We were initially consulted to suggest planting to the raised brick beds that bordered the upper level of this townhouse garden. It was immediately evident that the owners had not considered the potential of the garden. With some re-landscaping, we transformed it into a bright pleasant place in which to spend time, and to look out onto.
This was very far from the original brief, and so we proposed providing two rough plans at two different levels of cost. We encouraged the clients to choose one of the plans, and to give us feedback, including any features from the other plan that they wished to incorporate. This we worked into a final design.
The original garden felt both claustrophobic, with overgrown shrubs blocking the light and intruding into the space, and exposed, as the garden was in full view of terrace neighbours. Our first concern was to provide places to sit that felt private. We also wanted them to be inviting after dark. The major problem was a narrow yet massy brick staircase to the upper level. Non-standard step and riser sizes made it uncomfortable and unsafe to ascend to the upper part of the garden. Because its size and position it made the lower terrace unusable. The first phase of work was to remove the surrounding raised, and replace the brick steps with a flight in brick with cedar treads, designed to take up less space on the lower level.
One of the clients is a philosopher, and so we thought to take a central conceit from the Chinese “scholar’s rock”. These prized stones were to be found on the desks of learned men, who would meditate, imagining the rock to be a mountain, on the paths of which they would walk, lost in thought. The York stone on the terrace was one of the most salvageable features of the garden, and to this we introduced pathways, that, although flat, were boundaried by different ‘levels’ or heights of planting.
We used charred wood, yakisugi, to reference both the metal and the wood used extensively throughout the house, to create a bespoke pavilion, incorporating storage, lighting, a sheltered bench, a wisteria arbour, a sedum roof to be seen from the first floor balcony, and a stand for a water feature made by one of the clients, a ceramicist. The yakisugi suggested a Japonism in keeping with the early history of the house – not immediately when it was built (1822), but perhaps the time of an initial renovation in the long sequence of the house and garden being remade. We encouraged the notion of Japonism with ball planting into gravel, black bamboo, and a cloud-pruned tree. On the lower level, a bespoke cedar bench and table in yakisugi and natural cedar maximise the space, and are placed to enjoy fragrant herbs and roses.
Outstanding in terms of planting are two multi-stem Himalayan birch trees, both under planted with a frothy doughnuts of grass. A small hedge of copper beech makes a concrete bench cast in situ more private. Much use is made of the garden’s walls for climbing flowers: roses (with especially thorny varieties planted for security at the back) and clematis. Bright red dogwood for colour at the back is planted into sculptural chimney flues which serve too to check its growth. Planting has been chosen to be low maintenance and interesting at all times of the year. An old wisteria at the front of the house was removed by accident by builders has been replaced, with another two wisteria planted into tubs on the first floor balcony.