Create a city sanctuary with down-to-earth planting and sky-high schemes.
Transform your outdoor space into an extension of the rest of your home, a welcoming space for alfresco breakfasts, lunches and dinners, sunbathing, reading and just hanging out. Add some gorgeous outdoor furniture, some discreet lighting and plenty of low-maintenance greenery like a modern living wall. From firepits and woodburning stoves to electric heaters and fire tables, outdoor heating in all its forms will keep the space inviting even on cooler nights. Here are a few fabulous outdoor spaces to inspire a garden transformation.
‘Roof and balcony gardens present unique conditions,’ says garden designer Charlotte Rowe. ‘They offer lots of light and views that are second to none, but they are often exposed sites, open to the elements and boasting their own microclimates.’ The main consideration when planning a garden in the sky is limitations to weight and loadings. ‘All structures have to be designed to minimise the stress on the rooftop and this may involve planning permission. Trees and shrubs should be kept low as they need to be stable, and they should be able to withstand wind and high temperatures,’ says Rowe. ‘Evergreen plants such as single-stem olive trees or rosemary hedging work well.’
Its long, south-facing terrace was one of the selling points of the apartment above, says its owner, interior designer Pol Theis, who has created a rooftop sanctuary off a Twenties building in Manhattan’s busy Garment District. Timber boards like those used here are lightweight and tone down bright sunshine. He achieved the quality of flowing motion on the narrow deck by placing containers of ornamental trees and shrubs on both sides of the ‘walkway’, directing the flow of traffic in a more undulating line.
OUTDOOR DINING ROOMS
Alfresco dining has moved way beyond the old collapsible table and stackable chairs. ‘Today, we’re talking permanent fixtures designed to lure you outdoors all year round,’ says Tony Woods, of Garden Club London. But ensure yours is as practical as it is pretty. ‘Proximity to the kitchen (if it’s not already outdoors) is key, as is heating and shelter,’ he adds. And indoor spaces aren’t the only ones that benefit from a little mood lighting, so bust out the candles, fairy lights and chandeliers.
Simple yet effective, a flourish of ferns and other sculptural foliage serves as a natural screen in the garden above, lending privacy to this outdoor dining room designed by Modular.
Overlooked and unloved? Not any more, say designers of the multi-hued delights of rust, which adds character and complexity to gardens. ‘Corten is a steel alloy that develops an attractive rusty patina on its surface, but will not rust away like mild steel,’ says Garden Club London’s director Tony Woods. ‘But consider where it will be placed, as rusty run-off can stain surrounding paving,’ he adds. A maintenance-free option is Corten-effect DesignClad, £130.50 for a 1.5x1m slab, from London Stone. ‘It combines the industrial chic of rusted steel with the lightweight benefits of hard-wearing porcelain,’ says Woods.
Designed by Garden Club London, this lush courtyard above belongs to a house in Belsize Park. ‘We were inspired by the geometric forms of rock faces,’ says Tony Woods, describing the Corten steel wall planted with shade-tolerant foliage. ‘We planted the tree ferns in raised Corten steel cubes, allowing shadows and light to bounce below the leaves.’
TERRACES AND TIERS
‘Clients often consider their sloping gardens to be a challenge but, in fact, they offer the opportunity to create many features on different levels, introduce dramatic steps and add focal-point features and layers of planting that can be viewed from the house,’ says Scottish garden designer Anne Macfie. ‘There’s also something alluring about terraced gardens that draw you up or down to the next level and the promise of more garden to explore,’ she adds. So don’t write off your garden just because it slopes – it’s a chance to take a wee wander.
Framed by a raised lawn and planted beds and boasting hillside views, the sunken seating area pictured below creates the impression of being gloriously ‘submerged’ in the garden.
‘Small gardens need to work twice as hard as big ones and should really be seen as the largest room in the house,’ says garden designer Kate Gould. ‘Outdoor fireplaces make these gardens sustainable through both summer and winter.’ She insists that the first consideration when installing an outdoor hearth is the type of fuel you’ll burn, as this dictates both the fireplace’s design as well as its cost. ‘Piped natural gas is expensive, but probably the easiest of all to use. More affordable bioethanol is clean, but labour intensive and doesn’t burn very hot. Natural wood is lovely, but its burning is prohibited in certain areas.’
Designed by Kate Gould Gardens, the Kensington courtyard pictured above features a bespoke glass, mirror and polished stainless-steel fireplace. It uses bioethanol gel and includes colour-changing lights. ‘The white light setting creates a more relaxed vibe, but in the evening, the different coloured lights can dictate a choice of moods,’ says Gould.
