A contemporary sensory garden in Grantham, Lincolnshire
One of the great joys of being a professional garden designer is the fabulous variety of different gardens we are asked to create. Some customers ask us to help them to design a ‘traditional country’ garden, whilst others are looking for something that feels rather more contemporary. This project was definitely focused upon the latter.
The brief for this exciting and immensely enjoyable project for a lovely family in Grantham, Lincolnshire was relatively straightforward: to design a contemporary sensory garden with full wheelchair accessibility which could be enjoyed by the whole family.
Occupying a good-sized space on the north eastern side of a recently renovated and extended period property, the plot for this new garden had previously been used as a builder’s storage area. Situated between the front driveway and a large undulating rear garden, it is adjacent to a small area of existing hard landscaping and the family’s newly constructed, and much loved, outdoor kitchen.
A garden with a definite and unique identity
Our clients were very clear that the new garden should feel like an important destination space, with a definite and unique identity. Yes, it needed to link to the rear garden and provide wheelchair-friendly access to the driveway, but it predominantly needed to feel like “somewhere the family will want to go to spend time together”.
Two other main considerations helped to shape the initial design process. The first related to the style and materials of the adjacent buildings. Although the original property is of a traditional 1930’s design and construction, none of the original architecture can actually be seen from within the new garden. Instead, the strong styling and materials of the large contemporary extension would strongly influence the design and construction of the new space.
Secondly, our clients were very clear that the garden needed to provide a predominantly hard-landscaped solution. This was largely driven by the need for the new space to be fully accessible regardless of the weather, but also by our client’s preference for gardens with “a definite structure”. We were asked, for example, to ensure that the new garden did not include any areas of lawn.
A garden with four key views
Our starting point for the new design was to create a collection of angular raised planting beds, carefully positioned to form four key views and four ‘paths’. The first view sees a stone sett path lead from wide glass doors towards a carefully chosen layered slate water feature. The second begins at the property’s side door, where another stone sett path widens as it heads towards one of the garden’s two ‘floating’ cedar benches.
A third view extends almost the full length of the plot, linking the new garden with the property’s rear garden space, and dissecting the first two views and paths. An angled ‘wedge’ of porcelain paving begins at a second ‘floating’ cedar bench and narrows as it leads ‘through’ the steel arches and towards the open side of the outdoor kitchen.
The fourth and final view is the opposite to view three, and is best enjoyed from alongside the outdoor kitchen looking towards the second cedar bench. Here, the white rendered wall of the garage offers a strong contrast to the black raised beds, although this will gradually soften as the adjacent planting matures to provide additional textural and seasonal interest. A fourth path leads towards a discreet utility area, housing wheelie bins and a log store.
Creating a dynamic sense of energy
Providing immediate structural interest and a dynamic sense of energy, the angular raised beds also serve to lift the planting to a comfortable and enjoyable height. For consistency, the top of each of the beds are set to the same level, but additional internal height is provided via four L-shaped ‘arches’. Constructed from 100mm box-section steel, these arches are positioned in a staggered formation to frame the view by drawing the eye through the garden. Additional verticality is achieved via the trunks of four pleached Carpinus betulus which form a screen behind the longest raised bed.
Built from treated softwood sleepers, the raised beds are painted black as a ‘nod’ towards the black aluminium and timber cladding featured on the extension and the outdoor kitchen. Similar referencing was achieved by wrapping and cladding the beds with two different widths of horizontal black boards. As a contrast, oiled cedar was specified for the benches and a sill detail in front of the water feature. This cedar references a feature area of oiled cedar cladding on the side wall of the extension.
A small utility area has been created behind the outdoor kitchen, with sufficient room for a log store and the property’s wheelie bins. This area is ‘hidden’ by two raised beds with rear timber screens. Simply planted with Buxus sempervirens, these structures ensure that the bins are easily reachable without compromising the garden’s pleasing views.
Beautiful planting for late spring and summer
The planting in the raised beds is primarily designed with late spring and summer in mind. Aimed at providing fragrance, texture, colour and movement, the planting scheme predominantly features a blend of perennials, enhanced with a selection of low-maintenance ornamental grasses and shrubs.
In addition to the raised beds, two other planting areas provide additional texture and visual interest. The first, between the rear of the longest raised bed and the boundary wall, includes a variety of shrubs and is intended to provide year-round height, colour and texture. A smaller second border occupies the narrow space alongside the rendered garage wall and is planted with a group of Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’. These will be allowed to mature and offer a textural and colourful backdrop for the garden’s main areas of interest, whilst also serving to soften the visual dominance of the wall. After planting, all soft landscaping areas were covered with a generous mulch of ornamental bark chippings to retain moisture and reduce weeds.
A focal point, family-friendly water feature
A family-friendly water feature was one of the first elements our clients requested for the new garden. The aim was to find a tactile feature that could serve as one of the garden’s key focal points whilst also helping to stimulate the senses visually and audibly. The layered slate feature serves us well for these purposes, providing delightful background noise and a beautiful play of light as the bubbling water gently cascades down the textured surface. Significantly, the spherical form of this feature also provides a pleasing contrast to the straight lines and angles of the raised beds and paths. Raising the water feature by 425mm has ensured that it is more visually prominent when viewed from anywhere within the space.
Wheelchair accessible paving
When specifying the paving materials for this project, our primary focus was to ensure that all of the key areas within the garden would be fully accessible. Durable and lightly textured, the Anno Grigio porcelain paving from the Talasey Group is easy to move across, has a low slip risk and is extremely simple to maintain. The mid-grey colouring works well alongside the black raised beds, and successfully complements the extension’s minimal palette of materials.
The three angled ‘paths’ have been created using Midnight Blue tumbled limestone setts (also from Talasey Group). With a smooth top surface, these setts provide a gentle textural contrast whilst maintaining easy accessibility. Finally, 10mm dark grey granite chippings have been used for the utility areas.
Subtle lighting to extend the usability of the space
A lighting scheme ensures that the new garden can be enjoyed long in to the evening. Controlled by a simple remote switching unit, flexibility has been provided by dividing the subtle lighting into four separate channels which can be turned on and off to create different effects. We have used discrete LED uplighters to pick out three standard Laurus nobilis, and the same LED units to uplight the trunks of the four pleached Carpinus betulus screen.
Warm white LED strip lights are attached to the undersides of both ‘floating’ cedar benches, casting a delightful wash of light on to the paving below. Finally, the water feature has an internal light to illuminate the water as it gentle bubbles up from the centre.
Helping to create this new contemporary garden was an absolute pleasure for Tythorne Garden Design. Working closely with our clients and an excellent landscaping contractor, we were able to transform an unpromising and empty space into a fabulous new garden that is already providing enormous pleasure to our customer and their family. We have achieved a successful balance of hard and soft-landscaping, and have provided a wonderful sensory experience for everyone who enjoys the space. We can’t wait to see how the planting develops and enhances this fantastic new garden over the coming years.