Example - A Family Garden

The brief for this project was to create a family garden that would provide activity for the children, a boy, aged nine, and a three-year-old girl as well as being somewhere for their parents to unwind, as both work long hours.

The clients are not gardeners so the planting scheme needed to look good with only one maintenance visit per week, and a few intensive 'tidy-ups' in the spring and autumn. It also needed to be tough enough to allow for children's play, but also to be colourful and structural throughout the year.

After producing some preliminary plans showing different options, my clients decided that they did not want any straight lines within the garden. Instead, I created a gently curving terrace and lawn, with a snaking pathway leading to the garage at the rear of the garden.  

A retaining wall and semi-circular raised bed were constructed along the southern boundary to deal with the 350mm height difference between the southern and northern boundaries. We bordered the lawn with a yellow-stock brick mowing strip to ensure a clean, tidy edge to the turf. 

 The garden is 30m in length, and 13m wide. When I first visited, it was mainly laid to lawn with a large conifer hedge running across the rear of the garden. Behind this was a dark, sloping 5m-deep disused area of brambles and nettles.  

We decided it would make sense to remove the hedge, build up the slope at the rear of the garden to allow for a play area at the back. After speaking to several manufacturers of play equipment, it became clear that a nine-year-old boy would soon lose interest in climbing bars etc. So we commissioned ETC Sports to construct a basketball quarter-court with special synthetic surface to protect against jarring.

The court was secluded from the rest of the garden with a large planting bed of resilient shrubs that would cope with any rogue basketballs.

The area beneath an old apple tree at the upper edge of the new lawn provided the ideal location for a timber wendy house, far enough away from the home for a sense of independence, but in full view of the kitchen. A weather-proof switch at the entrance ensures there is light inside for playing on dark days.

As the children grow, the wendy house can be removed and the concrete base beneath can be used for a summerhouse or gazebo.

Double-U cordonned apple and pear trees were planted on the boundary by the doors leading from the playroom to the terrace. These trees that sit flat against a wall are wonderful as they have low branches that allow children to reach the fruit as it ripens, as well as providing beautiful blossom in the spring.

A set of stepping stones leads from the terrace to the lawn, encouraging the children to use different routes around the garden.

During the refurbishment of the house, the contractor Mark Mills salvaged the original fire escape from the property. Much of it was damaged, but many of the balusters remained intact. We sent them to Gloria Tilley at Tilley's London Castings, who carried out repairs and fitted the balusters to new treads, risers and handrail. They were then painted to match the lead detailing on the first-floor conservatory by Vale Garden Houses.

An automatic irrigation system was also installed to ensure that the new plants would receive adequate water as they established themselves.