It’s official: black is the new black in garden design. ‘Just as they do inside, colours really pop against a darker background, so vibrantly hued trees, shrubs and flowers become the star of the show in a garden where black is used on the hard landscaping elements,’ says landscape architect Philip Nixon. ‘Matt black or dark grey work particularly well on boundary walls, as dark colours recede, making the garden appear longer or wider,’ he adds. Cuprinol’s Garden Shades Black Ash wood paint, £30 for 5L, at B&Q, will do the job handsomely.
‘The use of black as a hard material can contrast beautifully with a soft landscape if enough consideration is given to the types of plants chosen. Those with striking textures or colours tend to work best,’ says Philip Nixon, who designed and built this smart Primrose Hill garden pictured above, where a restrained palette is offset by sharply geometric hard landscaping.
This courtyard (pictured below) opens up to its surroundings, with flooring that extends out to the terraces, and a double-sided fireplace with one half inside and the other half outside.
Concrete flooring extends outside to the terraces, blurring the boundary between indoors and outdoors. In the summer, it creates the illusion that the living room is continuing outside. That’s also the reason why you have the same furniture outside, just in different fabric. A double-sided fireplace, with one half inside and the other half outside, reinforces this sense of indoor-outdoor fluidity. This is a courtyard as comfortable with open-air barbecues as it is with fireside huddles.
The design of the house features two rectangular boxes – one clad in wood for the bedrooms, and the other surrounded by steel-framed windows for the main living space. Both enjoy views of a salt-water pool.
OVER THE TOP PLANT POTS
There are few circumstances where a garden is not improved by the addition of a pot or two, but when these are larger than life, they add a designer kick. Pimp up the curves of big rounded beauties with contrasting spiky leafed Yucca gloriosa ‘Spanish bayonet’, or temper the angularity of square or triangular titans with topiary balls of Buxus sempervirens ‘Box hedge’. Then line them up soldier-style for extra clout. Adam Christopher does a range of geometrically shaped concrete pots, from £386 each.
‘Despite the spacious terrace of this Sydney penthouse (pictured below), planting was kept modest in order to limit maintenance,’ explains Matthew Cantwell of Secret Gardens. ‘A series of oversized concrete pots provides a real presence against the timber decking and adds a certain rhythm against the skyline.’
Planted with Liriope muscari, a low, herbaceous flowering perennial, as well as a sculptural Ilex crenata ‘Cloud tree’, the Urbis pots in this Holborn garden (pictured below) were chosen for their architectural bulk and elegant curves. Mounted on hidden plinths, they appear to be floating, despite their generous proportions. ‘Large pots are becoming sculptural additions in their own right,’ says garden designer Maria Örnberg of Greenlinesdesign. ‘In a small garden, they also bring foliage up to eye level.’
Nothing beats relaxing poolside at the end of a working day, glass in hand. But, whether you choose to install a formal swimming pool or a naturalistic pond, bear in mind that it’s not a maintenance-light choice, cautions landscape architect Philip Nixon. ‘It’s important to design something you can live with and afford,’ he says. A simple wildlife pond can be just as stunning as a full-blown lap pool and doesn’t necessarily need fountains, sculptures or other bells ’n’ whistles. You may not require (or even want) the water to be gin-clear and can probably easily tolerate the odd few days in hot, early spring when it may look like pea soup.
Architect Andy Martin’s extensive remodelling of this once nondescript terrace house in north London involved completely opening the interior to the patio and pool. ‘Straight-edged swimming pools such as this one are sunk into the surrounding paving with relative ease and benefit from a non-shaded and level site,’ says Philip Nixon.
Channel the Buddhist monks of Kyoto and create a place for meditation. ‘The tenets of Eastern design – form and space, stillness and movement, asymmetry and balance – can be translated into modern spaces, particularly where the environment boasts strong minimalist lines,’ says garden designer Jenny Hendy. ‘If the Victorian chimney pots of your skyline don’t favour a Zen makeover, try creating a garden within a garden. Or take elements of Eastern design and work them into an existing landscape, blending the cultures,’ she adds.
The serene patio space below draws on the linearity and balanced proportions of Japanese garden design. Created by Matthew Cantwell of Secret Gardens, it’s backdropped by a wall of bamboo planted in integrated troughs. ‘When containing bamboo, line the planter with either solid materials, such as paving slabs or corrugated iron sheets, or with fabric, such as root barrier fabric from Green-Tech, to prevent its tough stems from damaging the landscaping,’ says Cantwell.