I love a good ‘before and after’, don’t you? Taking an ugly duckling and turning it into a beautiful swan? So, whether it’s me being forced into a pretty dress by my daughters before a party, or watching one of those hideous house makeovers where they take a perfectly good room and destroy it with a ‘themed treatment’- it’s all fascinatingly watchable.
In this vein, I decided to take my class to visit a garden in Bowden that I implemented last year. Before we go on these jaunts,( relished by my sadistic students who i’m convinced are secretly hoping that i’ll have produced a warthog of a garden) we usually have a look at the ‘before’ photos so that I can set the scene. The existing garden was a bit unloved, wrapping around three sides of the house and with privacy issues in that it was very overlooked.
The point of showing the ‘befores’ is so that I can stand them all in the same spot and show them what a clever girl i’ve been……. Seriously though, the secret to making any garden interesting is to increase its sense of mystery. And instant six foot yew hedges dividing up the space , pleached evergreen Quercus ilex trees hiding overlooking houses and new ‘old’ brick walls enclosing cosy courtyards go a long way towards introducing that vital sense of mystery.
First of all , I made the driveway pretty but private, so that instead of cars being parked right next to lawns and eating areas, they are now contained on a separate drive. Notice the gates- I copied them from gates at Highgrove-courtesy of Prince Charles!
Gates are something I try to use in every garden ; they give both a feeling of privacy and seclusion but also a sense of entering into something magical. There’s nothing like a gate to make you want to go and explore further.
Through one of the gates is the lower main garden, a place for relaxing, pottering, entertaining and playing games on the lawn.
Box hedges give vital structure throughout. Despite the chance of the dreaded box blight taking hold, i’m still using it, along with yew, to give a formal outline around the extravagant perennial planting that i’m so fond of. There’s nothing like box for pulling together a messy garden I say- it’s the Spandex pants of the plant world!
I also love different levels in the garden for adding to that sense of mystery, and this garden was already blessed with those- all I had to do was enhance them:
I love this mixture of York Stone and setts – a line of them helps to add interest and define junctions where steps lead off to other levels.
And here’s the upper level, a great place to view the whole lower garden, now private thanks to a few mature pleached Quercus ilex trees.
Here are the different levels seen from below
But there’s more! The view from the kitchen was once rather unloved and bleak, a view out into a small enclosed brick courtyard. Large windows would look out into this important space. Here it is during building work.
So it was transformed into a cosy courtyard, pretty to look at all year round:
And where there were fences and bleak views out, the courtyard has been contained by brick walls, pretty gates, pleached trees and wall planting.
Raised brick beds bring planting up to eye level and add to the sense of comfortable enclosure.
Wide stone steps provide useful additional seating in courtyard areas
A couple of decorative tricks- a mirror backed Crittall window, found on Ebay, reflects both light and garden planting back from a bare brick wall….
And a pizza oven provides not only a strong focal point from the windows but also great food and a warming fire at eye level for diners…..
The clients on this job were really lovely people and it was a pleasure to work with them. They even invited me to their housewarming party in the garden. Note to self- wearing high heels on grass is NOT a good idea ( I became so firmly impaled firmly into the grass that i had to be hoisted out by two burley blokes- very undignified).