These are the gardens surrounding a beautiful old stone cottage nestled into the hillside on a quiet country lane. The plot is broadly rectangular, although slightly narrower at one end.
The house sits at the eastern end of the plot and the front of the house (to the drive) faces north-west. The sloping drive area is presently laid to gravel and has two vehicular entrances, although one of these is too steep for most vehicles. There are hedges marking the boundary to the road. Steep, and uneven, sleeper and gravel steps lead up from one side of the drive to a summerhouse and deck at the top of the plot. Behind the house a steep grassy bank slopes down to a sleeper retaining wall and to a path leading along the back of the house. To the other side of the house there is a stepped, Indian sandstone patio. Beyond that, there is a large, flattish area of lawn leading to a square deck over the partially sunken garage. From this area there are views over a neighbouring field. Trees and shrubs form the boundary to the rear and there are also some other trees and shrubs dotted around the grassy bank.
The client wishes to improve the outside spaces, not least to make them safe for their two small children, as the sloping site can prove quite challenging, if not, potentially hazardous. However, they would also like to create some relaxing adult spaces too.
We will keep the existing summerhouse, and will be re-painted and smartened up. The deck outside it needs replacing and we will be using composite decking which has the advantages that it does not rot, fade, or splinter and needs minimal maintenance. The steps leading up to the summerhouse will be changed, we will be constructing a new route up – possibly zig-zagging across the space – with planting beds to soften it and also including a wall mounted water feature, not only for the pleasing sound, but also for the sparkle when up-lit at night.
Arranging the steps in this way will reduce the length of the run and open up more of the space below where we will create a relaxed area for entertaining. We will look at building a space here for a built-in barbecue or pizza oven, a table and chairs for up to eight people, together with an area for a couple of sofas and an open fire with chimney, or a fire pit.
Shade sails or an awning would be a useful addition to the design and will enhance the ‘outdoor room’ effect that the client is looking for, as well as helping to provide year-round usage of the space, together with lighting and the heating provided by the chimney or fire pit.
The client is keen that the design and all materials used should be in keeping with the age and style of the property, we will bear this in mind when sourcing all materials.
At the back of the house we will keep the sloping bank but the client would like to make it a little safer by planting shrubs as a deterrent for your children along the bottom edge. The client would also like to introduce some more interesting planting outside the windows that look out onto it. We discussed cutting in some beds in line with the windows to bring the planting down to level with the sills. The sleepers we cut out can then be used to retain the back of those beds.
The client would like to keep as much of the flat area of lawn as possible to allow for plenty of play space for their children, but would also like to create a dedicated play area beyond the deck. They would like to include a slide, some swings and a tower, as well as any other equipment I can suggest to keep the children occupied! We also talked about a sunken trampoline, if it can be fitted in. The deck over the garage will be replaced with composite decking and, in order to make this a much more pleasant place to come and sit, either to take in the view over the field, or to keep the children company, we talked about constructing some built-in seating and a timber pergola with climbing plants over the top.
The seating could, as discussed, include some useful storage for toys underneath. There might also be an opportunity to construct some storage to the porch area too – for boots, etc.
In order to create a further magical space for the children to enjoy, we talked about developing a woodland area on the bank to the left of the lawn where there are already some quite mature trees. Small clearings and pretty, native woodland planting will enhance this theme. The planting scheme for the whole garden should be quite relaxed and natural looking, especially the further away from the house you get, but you do want year-round interest and like strong colour too, particularly oranges and blues. It will need to be fairly low-maintenance but they would like some fruit trees, some herbs and an area for the children to grow vegetables too. As deer and rabbits visit the garden regularly, plants will have to be chosen quite carefully and, as the children are quite young, it should all be non-toxic too. The client would like an area for composting as they have a lot of grass cuttings and would also like to make their own compost for the veg beds. They would also like some slim-line, wall-mounted water butts attached to the back of the house. Lighting will add an exciting dimension to the garden, making it not only usable on summer evenings, but also visually accessible in the winter months. With practical lighting to steps and the barbecue area, inset lighting to retaining walls, built-in seating paving and decking, and up-lighting to the water feature, shade sails and structural planting, the effects can be dramatic. However, with the use of different circuits, a more subtle feel can be achieved, according to the mood and occasion.