Never go back?


We’ve just come back from an idyllic holiday in the hills outside Bologna. It was an agroturismo ( on the site of an old monastery that had been in a family of rose growers for generations. Irene cooked for us most evenings, usually a rich concoction of pasta and cheeses, whilst her husband Gabriele opened a never-ending supply of local fizzy wines .DSCN1091

Here’s the breakfast room and old tower, where more cheese and Parma ham was consumed every morning. As a result of all that deliciousness I am now the size of a house and coming back to rainy Manchester was a struggle ..


But return I must,as I had been asked to revisit a garden I did two years ago. This is always a dangerous thing to do , as some clients are under the impression that gardens don’t actually grow and change, so within a few years, all can be chaos and neglect. I once went to a talk by Tom Stuart-Smith, possibly our foremost garden designer, who said his own gardens, even when well-tended, tend to last no more than 12 years. That’s an expensive 12 years as his gardens can cost upwards of half a million!


But all was well. The owner, Adele, was taking good care of it all.

This is a small suburban garden and the brief had been to make it private ( of course that’s the first request everyone makes) and pretty in a cottage garden sort of way.When I first saw it , it was looking rather grim as you can see here:IMG01420-20140331-1446But now it was looking pretty and cottagey , just as ordered.


One of the best things you can do with any small garden is divide it up into at least a couple of distinct areas so that you don’t see all of it at once. It always makes the smallest garden look bigger, as well as more interesting. To give that cottagey look I’ve used a combination of hazel hurdles and box hedges.

So, here are a few before and after shots to show a few basic principles. First, get rid of all rubbish and mismatched pots. I had to make the client  leave the premises so that I could skip her awful collection of mismatched pots and stones, so attached was she to them.IMG01412-20140331-1445

But it was worth it as you can see here. Notice I’ve partially screened the entrance so that the rear is more private.DSCN1112

And facing the kitchen window, so that my client didn’t have to look out onto a blank wall, I put in a false perspective window to reflect back the garden instead. It was so realistic that when she first saw it she thought we’d punched a hole through to next door!DSCN1117

Going into the rear garden, where there was this rather ugly outlook:

IMG01415-20140331-1445there is now a private and interesting seating area, with box edged path leading off to another section of this divided space.


And here is where that path leads to:DSCN1125Where, off to the right, is yet another discreet space with a swing seat for quiet contemplation. Note that it also provides a focal point when viewed from the sitting room windows::DSCN1143And off to the left, a trickling contemporary water feature to add interest outside the patio doors:DSCN1133

There’s also a little, rather hidden, return up against the house where hose reels and pots of bulbs can be discreetly stored. It’s quirky spaces like this, as well as divisions and changes in level , that can make a small garden like this into an interesting space:DSCN1134

And, walking back the other way the garden should always look as good. We painted the horrible old shed with a Cuprinol shade of blue to smarten it up:DSCN1127This black cat was obviously a bit of a diva and kept rushing into the picture whenever I pointed it at something!DSCN1154

The front garden was also smartened up with my typical ‘runway ‘approach i.e path up the middle and plants either side, going from this:IMG01409-20140331-1444

To this:DSCN1105Like all front gardens it’s a bit more formal with 80% evergreen so it looks good all year round, with a pretty white and green colour scheme.

Yes, this was one return visit that was a real pleasure. I might risk going back a bit more often now- who knows?

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