Too often gardens turn into confusing, impractical and difficult to use spaces. At best piles of leaves and debris with the odd broken pot, at worst holding all the clutter we don’t want indoors and relegate to outside. Our gardens become the unsightly outdoor room in the house.

Even the more orderly gardens, can suffer from a strange mixture of planting and materials, flower beds that are hard to keep weeded, mismatched surfaces clashing amongst different areas, hard landscaping missing a focal point and lack of interesting views, no harmony between garden style and house.

One in three urban gardens only gets fully used once a year. Huge effort to clean, mow the lawn, weed the borders and set up the garden furniture is required to make the outdoor presentable for this once a year event. We then accept the inevitable and leave the garden to decay ‘naturally’ again.

But it doesn’t have to be this way! De-clutter is a magic word for the outdoor space as much as for the interiors. Finding a truly sustainable style in line with your gardening abilities and time availability is the next step. Just applying these two principles to a well-thought design can make your garden feel welcoming all year round. This reinforces the concept of the outdoors as an external room for all occasions.

The style of your house must guide the style of your garden. For instance, a bold look would be perfect for a contemporary luxury residential property by choosing just a few sculptural shrubs or trees and minimalist materials for paving and seating benches or fences. Formal layouts with neatly clipped hedging also look fabulous, even though they require high maintenance. On the contrary, the true cottage style might be the right combination, with harmony in shapes, textures and various colours for a historical building surrounded by a big romantic garden.

Choosing the right position of the outdoor patio is fundamental.  As architects involved in garden design, we principally focus on the successful relationship and balance between the living spaces of the house and their natural continuation outside. When it comes to hard landscaping the first step is to define the patio area for seating, as that is the heart of the garden where the family gather together. If your garden is on a sloping site you might need retaining walls and rainwater drainage systems to achieve a functional space for a patio or to create a clear separation between the more domestic areas and the natural one. The retaining walls will become an assertive addition to your building walls and outdoor paving.

Consider putting your main seating area in a west-facing spot to catch the last rays of evening sunshine. Only after you position the patio site, you can decide on your outdoor surfaces finish and planting scheme.

Stone paving Vs Ceramic paving

Timeless, durable and beautiful – natural stone is a great choice for a patio, whether in a traditional or contemporary garden. However some of our clients are often puzzled amongst so many different types of stone available, sometimes they feel overwhelmed by the range of colours, textures and, most importantly, costs to suit their different budgets. Good-quality stone is more expensive than manufactured slabs. Anyway, remember the product is more or less 20% of the cost – the rest is preparation and installation. So, on a tight budget, you might be happier with a good-quality concrete slab rather than cheap stone. Stone is one of the most important materials to give areas local distinctiveness: we advise our clients to embrace the natural stone they see around their house – in buildings, historic gardens and retaining walls: lots of aesthetic potential lay in the vibrant granite surfaces in Cornwall, golden limestone in the Cotswolds, or natural slate in the Lake District. Proportions are also important: bigger stone slabs give an illusion of space and high quality so they’re good for large areas and provide a more contemporary feel. Smaller units are more appropriate in smaller gardens, where irregular sizes can often work well with a quirky house.

If you’re looking for a hard-wearing patio surface, porcelain pavers are actually a great option to connect outdoor and indoor more closely. The inclusion of a level threshold from inside to outside effectively merges the internal and external living spaces by removing that level change. The external ceramic tiles need to have a little more texture to ensure they’re not slippery and the material is engineered to support heavier loads and subsidence. The slab sizes are very even and consistent, which means they lend themselves to thin joints for a contemporary look. While some may love the clean look porcelain gives, this might not work for everyone. They don’t have the natural properties of real stone and can feel artificial or mismatched from the site if not accurately chosen. As well as stone, porcelain isn’t as straightforward to install and you will need a sub-base preparation and a concrete screed will make laying easier. A small tip to avoid a clinical look: aim to create one-third porcelain paving to two-thirds planting for verdant outdoor living space and try to find matching polished gravel to use as mulching for your planted areas.

One of our clients wanted a substantial house extension for a new Kitchen, Dining Room and Orangery on a woodland sloping site on clay soil. Their wish was to connect the extension and garden design seamlessly which presented them with a big challenge. They envisaged large sliding doors opening to a ceramic porcelain slabs patio but this proved hard to be achieved. The way that we dealt with this problem was to design a series of external terraces and retaining walls with steps to address the changing level issues. Our advice for the choice of the paving finishing materials was natural stone as opposed to ceramic tiles for a practical reason. Stone is suitable for a clay soil that is prone to movement. The design achieves the desired visual and stylistic connection between the two where the difference in external paving and internal flooring becomes not important. This solution could not have been implemented without technical construction drawings and our ongoing support during the works on site.

The key to a successful house extension project integrated with the garden design is to have a plan that foresees similar issues from the outset. This will provide a bigger scheme that incorporates the way that you want to use your garden in relation to the house and it provides a desirable outcome. This would be in the form of a beautiful garden to use all year around.

Dreamful gardens 

We will now delight you with some inspirations for your garden to be, selected from the 2019 Society of Garden Designer Award winners;

Japanese Water Garden, by Noël van Mierlo; “A wonderful interpretation of a theme combined with contemporary modernity. Beautifully soft both in its hard and soft landscaping, including stunning rock work, the design draws the eye around the space resting on details and ornament while being calmed by the water and planting composition.”

Winchester Garden, by Helen Elks-Smith MSGD; “A beautifully simple, calm and coherent garden where the designer has paid excellent attention to the contrasts of shape and form in the planting to complement the architectural spaces. The use of water to creating light and a view of the sky is inspired and the lovely repetition of colour and wonderful texture and movement created by mass grass  planting is fabulous.”

Jam Factory Roof garden; by  Tony Woods; “An outright winner, working on every level of function, spatial arrangement, planting design and durability for the challenging conditions.  Well proportioned with a lovely warm colour palette and wonderful texture in the paving, furniture, and planting, the garden is perfectly designed to take in the London skyline without overwhelming the space.”


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