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Garden Design: Shaping Dreams

When someone hires a garden consultant like myself, it’s very rare that in the first meeting with the client to discuss garden changes we’re met with the simple statement, “I just want a beautiful garden, nothing more and nothing less”. Needless to say, my team and I were left a little lost.
This first meeting with a client is the most important. It’s where we establish what dreams, likes and dislikes the client has, their favourite colours, shapes and styles. It’s a lot to take in. Through carefully worded questions, we establish the boundaries and slowly begin to create a picture of their lifestyle, taking into account the family needs (and the needs of their pets!).
Once we have met with the client, the creativity starts and the once-fuzzy clouds of ideas become images in your mind. These images are then transferred onto paper to form the plan – the ultimate working document for any garden. I understand that for some gardeners a plan is fl exible and this I really don’t mind. We must remember that one’s garden has to reflect who and how we engage with the world. My only word of advice is that you need to take the entire space into consideration and work on bite-sized chunks one at a time.


Painting the picture for this garden

This medium-sized townhouse garden space has some established garden beds, a narrow section off the patio, and a mostly sloping garden. A deck had been installed leading off new double doors that were added to allow the fl ow from the lounge and dining room to the outside. This was one of the main ‘fixes’ that needed to be done before my team could get stuck in and start the garden. The reason for this is simple: the main garden space was actually in the shape of an ‘L’, a dogleg-shaped space that had no access from the home. So with this new access point the fl ow was improved.
The trick behind this area was to take the small space and make it look big through a series of garden rooms. The illusion comes through the placement of plants and various ‘stop’ signs along the way, to force us to pause and take in each garden room.


Making the slope work for us!

The slope was the biggest challenge. Or more to the point, telling the home owner, Shelley, that we had to bring in 42m3 of soil and let a bobcat loose for three days was the difficult part. Gardening is no different from any other task that we set ourselves, and getting started is sometimes messy, but get the groundwork right and the rest is a breeze. So in came the bobcat! The slope presented us with one of the best opportunities as well: using levels and the freedom to use these levels to get the best ‘wow’ factor.


The pool room

Getting the swimming pool in was a cinch because we took it directly off the deck, with not much digging needed. Some of the key points to remember when placing swimming pools are that unless you’re aspiring to get onto the Olympic swimming team, there is no need for a large pool, and never make the mistake of placing the pool far away from the entertainment area – you must literally be able to fall into it. It has to be close, included and part of the patio.
A challenge that most townhouse or suburban gardeners are faced with is the concrete walls that surround us, a fact of life that we really can’t get around. So how do we hide them? This is where the feature wall came into play for the pool. The feature wall distracts your visual attention away from the wall, and our senses are brought into play by the spouting water. A key success factor in this ‘garden room’ was the use of the large 1m x 1m pavers; the illusion of space is dramatic and ticks all the boxes for me. Finally, the balance is provided through the use of the gorgeous urns with billowing ‘My Granny’ roses.
Off the pool we dropped a level, which worked out really well. It solved two problems: it saved money and also created the ideal transition zone that I was looking for before leading you into the rose garden. Lavender ‘Margaret Roberts’ was planted along the pathway on either side, and contained by clipped, deep-green buxus hedges that contrast beautifully with the grey.


The rose garden

The homeowner has always loved roses, as did her late mother, so the inclusion of this space was a must. This garden room was set out with four garden beds for the roses. The symmetry of this area is simple and balanced. I love the Trachelospermum jasminoides, which we kept clipped into a low hedge all around the rose garden beds. When the roses are not flowering, you can still enjoy the fragrance from the jasmine. I always joke around when doing a garden talk and advise people that we always need something to lead us down the garden path – Brad Pitt? Charlize Theron? Or a timeless plinth with a custom-designed sundial on top?
At the end of the rose garden we planted two handsome Magnolia ‘Little Gems’ to frame the sundial. These trees are fantastic and perfect for small spaces! Soft plantings of Agapanthus ‘White Ice’, foxgloves and delphiniums add the finishing touches to this scented space of roses.


The leisure garden

Off the centre axis from the sundial we walk into the next room, which is by far my most favourite part of this garden. A rectangular raised pond is the focus of this area, with the formal repetition of four obelisks on the only patch of lawn that is included in the garden. It was important for me to have as little lawn as possible. Far too many of us have large lawns for no particular reason. If you need the space for spontaneous cricket games then yes, by all means, but if not and the only things running around your garden are a couple of Yorkies, then keep it to a minimum.
Framing the pond is a grove of wild olive trees with an under-planting of Salvia leucantha (one of my most favourite plants) and of course every garden needs a bench to sit back on and enjoy the view, sounds and aromas for a garden sensory experience.


The narrow room

Finally the best tricks of landscaping were kept for last. The narrow area just off the front patio was transformed into a gorgeous potted space with espaliered jasmine. The repetition of the obelisks and the constant use of simply-finished raw concrete make the space seem bigger. Two key elements in this space are the mirror on the wall, which gives the illusion of the garden going on forever, and what I love the most – the wide lip of the water feature that doubles up as a seat for guests and dogs!

How we designed the garden