Courtyard garden in Chiswick

The clients were looking for the intimacy of a Moorish courtyard in this small sunny garden… a calm retreat from their hectic professional lives as journalists. They wanted lush foliage, colourful flowers and the sound of water. Both were widely travelled; Elinor had grown up in the Middle East and Neil had studied in Córdoba. Plants from exotic places definitely had memorable associations for them.

We created an Arabic inspired pool and walk over rill; the centrepiece of the water was a salvaged Victorian pier cap made of Portland stone. The floor was a gentle terracotta colour and they could walk over the rill to sit at the end of the garden for drinks in the evening sun. The appearance of suburban garden fencing was diminished by using a commercial grade cladding material painted china blue. Against this, the intense azure of the flowers of Ceonothus ‘Puget’s Blue’ would resonate gently. The side boundaries were heavily planted with climbers to banish the rest of the fencing; bold perennials, such as Helenium moerheim and Eupatorium atropurpurea, were used.

Other plants that contributed to the atmosphere included; Mimosa, Olive, Myrtle, Cannas, Agapanthus, Grape vine and Hibiscus from Syria. Over the years a huge Arum Lily with vast, jungly leaves has flourished in the pond.

Natural garden for a modern development

This front garden, a stone’s throw from the splendour of Richmond Palace, was set within a gated modern development yet behind a high wall of ancient red bricks and with distant views of Jacobean chimneys. It was a small, grassy, sloping site that led down to the front door by steps from a communal path. The telltale signs of ‘property developer plantings’ were everywhere – plenty of bullet-proof, mostly evergreen shrubs and conifers that had all merged as they matured to form an unwelcoming blob.

We decided to use low box hedges and elements of simple pyramidal topiary along the communal path that bordered the old wall. We removed all the grass and made a series of island plantings divided by marl gravel paths. The paths sloped down to the house for easy buggy access and the young children could scoot about on them enjoying their own games.

Perennials and grasses were planted to create diaphanous effects and the height of the grasses and flowers made both the children’s games and the paths more exciting. The naturalistic effect of these plantings softened the lines of the house and the nectar-rich flowers attracted insects, butterflies and birds. It just all starts with flowers.

Narrow Edwardian garden in Balham

This long thin garden of an Edwardian maisonette was over 12 metres long but only about 2.7 metres wide. The challenge here was to embrace this shape, rather than work hard to disguise it. At the end of the plot there was a wall that had been made up over the last century with many different types of brick – as interesting a historical testament as the fact that the maisonette had been built to house soldiers returning from The Boer War.

The clients had a preference for contemporary design on a budget so, to keep costs manageable, nothing was carted away from the site. They wanted a garden that connected with the kitchen and their love of entertaining and also one in which they could find the joy of escape in the city. The ground levels were adjusted so that the plot progressed from a herb garden and barbecue, through a sitting area and, finally, up to a space for a white wire bench against the brick wall with plants that would attract butterflies and bees. This gradual progression was controlled by repetitive and rhythmic scented plantings that marked the depth of the garden as one wandered through the plot.

Riverside garden in Mortlake

This garden overlooks the Thames and the client throws a huge annual party to celebrate the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. He wanted to create a garden that would fascinate his guests and provide a roomy terrace from which to view the latter stages of the race. The Georgian house had recently been refurbished and a lot of materials had been left over from the build, including roof timbers, granite setts and old London bricks. One of the budgetary pre-requisites was to use as many of these materials as possible in the garden design.

This was a fabulous challenge, and a ‘garden of wandering’ was created. Meandering paths were created through islands of grassy plantings of Stipa, Miscanthus and diaphanous perennials. These paths were in broken units of granite with plenty of scented groundcovers like Thyme and Chamomile. The London bricks made an axial route, flanked with box specimens that led to an upstand of slate as a water feature. Bold contrasts were achieved through the use of banana and bamboo.

The viewing terrace was made up of wide, reclaimed planking that was reached by a sleeper staircase. The flood defences to the garden were often vandalised from the public footpath by graffiti and these were masked from the garden side by using adhesive vinyls… in Oxbridge colours of course.

Family garden in Wimbledon

This professional family, with both parents working a full schedule, wanted a garden for their young children. They also loved entertaining on a regular basis. Their garden was on two levels; it wasn’t large, but there was scope to maximise the footprint.

As in so many London gardens, the side passage was ill considered and a large amount of the floor space was given over to deep, raised garden beds and an obtrusive set of steps. With a greater use of climbing plants, curved planting spaces and better designed steps, much more space was achieved, giving room for table, chairs and a large barbecue… and all benefiting from being close to the kitchen. Lots of herbs were planted, including chives, thymes, oregano and fennel. The walls were covered in jasmine and Trachelospermum, bringing scent to eating ‘al fresco’ in the evening. The division of levels was controlled by a curved wall finished in an acid lime green… the perfect backdrop to scattered plastic toys.

The front off-road parking was made out of coursed Indian sandstone, edged in four colours of granite. This was a reminder of Edwardian brightly‑coloured tessellated paths. In this very sunny front garden, the welcome is provided by Myrtle hedges, lavender and powerfully pink ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ roses.

Family garden in Barnes

There is a strong connection between the front and rear gardens at this house. One arrives at the front door by a curved path of irregular yorkstone that moves through spirals of box hedging. On entering the house, the focal point of the long hallway falls directly onto the mirrored stainless steel backdrop of an axial pool. One is drawn irresistibly through the house into the back garden.

For the front garden, the conventions of enclosing walls, shrubs and a tree were dropped in favour of an open site with challenging curving geometry. The plantings of pyramidal yew and Buxus sempervirens allow a concentration on form that prefaces the rear garden. This front garden requires little maintenance: box hedging is always clipped on ‘Derby Day’ and the yew is kept in its topiarised form with pruning every September.

The rear garden made up of a series of gently descending pools flanked by a corridor of grasses; Stipa arundinacia, followed by Stipa gigantea, and, in the foreground, Pennisetum alopecuroides. Crocosmia and Verbena bonariensis show off against the soft grassiness.

The pools are flanked by small lawns and there is an adjacent sunny patio on which the whole family loves to gather to eat outdoors.