The clients for this small suburban garden gave designer Chris Parsons of Hallam Garden Design an open brief, and with that, Chris was able to develop inspirations for her design.
The clients for this small suburban garden gave designer Chris Parsons of Hallam Garden Design an open brief, and simply asked her to remove the lawn and large hedges that surrounded the property, both of which were becoming too much work to maintain. They were aiming for a garden with a dramatic new look that would address their love of plants, and which they could spend a few hours each week maintaining. With almost a blank canvas to work on, Chris sought inspiration from many sources, including Piet Oudolf’s spectacular perennial planting designs, one of Andy Sturgeon’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show gardens, and the landscaping outside Tate Modern in London by Charles Funke.
An imposing hedge surrounded the whole property, blocking out light and creating too much work for the owners, Godfrey and Ann Collins. The three small lawns that formed the focus of each section of the garden were patchy, difficult to mow, and provided no level areas for seating, which the couple desperately wanted.
An unsightly black Tarmac path led from the street to the front door, and another path linked the back door to the garage. The outlook from the kitchen window was just a bank of mature shrubs, which made the property feel dark and gloomy, and the back of the house, which is overlooked by neighbors on two sides, needed screening to create a more private space.
The couple have both recently retired and wanted to spend more time in their garden. Godfrey has always loved plants, and was keen that the new design allowed him scope to add new purchases and to maintain the flower beds, but without the hard work of weekly mowing. He had also seen pictures of meadow and prairie planting and liked the idea of a mix of flowers and grasses. The couple were also looking for space to entertain friends, and asked Chris to include lighting to extend their enjoyment of the garden on warm summer evenings.
Chris loves silver birch trees (Betula), especially the striking effect their white trunks create when the canopies are bare in winter. She was inspired by the designs at Alnwick Garden in Northumberland, UK and the modern design by Charles Funke outside Tate Modern in London. These gardens helped to convince her that the slim, elegant trees would work well in the limited space available in the Collins’ garden.
Andy Sturgeon’s show garden for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2005 was the inspiration for Chris’s use of oak blocks for a water feature.
The light canopies of birches make them ideal for small gardens, and their white stems create dramatic patterns when the trees are planted in groups (Image 1).
The furniture in the garden is rustic to match the naturalistic style of the planting. Chris’s clients were keen that the furniture was sustainable and chose timber benches made from wood accredited by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The lighting effects are designed to pick out key features.
Chris wanted to create seating areas surrounded by planting, where her clients could enjoy the changing seasons. Here, light plays on the fall tints in the tall grasses, an effect she wanted to capture in her design (Image 1).
The uplighter casings in this design are screened by Ophiopogon planted in blocks, so that the illumination effects, rather than the lights themselves, draw the eye. Chris used this technique to light the woodland garden (Image 2).
Chris Parsons has long been a fan of influential Dutch designer Piet Oudolf’s perennial planting designs, in which he weaves swathes of flowers, such as Echinacea, Hemerocallis, Sedum, and Eryngium, together with grasses to produce a sea of color and texture. She visited the Walled Garden at Scampston Hall in North Yorkshire, UK, designed by Oudolf and opened in 2004, and asked Godfrey and Ann along too, so that they could see the effect she had in mind for their front garden. The couple loved the way this planting style changes with the seasons.
Piet Oudolf designs gardens that are breathtaking in both summer and winter, when tall seedheads and grasses remain and look stunning rimed with frost (Image 1).
For dramatic impact, plant in large groups. Here, swathes of tall grasses (Panicum virgatum) are interrupted by a mass of bright Echinacea purpurea (Image 2).
Chris has used a selection of perennials with a long season of interest. Good choices include Rudbeckia (Image 3), Echinacea, Phlomis and Eupatorium.