I was delighted to be chosen by Tim and Ruth to redesign their garden in Bath. I knew Tim wanted to move things along quickly so I popped back to survey the garden straightaway. I really like this part of the process as I am all alone in the garden. I record levels, take measurements of dimensions and photograph views or small details as they catch my eye. In the peace and quiet I can notice the garden’s special qualities and begin to test out my ideas.
I take everything back to the studio transferring all the information onto a single sheet in order to create a scaled garden survey. Then the actual designing can begin. I work in an old fashioned way with a drawing board, tracing paper and pencil. I often use sheets and sheets of tracing laid over one another on top of the original survey; each time refining the shapes that I have drawn. In this way I can work out how best to use the space available for the list of things the client wants. It can be a time consuming process when there is something tricky to work out such as fitting the right number of steps into a small space but by working through different variations you know when you have got the best option. It is such a good feeling when you have cracked the design.
When the garden layout has been worked out I draw sketch elevations to show how the garden will look to someone standing in it.
I also create mood boards by collecting photos of real gardens showing a particular style of planting or a specific feature I want to demonstrate. These boards really bring my drawings to life. When everything is prepared I set up a meeting with the clients in order to present their new garden to them.
I am both excited and nervous on the journey over as I never know what reaction I am going to get when I unroll the paper plan and the clients see it for the first time. After the initial reaction (yikes) I thoroughly explain how to read the plan. I find that unless you work in the design world you probably have limited experience of reading a plan. When I have gone through what all the squiggles mean I often take my clients out into the garden. I find by walking them around, with the plan in hand showing what will be where really helps them to visualise the new garden layout.
On arrival at their house in Larkhall I was met by a hive of activity. I was ushered into the quietest room where I unrolled the garden plan amongst the paint tins and dust sheets and started explaining what I had come up with.
There were several practical design issues to overcome in their garden the main one being wheelchair access. Currently the garden was entered from the main road and immediately there was a steep flight of steps rising about half a meter before meeting a sloping path. This path diverted around a saddle stone feature and continued to the front door which was set back quite a distance from the front of the house.
The pathway dominated the garden and marked which side was in sun and which in shade. Tim and Ruth wanted a family garden where they could spend time with their grandchildren. By moving the central path a large lawn could be made for all to enjoy. Borrowing the carved circle detail from the house’s stonework I could shape it to be a round lawn which would subtly connect the garden and house. The far corner would be a perfect spot for a bench and visually this focal point would act as a counter balance to the weight of the house. It would be a lovely garden picture when seen from inside the house too.
Tim and Ruth felt their front door was rather hidden. In fact one of the first things they carried out was thinning the crown of the beautiful but large yew tree adjacent to the house. This helped reduce the shadow it cast and rebalance it in relation to the house. I proposed moving the access from the main road to the side road which would change the angle of the approach to the house completely. The new angle showed off the front door by making it more prominent in relation to the rest of the house and by positioning the garden gate on the side road would lose the need for steps. A visitor could use the driveway to park, travel down the existing slope of the pavement entering the garden close to the height of the front door.
I waited for their reaction to the new layout; thankfully Tim and Ruth were delighted. It was big ‘yes’ with just a tweak to the shape of the lawn. I was pleased and relieved because it had been a big gamble.