American socialite Wallis Simpson, the woman for whom King Edward VIII gave up the throne, is famous for stating ” You can never be too rich or too thin.” This statement certainly cannot be applied to gardens- well, the bit about being too thin anyway…….
I found this garden in Didsbury at the rear of a pretty Georgian terrace and it was indeed very long and thin, a bit like Wallis Simpson herself. Here is a ‘before’ shot of it looking towards the house:
Long , thin gardens tend to look and feel like corridors where all you want to do is rush from one end to the other. The narrowness is somehow emphasised by the exaggerated length, giving the garden owner the feeling of being boxed in- quite claustrophobic in fact.
The way to open out a garden like this is to actually divide the garden up into shorter length sections- in this case three of them. By reducing the extreme length, the eye reads that each section is wider than before. This first section nearest the house was a bit scruffy:
But this formed the first area, for eating in and relaxing:
The second area was formed by a simple step up onto an interesting path made by a combination of dark stone setts set into light grey Indian stone. Any pattern has the miraculous effect of slowing you down, whilst the simple bench invites you to pause, sit and take in the view across other gardens- often the most interesting view out from any garden. The planting here is very flowery and cottagey which also holds the interest, delineates this space as different from the others, and is yet another reason to slow down. Well you have to smell the roses don’t you?
The third area is beyond a small pergola- you can just see the shed at the far end:
Pergolas are great for taking climbers and your eyes upwards and dividing one area from another, shielding this open ‘before’ view:
With this far prettier and more inviting view through to the shed. Here a lemon coloured tree lupin Lupinus arboreus contrasts with the Purple heads of Allium ‘Globemaster’:
And so we move from the business of the flowery path area into the calmness of the plainer third work area:
It’s important to try to keep each area distinct with its own atmosphere- moving from one to another becomes interesting as a result. The bench in front of the painted shed allows a view back down the full length of the garden- always nice to have one good long view. And it also provides a seat on which to rest after doing a bit of light potting on:
But if we go back a bit to the actual brief- this client wanted to feel as if she was living in the countryside in a cosy cottage garden, not in the city, so here are a few things which helped to achieve that feeling:
First we built raised beds all around the first area to create a cosy eating area, where scented and textured plants were brought up to eye and nose level, going from this to this:
And I always believe you should soften the house walls too:
Next, the scruffy area around a tree in this key area was prettified with the sound and sight of water bubbling up out of a millstone:
Other pointers to this being a country garden are given in the choice of materials- stone, simple wooden benches, old reclaimed bricks and Hazel hurdles for fencing:
Planting is perhaps the biggest indicator of garden style, so, as this was a country cottage style, there were scented roses, climbers including honeysuckle and clematis for all seasons, old fashioned perennials and herbs that would have been found in every cottager’s garden including as Rosemary , Sage, Mint, Marjoram, Lemon Balm and Thyme, all jumbled together in a pretty palette of soft colours:
This was a lovely project and I personally really loved the finished garden- it had a cosy, soft feel to it, and I loved the distinctive character of each of the three areas. I prefer small cosy spaces- they have much more of a feeling of sanctuary about them, don’t you think?
And can I just say for the record that i do think that it’s absolute tosh that you can’t have a country garden in an urban setting- you can have whatever style that gives you pleasure. So if it’s Slick Contemporary or English Country- it’s your garden and you should plant it how you choose. BUT BUT BUT- there’s one golden rule- don’t do a dolly mixture garden- you know, a bit of this, a bit of that. A red Chinese bridge over your cottage garden pond with cutting edge stainless steel pots ( I can hear the excuses-” they were on offer!”). Stick to one theme and you’ll be successful. I’ll leave you with a last view: