Are you sitting comfortably?
OVER the years, a garden may go through a series of improvements and amendments. Most gardens don't "stand still" for long, and, at certain times, the need for a change is inevitable.
This was the case at this 1960s property. Being on a slope, the garden had a retaining wall to maintain a surface level with the house, leaving space for planters to the rear.
But the wall was made from bare, unrendered breeze blocks, which gave the garden an oppressive feel, while the plain concrete slab paving merely added to the austere, grey effect.
Nevertheless, we decided to keep the original wall since it was well built, but we added render and painted it white to bring more reflected light into the garden. As a contrast, we capped all the walls with dark grey sandstone. The original wall also had small square "windows" cut into it to take candles. We kept these too, and applied black slate to the back of each alcove and a black slate sill in keeping with the capping stone.
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We did make one key change to the wall, however, by introducing a semicircular seating alcove.
This pushes back into a wide section of the raised bed and gives a feeling of space to the patio.
To further break away from the harshness of the plain wall, we introduced a couple of oak sleeper seats. These cantilever over a black slate base and add a massive sculptural element reminiscent of classic Sixties garden designs.
The paving has been replaced with Raj blend Indian sandstone with a circular pattern to complement the curved seat at the rear. At the back of the garden an old concrete panel fence rises two meters above the raised planters.
By simply bolting a timber framework to the concrete we were able to hang a bamboo screen across the rear of the garden, which provides an ideal backdrop for a new planting scheme.
Most of the existing plants had outgrown the garden, so we cleared out the majority of them and designed a scheme using plants which were happy in a semi shaded position. Small varieties of shrubs combined with herbaceous perennials work well in small spaces. For the more shaded beds, we started with a couple of Japanese maples, which look particularly good against the bamboo screen.
When choosing plants for a shady bed, it is also worth looking at indigenous species. Native plants offer a failsafe choice for many new gardeners, as they have adapted over the years to most climatic and soil changes, and are easy to look after.
Try polygonatum (Solomons Seal), which has an elegant, arching form that takes up minimal space, as does dicentra (Bleeding Heart). For the front of a bed, pulmonaria (lungwort) is an attractive choice.
It is worth taking time to find out what sort of plants suit a site.
Contact Tom Phillips on 0117 951 1923 or 07739456765, visit www.allgardendesigns.co.uk.