A Garden Transformed

Read how Sarah at The Garden Creative turned a grey, uninspiring garden into an idyllic low maintenance plant haven.

Words: Sarah at The Garden Creative

It’s always a pleasure to create a beautiful garden for my clients or to revive an old, overgrown one. Usually we can uncover hidden gems in old shrubs, trees or roses that have been neglected over the years and with some renovation pruning and loving care they can again take their place as features in the new garden we construct around them. Sometimes, though, we have projects where there really is a blank canvas to start with. Although this can come with its challenges it’s a treat I can’t resist, especially if the clients are open to new ideas, be that in the planting, materials or overall style.

A great example of a project like this from 2021 is this one near the sea in Whitstable. Previous owners had reduced the garden to a huge patio with just a handful of plants and fake grass. Grey and uninspiring, this degradation of a once stocked garden was not only a tragedy for the inhabitants of the house it now belongs to, but also to the wildlife in the local area and causes big problems with surface water and neighbouring properties.

Low maintenance doesn’t have to mean stripping out every plant and covering it all with stone or concrete. The new owners also wanted the garden to be low-maintenance but they wanted to be able to look out on trees, plants, wildlife and a changing beauty that can only be provided by nature itself. A challenge I couldn’t resist!

Lawns are not generally a great idea if low-maintenance is high on the wish-list, as during the warmer months they need mowing every week or two, so alternatives should be considered. Being close to the sea, shingle can create a suitable beach-style ambience and fits into the surrounding landscape. This idea of context within the wider environment and the style of the house is very important. If done correctly, the garden and house should look like they fit with each other and into the location they inhabit.

Having already purchased a hot tub, the clients wanted a relaxing garden, practical enough for returning from the beach with paddleboards and wetsuits. We kept some of the many patio pavers from the existing garden and cut them into long narrow planks to create pathways through the shingle, from the house to the hot tub.

To make the most of the large drop from the back of the house we built a wide decking in composite boards that will not rot or require staining or painting. Underneath we installed waterproof cupboards for storing paddleboards, seat cushions and garden tools, easily accessible from either side of the shallow steps that create a leisurely stroll from the sunny deck down into the garden.

The houses in this area are mostly very old shiplap cottages built in terraces so the back gardens can be overlooked, making privacy hard to achieve. Tall trees, including Magnolia grandiflora, Olea Europa and Chamaerops humilis were planted, along with bamboo to screen off areas within the garden for sunbathing, socialising and relaxing. Planting has a year-round tropical feel with the huge, lush leaves of Cardoon contrasting with shiny needle-leaved Yuccas and Phormiums.

Seasonal interest and colour are added with trees like Cotinus coggygria atropurpurea that can be pruned hard in late winter to emphasise the leaf colour, and Tamarisk ramosissima with its wispy pink plumes through late summer into autumn. In summer the garden will be filled with insects and butterflies while the many Buddleia, Bottlebrush and Lavenders are in bloom. Allium bulbs bring colour and height to the planting in the month of May, while in the shadier areas Hellebores and Epimediums provide early nectar as insects emerge in the spring.

Woven steel fencing was installed in three arcs to create a dramatic design feature through the garden while leading the eye around them on the winding path. These structures serve as screens to give privacy to the hot tub area and sunbathing circle, while bringing texture and structure in their natural-looking forms. The outside layer of steel corrodes over time to create colours of burnt orange and deep brown, a superb backdrop to the purple-flowering Verbena bonariensis and yellow Baptisia tinctoria.

The beauty of this project was the clients’ trust in us at The Garden Creative to provide them with a garden of their dreams. A good budget meant that we could select quality materials with longevity. The fences are made from cedar; the decking is composite: a mix of recycled wood, plastic and other building materials; and the screen is steel. Along with irrigation installed in the form of drip hoses to use in the summer months, the plants are being looked after, wildlife has been restored and this garden is all set to be here far into the future!

If you would like to discuss a garden design, please get in touch with sarah@thegardencreative.com or use the contact form on the website thegardencreative.com

For latest project images, see Instagram and Facebook @thegardencreate.

Landscapers Trevor Tooth and Seth Furminger.

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