The design of the garden should reflect the style of the building, how it is furnished and the materials used for decor purposes as well as those used structurally.
So a contemporary garden can suit an ancient building if the interior décor and finishes are also contemporary.
When considering the landscape designer’s ideas for your garden, try to evaluate how much maintenance will be required. Lawns and vegetable gardens are particularly high maintenance. Can you take a ride on mower around the lawns?
Do all parts of the garden connect? There should be a sense of passage around the garden. It’s pointless owning a part of the garden that you never visit.
If your property is listed or it’s in a conservation area, choose a landscape garden designer who has had experience dealing with planning authorities.
Back in 1620, Elmtree Farm, in the hamlet of Wortley was reputedly owned by one Stephen Hopkins who, knowing a thing or two about the cost of maintaining a not-so-soon to be listed homestead, forsook his home and sailed off to America aboard The Mayflower. Today, the farm is split into two properties, each owned by designers, and both passionate about their garden, both working from home and each with a young family – but here the similarities end.
Today the original property has been divided into two parts. The barns are now owned by one of the country’s leading graphic designers and as one might expect have been renovated and finished to be the very apotheosis of modern living – spacious, open plan and thoroughly minimalist.
The architect left the shell of the barns as they were. However the floors are polished concrete, the openings are filled with galvanised Crittal Windows and the interior woodwork is almost all plywood. So true to Modernist design philosophy, functionality is supreme.
The spirit of Modernism is reflected in the design of the garden. The designer’s solution was to create a series of screened garden ‘rooms’ each with a distinct feel and separate function: inner courtyard, cutting garden, entertainment and sunbathing area, orchard and children’s area. Of these rooms the most successful is undoubtedly the courtyard, which is bordered on one side by the sitting-room, on another by the dining-room and on the third side by the guest bedrooms.
The 12 foot by 5 foot ‘diving board’ in black granite which links the doorway from the sitting room to the courtyard serves as an entertaining terrace and links the central rill to the main house. With the rectangular, randomly placed beds filled with Campanula carpatica ‘Jewel’ the courtyard area might almost be a homage to Piet Mondrian and the black and grey stonework in the horizontal plain are sharply contrasted with the vertical, stark, white trunks of the four Betula jackemontii ‘Jermyns’.
Bubble fountains in the rill afford movement and the sound of water. Says the owner, “both the sitting room and the dining room give onto the courtyard and, as we don’t draw curtains in the evening the view to the courtyard must be as good by night as it is by day. So lighting was a significant part of the design.”
The structure of the rest of the garden is defined by an array of pleached, espaliered and conventional hedges. In addition, the stones and rubble that came out of the farmyard have been placed in gabions and turfed to make circular bunds around the sunbathing area, ensuring privacy. Mowing the bunds is hard work. Even with a Flymo it is difficult not to scalp the grass on the lip of the mound.
Planting has been restricted to about 10 species of perennials and shrubs. Repetition of the same plants at different points around the garden gives a rhythm and sense of orderliness.
Just a few metres down the slope from the barn conversion, stands the original farmhouse, which was completely dilapidated when the author’s family took it over. We wanted to preserve the historical feel of the house particularly as the layout had remained unchanged for at least the last 250 years.
When it came to the garden, I wanted to divide the property into three parts, each third having a different feel to it. The courtyard or entertaining area needed to lead off the kitchen and have a secure, private feeling to it in spite of it being the main entrance to the house and being bordered on the one side by the driveway. At the same time having a young son meant a sports lawn was obligatory. Finally we wanted to have a ‘wilderness area’ to encourage wildlife with a pond and meadow planting.
Unlike the Barns, which is essentially flat, our garden is on a 1 in 8 slope. The only way in which we could stop it feeling like goat country was to terrace it extensively. We were lucky in that we dug out over 40 tons of stone from the garden otherwise the cost of the retaining walls would have been almost as much as the house. We started planning the garden from the house outwards and once the courtyard was finished we set about the backbone of the garden, which comprises an 80 metre herbaceous border.
The choice of hardscape materials and plant species define the mood of a garden. By using reclaimed Cotswold stone in the walls and reclaimed limestone paving, this garden is imbued with the same sense of permanence that embodies the house However, the modern idea of a ‘sense of journey’ is created by offering glimpses of what’s ahead or around the next corner. So the visitor is tempted to continue exploring the farthest corners of the property.
So within yards of each other two very different properties have emerged from what was once a single working farm. Whereas the contemporary and traditional styles might clash in such proximity elsewhere, here, set under the edge of the Cotswold escarpment the ancient and modern seem to compliment and enrich each other.