Whenever I’m given a new design opportunity, it’s usually against a background of several ongoing projects. During the time period between the first and second client meetings, I find myself reflecting on everything that I’ve heard from the client and what I have seen of the space. I mull over factors such as how the client plans to use the garden, how it is related to the space, what design problems and opportunities might occur. That’s really an enjoyable period; seeing and building the garden in my head, and not necessarily thinking very hard about it! When I get to the drawing stage, I become very focused but the ‘mulling over’ first helps to make that a very natural flow.
Case Study – Barn Garden
Client brief – Our clients asked us to transform their one-acre garden set in a beautiful location on the top of the Chiltern Hills (an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) in Hertfordshire. The garden design needed to sit comfortably in a farmland setting yet have a contemporary, modern feel. Being keen cooks, our clients also required a small kitchen herb garden as well as a larger vegetable garden and orchard so that they could grow more of their own supplies.
Design challenges – The house and garden are in a lovely setting, but the garden felt very open and quite exposed to the elements; there was also a sense of being overlooked by a neighbouring property. A sense of sanctuary and privacy was required around the house whilst maintaining a visual connection with the surrounding countryside. Views within the garden needed to be created and framed to give a sense of scale.
Design solution - I began with a strong rectilinear geometry, to connect the house to the garden and create attractive, separate spaces. Trees and clipped hedges were used to strengthen the geometry before the areas were over-layered with softer, more naturalistic planting. Further hedging, trees and grasses also provide screening from the property next door. A large area was given over to a wildflower meadow, using local native calcareous species to increase the garden’s biodiversity and give a further strong connection to its countryside setting.an invitation to explore further.
Mown paths through the meadow area provide a sense of control and an invitation to explore further. An extra contemporary touch was added by using bespoke modern sculpture to lead the eye and frame wonderful views across the Chilterns. Overall, the result is a garden which is well-loved and regularly used by its owners.
Design solutions are very subjective and there are always many choices to make – from the concept design stage to the detail of a path width. Just where to start designing a new garden from is interesting. I often start out (as I did in this example) with very basic shapes, lines, usage flow. I start sketching that out (always by hand initially) and start to see some geometry within the flow with which I can work and develop ideas further and in more detail.
Often with a new project there’ll be a trigger from my history – I never know where it’s going to come from, it might be from a garden that I visited 20 years ago. In this example, I was influenced by some elements of the wonderful walled garden at Scampston Hall in North Yorkshire. Sometimes of course there are more ‘gnarly’ problems to solve too. There’s always a conflict of some sort to solve, or an opportunity to balance the garden’s functionality with its aesthetics. With the Barn Garden, I was keen to ensure the clients could enjoy a feeling of sanctuary whilst maintaining a strong connection to the surrounding countryside.
I hope that this design case study has been of interest – to fellow garden designers, to clients and to people interested in creative thinking generally! Please do share your thoughts by commenting as shown at the top. If you would like to know more about our garden design work, then please browse a range of our projects here.
This blog post first appeared on our website in September 2019 and was the most popular post in our 2019 series.