When I first saw this site last year, I found a large sloping lawn, decorated with a statue and small formal garden to one side, and also a narrow garden bed running in front of the house with topiary shrubs and clipped box. Here was a garden that needed a strong, defining structure.
Common problems I find in gardens are the tendency to add focal points to improve the garden, and for garden beds and features to be too small scale, which makes them almost disappear at a distance. What’s usually needed is overall structure and I find that once you introduce strong, defined shapes, especially for a lawn area, and include broad steps and paths, that a garden will instantly feel much more inviting.
Across the road from this house there is a complex built in true South African ‘Tuscan’. I do not know where this style has come from but it is the ‘in thing’ to build like that around here, with mile after mile of these identical ‘estates/complexes’ around. The property across the road also had an excellent view of my client’s garden, which is why she did not want to remove the existing conifers.
The front garden sloped across to the driveway and gate. Slopes tend to feel like everything is draining away to their lowest point, so they don’t feel like a nice place to be. My client and I worked on a plan together to make a large lawn area for her dogs and include a new level change, with steps up from the driveway to create more of a sense of arrival, and other steps leading down to a lower garden near the front boundary. We kept the existing clipped topiary shrubs near the house but gave them much deeper planting beds. To solve the privacy issue, the idea developed for a more densely planted ‘forest area’ at the bottom of the front garden. These trees could grow higher and screen the neighbours, then the conifers would be removed.
The final plan included earthworks to terrace the garden, new brick garden and retaining walls, repainting the house a more neutral background colour, and a new planting scheme. A builder was then appointed to do all the hard landscaping.
Earthworks and brick walls
First on the list were earthworks to create the new terraces, and then foundations for the new brick retaining and garden walls to shape the much deeper flower beds. The bricks were chosen by my client and the builder as she wanted a more rustic look to the overall finish, and the orangey tones in the bricks pick up the timber window frames, while the elegant grey capping pieces echo the grey roof on the house.
The builder completed his work at the beginning of last December and we arrived to clean up, remove the last of the rubble and do the final levelling. We were experiencing a lot of rain and we did not want the client to sit in a mud bath over the Christmas holidays. (Please note my grandson, little Connor, giving up his experienced opinion on the lawn preparation and laying.)
The forest area
This is a fairly narrow strip of garden between the raised flowerboxes and the boundary wall. It is designed as a contrast to the sunny and open lawn, with dense, informal planting to create a shady, lush, rainforest-style garden.
We wanted a completely different mood to the formal paving, so we created a paved landing area with more widely spaced pavers interspersed with a softening ground cover. Leading from the landing, timber-look concrete slab pavers form a gently winding path off either side, each with a small focal point at the end. A pond water feature adds the sort of detail that works well in this more enclosed, leafy space.
The garden today
This is the garden several months later, with new benches from where the owner can watch her two dogs enjoy their lawn. My client has two golden labradors…..and Riley, a dog with an interesting story. My client read about Riley in the newspaper.
Riley was found almost beaten to death. Some little savages had used a panga, a blunt knife used to cut velt grass, to rearrange the look of the poor dog. His tail had been cut off, he was hit across the head and an ear was damaged, his back leg was almost severed. He was at the vet when my client went to have a look at him and decided there and then that he would now be rehomed and christened ‘Riley’ inspired by ‘The Life of Riley’. Unfortunately, his leg had to be amputated but with time he healed and was allowed to leave. When he first arrived at my client he was terrified of everything but by the time we landscaped the garden he was a happy, well adjusted fellow.