Saturday, 18 April 2020

Creating an outdoor room in north London


When we first saw this small and rather hemmed-in courtyard in north London, it was immediately apparent that the space would be best served by using just a few well-chosen materials.  The client was overseeing major interior decoration as well and wanted style of the new garden to flow effortlessly from the house.

The client wanted a garden to sit and relax in but also for socialising. Plenty of seating space despite the size was a priority. A small recessed area to the right of the courtyard will be used to house a barbecue and outdoor kitchen units. The client also wanted to be able to grow herbs for the kitchen, and we installed the green wall, using vertical garden pods from Green4Air, and with a solar-powered irrigation system supplied by Irrigatia.

The patterned tiles were chosen from the Sorrento range supplied by Fired Earth. The intricate detailing might have been overwhelming in a larger patio but in this compact space they brought light and texture.

The cedar bench was designed by The Urban Hedgerow built from scratch onsite by Graham Thompson of Creative Landscapes London, creating enough room to seat 8-10 people comfortably - or for fewer people to stretch out on cushions. The fence to the right was also built on site using materials from Jacksons Fencing and the corten steel screen, covering an unsightly gap in the rear wall was supplied by Stark and Greensmith.

The handsome bamboo plant was already in the raised bed to the rear, which was giving new edging and coping to match the cedar bench and the soil reconditioned. The bamboo was thinned and trimmed to let in the light and give it a boost, then underplanted with Choisya ternata 'Aztec Gold', an evergreen shrub with fine dissected leaves to throw interesting shadows against the fence and screen and with long-lasting white flowers in spring and summer.

We installed uplights in the raised bed to highlight shapes of the bamboo and other plants after dark.

The dark blue colour of the fence echoes the colour scheme inside the house. Exterior wood paint from Little Greene

The individual living wall pods are fixed to a framework on either side of the doors to the garden. The 1ltr pods each hold culinary herb and salad plants, including rosemary, thyme, oregano and rocket. In summer the pods will also hold a number of colourful edible flowers.
Plenty of seating with the bespoke cedar bench and the bistro table

Left: the old softwood deck was replaced by the patterned tiles, right. The built-in deck provides plenty of seating without clutter, and uses the existing wall of the raised bed as a backrest.

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

January containers - brighten up the garden in the depths of winter

Many garden do not look their best in winter. Bare branches, or perennials which die down completely in the dormant season, can leave you with some rather grey and flat spaces. There are however, plenty of plants which look their best in winter and while you may not have the space or the inclination to create a dedicated winter garden such as those at Anglesey Abbey, you can certainly brighten up a shady corner or a dark chilly patio with some large containers full of winter colour. 

The bare red stems of Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire', above, provide a vibrant framework for this container which is full of warm colours. The amber-bronze winter foliage of Euonymus fortunei 'Emerald and Gold' complements the fiery stems and the soft yellows of Primula vulgaris add a cooler tone. The fern, Blechnum spicant, adds contrasting texture to the display and the snowdrops - Galanthus nivalis - complete the woodland vibe. There are also bright yellow aconites in here which will be pushing upwards and flowering within the month. 

These plants are all happy in shade and so this is a display which would be happy in a dark corner of the garden. Once the season is over, you can plant them out in the garden: the snowdrops and primroses will spread over time to give you bright ground cover at a time when the ground can be a  bit bare.

Other possibilities for this container, following the colour and texture themes, could be a Mahonia eurybracteata 'Soft Caress' with its fine foliage and yellow candle-like flowers, or a small flowering Hamamelis (witch hazel).

The silvery notes in the container above combine the dwarf Pinus mugo with Helleborus niger with its pure white flowers, lavender and Hedera helix 'Glacier', a variegated trailing ivy. This can bring light and texture to patio space and will be happiest out in the open. You could also add some white cyclamen to the planter, which also has Fritillaria meleagris in both its distinctive snakeskin purple and white flowered forms just pushing through the soil surface now to flower in early spring.

Other variations on this theme add white-flowered Hebe or Festuca glauca to accentuate the blue-grey notes of the lavender and ivy. Given a large enough containers,these plants could be grown all the year round in the pot, or replanted in the garden once the flowering season is finished.

Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire', as in the container at the top of this post, is used extensively in winter gardens such as those at Anglesey Abbey, above, the avenues of flamecoloured stems creating a dramatic display. Anglesey Abbey also has impressive stands of bright white birch trees and at this time of year, the ground is carpeted with snowdrops.  Red- and purple-stemmed Cornus will also give the same effect - see the winter garden at the Cambridge Botanical Gardens, below.