When presented with a new space in which to design and install a completely new courtyard garden you need to take time to assimilate an intimate feeling of the space itself. This will determine how you see that space, how you feel that you can develop that space, and importantly how you can incorporate the client’s wishes.
I was presented with such a challenge recently but thankfully I had the confidence of the client to interpret the space much to my own design instincts. The only brief from the client was, “The hot tub must stay, the garden must be low maintenance and we need to be able to walk around in our bare feet!” and thus the design challenge commenced.
The courtyard was an irregular shape with very limited access for machinery to assist in the transformation. Ownership of the existing garden had been gradually ceded to two extremely large, but gentle, Irish Wolfhounds.
The existing hot tub was even enclosed in a steel mesh cage to stop the dogs from gnawing at it! So, obviously, the first thing was to build new accommodation for the dogs outside of the courtyard area. Having done this the planning of the new courtyard garden could begin.
The space was roughly the shape of a right-angled triangle with the rear and side walls of the house forming the right angle and a red brick boundary wall forming the longest side, or hypotenuse, enclosing the courtyard completely. Two sets of French doors opened on to the courtyard and further access to and from the courtyard could be had through a wide door into the garage.
It was agreed that there was nothing of merit to retain in the existing garden and that everything must go. Everything, that is, except the top security hot tub. With the dogs having settled in to their new accommodation, we were now able to free the hot tub from its steel mesh cage. It was obvious to me that the jaunty angle with which it sat in relation to the back wall of the house had to be corrected.
This simple act was the first step in my new design that would bring order to a previously disordered space. The hot tub, which would remain a large visual feature in the garden, now sat comfortably and, importantly for this space, parallel with the rear wall of the house.
The use of hard landscaping in any garden project has to be considered carefully, and for this garden it would comprise a simple layout of pathways which were functional but also, because of the careful selection of the material used, contributed to the overall aesthetics of the space. A rainbow sandstone was chosen for the pathways and the outdoor dining area, as highlights in the stone would beautifully complement the red tones of the decking.
A sun deck would be created next to the hot tub, and I decided that this would be circular in form to help soften the rigidity of the straight lines that dominated the space; again the choice of material was important to accommodate the client’s wishes for a high quality product. I used red hardwood decking, responsibly obtained from certified sustainable resources.
One question remained. I wanted to incorporate some gravelled areas for textural and visual effect, but I had to keep in mind the client’s wishes for being able to walk around in bare feet. This meant that both gravel and chippings were out, as some are jagged and sharp.
My next consideration was pebbles and after a very long search I managed to source some water worn, completely smooth, small pink river pebbles from Japan. Whilst these were expensive, they fitted in beautifully with the design scheme and again complied with the client’s wishes for a quality product in every way. The pink colour of the pebbles toned marvelously with the sandstone and decking, completing a warm and comforting colour palette to the hard landscaping that would complement the evergreen planting scheme.
The client’s wish for low maintenance led me to consider an evergreen planting scheme. This would allow the family to use the garden at all times of the year, weather permitting. After discussion with the client we decided to create a leafy, lush, evergreen tropical feel to the plantings.
The longest boundary wall was visually dominant and it was obvious to me that plantings had to be used to break the line of this wall and, of course, to reduce its visual impact in the garden. The result of this would be that the wall itself would become secondary to the plantings and both the visual and physical presence of the wall would be reduced significantly.
The planting scheme was now undertaken, in which I used a mixture of mature specimens, semi-mature specimens, and younger plants that would take some more time to grow. This allowed us to create a garden that looked as though it had been established for some time and had not just been newly planted. I hope that you agree that the finished product shows what can be achieved through good design, careful choice of materials, and I think, inspirational planting.
Images by Richard Lucas