Think Garden, Think Richard: Softening a New Extension

A well thought out use of plants will bring a space to life. To engage with a space throughout the changing seasons is such a basic human instinct and something we all need to make more time for in our busy lives.

The positive effect of green space on our mental health, well being and happiness is well documented but it should be a priority. Whether it is going for a walk-through woodland or tending your own garden, the act of being in nature is certainly good for us. Many of us are now choosing to improve our living spaces through extending and developing our properties but spare a thought for the effect that this has on the outdoor space. Here are a few things to be thinking about to help soften the effect of building work in the garden.

Transition is a great way to create cohesion from a new extension out into the garden. This can take the form of the floor material matching inside and outside to give a seamless flow out into the garden. There is no excuse to have paving finishing abruptly up against the house. To have a gravel trap at the foot of the bricks or render is somewhat better, but why not plan some planting pockets to help anchor everything and create a more deliberate effect. This could take the form of leaving out some slabs for planting a Wisteria for example if you have a south facing wall or it could be as simple as planting a row of lavenders to soften the transition of materials. We often forget to make the house look pretty as the focus can be out into the garden but views back at the house are important to consider too.

Transparent planting is another awesome way of making us engage with planting. With the current trends of large windows and bifold doors clever planting can make you feel like you are sitting in the planting from the comfort of your armchair. I love to blend grasses such as Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’, Sporobolus heterolepsis ‘Weinheim’ or Miscanthus sinensis ‘Kleine Fontaine’ with hardy perennials such as Gaura lindheimeri ‘Whirling Butterfies’, Sanguisorba officinalis and Lythrum salicaria ‘Feuerkerze’, to name just a few. This flouncy flowery blend of grasses and transparent hardy perennials is a great way to bring flowers into the garden and is more stimulating on the eye than a collection of shrubs.

Delineation of space is very important regardless of the size of your garden. This does not need to take the form of tall hedges of Yew or Hornbeam that will undoubtedly reduce the light levels closer to the house. I like to delineate space using box hedging that can be clipped to keep it a low hedge around knee high. Typically, I would look to use this to frame an entrance or exit from an area such as a patio or as an edging plant with shrubs and flowers beyond. It can be important to choose a box alternative in areas that have experienced box blight and for this I would recommend Ilex crenata ‘Caroline Upright’ as a good alternative with a very similar effect.

Focal points are a good way to draw the eye into a particular area of the garden. It could be that you are having to steer the eye away from a neighbour’s extension where previously the view was more pleasing. A well-positioned specimen tree such as a multi stemmed Prunus serrula with its gorgeous mahogony smooth bark or a stunning Liquidamber styraciflua ‘Worplesdon’ with its pretty star shaped leaves and stunning autumn colour would do the trick. This can also be achieved to good effect with a water feature or sculpture too.

Screening of unsightly views or simply for privacy in the garden is becoming ever more popular. I love to use pleached hornbeams which are essentially a hedge on stilts. Typically, I use trees with a clear stem 1.8 metres with the trained crown above. There are many varieties of trees that have been trained in this way and I am keen to include a row of pleached crab apples in a garden in the near future.

If you are thinking of making changes to your garden this year why not plan over the winter to implement in the spring and to enjoy this summer!

For more in depth advice or garden design help please get in touch to arrange a consultation.