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A Small City Garden Transformed with Lush Foliage

Evergreen architectural plants and bold features make this urban garden feel secluded, spacious and stylish

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A bare-looking garden was the very opposite of what Julia Thompson, who’s an interior designer, was looking for from her outside space in London. “Her house has a big, strong personality and she wanted it to be reflected outside,” says garden designer Barbara Samitier, who took on the project.

Composed of a shaded lawn, dull borders and a dying tree, the space needed a radical revamp. But there was a (very lovely) complication – Coco the dog. The scheme Barbara came up with would have to be pooch-proof as well as dramatic.

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Garden at a Glance
Who lives here Paul and Julia Thompson and their son
Location Southeast London
Property A Georgian terraced house
Garden dimensions 205 sq m
Designer Barbara Samitier of Barbara Samitier Gardens

Photos by Alexandra Davies

It was essential the outside space equalled the style of the interior of this home, and included seating and dining areas, but it had to be a real garden, too, with seasonal interest, fragrance and movement.

Like many city gardens, it’s visited frequently by foxes, which is why a Coco-the-dog-proof design was necessary. “If a fox is hanging out, she makes a beeline for it,” Barbara says. “We had to think about how to divert her so she wouldn’t trample the plants.” Her plan therefore had to include big pots and spiky plants to keep Coco on the path.

Barbara chose planting right by the property that appears to merge with the houseplants inside, blurring the boundary between interior and exterior.

Stepping stones then lead through the first beds to a seating area. It’s furnished with an outdoor corner sofa that wouldn’t be out of place in a living room, and a giant Anglepoise floor lamp.

Corner sofa; side table, Gloster. Outdoor floor lamp, Anglepoise.

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As soon as Barbara saw these giant porcelain floor tiles, which are 1m sq, she knew they were perfect for the garden.

“They look as if they belong in an old warehouse and they’ve aged,” she says. Like the floor lamp and sofa, they’re part of a deliberate strategy of using items more usually seen indoors.

Behind the sofa, Barbara planted the bamboo Phyllostachys nigra, which conceals the fencing. “It makes the garden look bigger, as you don’t know where it stops,” she says.

The tall grasses are Calamagrostis x acutiflora and, to the right of the side table, Barbara planted the architectural Yucca gloriosa.

Porcelain floor tiles, Alhambra Tiles.

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The porcelain tiles have different tones in them – including blue and brown – which blend beautifully with the foliage and the rusty frames of the mirrors Barbara’s used around the garden.

Antique mirror, Frost.

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Plants such as the fern Polystichum setiferum, seen here, keep the garden green and full of interest.

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Stepping stones lead from the porcelain-tiled seating area through borders to the dining table. The path is made with York stone that was in the garden before and was recut to create the path. In between the stones, Barbara used the ground cover plant Soleirolia soleirolii – otherwise known as mind-your-own-business. “It forms a green carpet in shade or semi-shade,” she says.

The dining area is in dappled shade created by the trees in neighbouring gardens, and it’s situated on a deck. “I try to use more natural materials as you move away from the house,” Barbara explains. “Stone and timber create some softness and start blending a bit more into the planting.”

The pots are planted with Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’. “Some of the pots contain plants that will be there all year round and some add colour,” Barbara says. “They’re in summer colours, because lots of the planting is evergreen.”

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At the back of the garden, a cobbled path meanders through planting that’s designed to encroach on it and elicit a feeling of exploration. The cobbles, like the stepping stones, were reclaimed from the garden.

Barbara positioned two concrete chairs on reclaimed railway sleepers that add a different texture to the area, but continue the natural materials palette.

The placement of the armchairs puzzled the homeowners initially, but it was the result of Barbara’s study of the light in the garden. “I knew it was the spot where the sun comes through the tree canopy and, because you’re looking at the trees in the neighbours’ gardens, you forget you’re in London,” she says.

The dark foliage of the Japanese maple, Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’, forms a dramatic backdrop.

Concrete chairs, Solid Soul Design.

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The wall behind the chairs is painted in a very dark grey. “It makes a wonderful background to green and the foliage really stands out,” Barbara says.

The ginger lily Hedychium forrestii was planted by the wall. “It’s hardy and it flowers for a long time,” Barbara adds.

Wall painted in Railings, Farrow & Ball.

Browse garden chairs in the Houzz Shop

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The cobbled path leads to an area at the back of the garden with a hangout area for the couple’s son. The wall in front of it was originally lower, but it was built higher to hide the boundary at the end of the garden. Barbara finished the area with decking, adding a metal riser with a bullnose edge to the step.

The front of the border is planted with Ajuga reptans ‘Catlin’s Giant’, while to the left of the path is Salvia ‘Amistad’, which flowers for six months.

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Coco has stayed on the garden path since the new scheme was finished.

Tell us…
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