bold design decisions have visually expanded this urban plot and created a plant-lover’s haven
Making some radical design decisions, Joanne took the space from blocky and restrained to soft and beautiful. “The owners wanted a garden filled with plants – an immersive experience,” she says, “and [the man] in particular takes huge pleasure from tending the garden – he loves looking after it.”
“The first thing I said was, ‘Do you still use this building?’” Joanne recalls. “I suggested it would be transformative to remove it, as they would gain so much space, and it was occupying the sunniest spot.”
The couple had planting beds around the perimeter then small patches of grass and a narrow slate path running down the middle that was splitting the space in two. “If you divide a small garden like this, you emphasise the smallness,” Joanne says. “If you make it a uniform whole, it feels so much bigger.
“I said to them, ‘You could do away with all this,’” she continues. “They were stunned – it had never occurred to them they could get rid of the building or the lawn.”
Joanne put in a new shed to take care of tools storage. “That’s now screened by a new, multi-stemmed Aralia elata tree,” she says.
The fencing at the back is new, because the building had previously formed the boundary. “It was the owners’ idea to use those spaced timbers so the light permeates it,” Joanne says. “Behind is the cemetery wall, so they’re not having to screen anything ugly. The evergreen star jasmine [Trachelospermum jasminoides] growing up it will become lush and dense.”
“The curving path is the critical part of the whole design – it would have been a disaster to have kept a straight path,” Joanne says. “Curves are very pleasing on the eye and they also create these different proportions for planting.”
She further softened the effect by swapping the chunky grey slate pathway material for Breedon gravel. “It has a lovely soft texture,” she says. “It’s made of fine particles, giving it a more dusty look that’s softer on the eye.”
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The planting also includes Calamagrostis grass, Cornus (dogwood), and a white climbing rose on the fence, which was also existing.
The soft grass in the foreground is Hakonechloa macra, with Briza media grass behind. The low violet flowers are Geranium phaeum ‘Lily Lovell’. The owners already had a couple of large lead planters, so Joanne kept one of these and planted it with leafy hostas (just in shot, bottom left).
“A couple of the plants here didn’t thrive and I’ve suggested alternatives,” she continues. “We’re replacing the Briza media, because it’s a cool-season grass, so it flourishes early and can end up looking quite tatty in the summer. We’re swapping it for Panicum, which is a warm-season grass that takes longer to get going, but stands all winter looking fabulous.”
Quizzed on her favourite part, she says, “I think the bold colours are wonderful and the variety of textures. Because there’s so much planting, it has that immersive quality and that’s made the garden feel so much bigger.”
What do you think of this radical redesign? Has it made you rethink your own space? Share your thoughts in the Comments.