A long, thin garden has been transformed by a sinuous lawn and gorgeous planting that adds colour and interest year-round
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The back garden of this semi-detached house had a very simple, somewhat uninspiring layout when Jo Fenton was asked to redesign it. It consisted of a small patio, a rectangular strip of lawn and flowerbeds running along each side. “The owners wanted a variety of shapes and textures that would change all year round,” says Fenton.
Her first suggestion was to scrap the straight-up-and-down lawn and replace it with a design based on two ovals. This introduces movement to the scheme and also seems to widen the garden. For the planting, Fenton chose a mix that would bring year-round interest and also, at the rear of the garden, handle the shade produced by a giant copper beech tree.
Garden at a Glance
Who lives here A couple with three children
Location Palmers Green, north London
Garden size 24m long (not including the side return) and 6.6m wide; part of a semi-detached, late Victorian house
Designer Jo Fenton of Fenton Roberts Garden Design
The lawn area is a design of two ovals, set slightly on the diagonal. “Clients often ask for waviness in their garden design,” says Jo Fenton. “They often want wavy flowerbeds, but that can make your lawn look odd. So we designed the lawn based on ovals, then just made the beds around that as wide as we could.”
When Fenton was asked to redesign the garden, the owners had lived here for a while and been happy with simply having a big lawn for their children to play on. As the children began to grow up and move out, however, the owners decided to rethink the garden.
“They wanted something a bit more interesting, rather than grass and two tramline beds down each side,” says Fenton. “They felt it was boring and wanted some attractive planting that would look good all year round.”
Creating a good-sized patio was also a priority. “They didn’t have anywhere to eat,” adds Fenton. “The original patio by the French doors was tiny.”
The magnificent copper beech tree at the rear of the garden dictated the planting to some degree. “The garden is south-facing, but the back area is in shade because of that tree,” says Fenton. The shade and the dry soil beneath its canopy made it the ideal spot for woodland plants.
Taken in the spring, this picture shows beds brimming with Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii and a red Nandina domestica, which was already growing in the garden when it was redesigned.
“We’ve created a mini woodland at the rear, which looks particularly good in spring,” says Fenton. Ferns, hellebores, honesty, foxgloves and brunnera create the lower storey of the woodland floor, with a mix of evergreen and deciduous shrubs giving height and depth to the space.
Reclaimed sleepers were laid to bridge the gap between the new lawn and the raised deck and shed at the very back of the garden.
This lovely philadelphus and the acer in front of the shed were existing specimens. They are now joined by Digitalis x mertonensis (foxgloves) and the lime-green Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae. “It’s a bit of a mad spreader,” says Fenton, “but this is a difficult area in which to grow and this plant can handle it. We regularly maintain this garden, too, so we knew we’d be able to control its spread.”
Other plants in this corner include the hydrangea ‘Annabelle’, Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ and Heuchera ‘Plum Pudding’.
A key element of Fenton’s brief from the owners was to create a garden that looked good throughout the year. Now there’s interest in all the seasons, with two main periods of flowering. The woodland garden is at its best during spring and early summer before the copper beech has fully opened its leaves. The colour scheme here is pink, blue and white, with lots of bluebells and Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’. The plant at the very back is a Kerria japonica, which can handle this dry, shady spot. “It flourishes in difficult places,” says Fenton.
The garden has a second blooming period in late summer, when pink sedum and penstemons combine with white roses and hydrangeas.
Other spring planting includes tulips, bluebells and this white Viburnum plicatum. “We chose it for its tiered horizontal shape,” says Fenton.
“The side return was really horrible!” says Fenton. “The owners wanted to change it, as they look out on it from the dining room, which they use a lot.” There was a steep ramp up at the rear and flowerbeds down one side. “They had herbs in there, but nothing was growing because it’s so shady,” she adds. “The area got filled with junk.”
To improve the side return, the patio paving was continued round, which opened out the space. Three holes were included for shrubs. These are planted with Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Variegatus’ and there’s a climbing Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris hugging the fence.
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The steep slope at the rear of the side return was replaced with two neat steps. A much larger patio was created near the house. The old one was about 1.5m deep, and this new one is about 5m now. The table is positioned end on and there’s plenty of room to circulate around it. Fenton designed the patio using sandstone paving and London stock bricks, which match the house.
Two olive trees are planted in deep pots. “The pots are made from plastic that looks like ceramic but is really durable and doesn’t crack,” says Fenton.
Plastic planters, Europlanters. Monsoon paving, Global Sandstone Collection at Global Stone.
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The massive scale of the beech tree also had to be taken into account when the main part of the garden, which isn’t shaded by it, was designed. “We needed plants of a reasonable size to keep the garden in proportion and prevent the tree from dominating,” says Fenton.
A large bay tree near the house was retained, as well as a sizeable cotoneaster, on the right in this picture with red berries, and a philadelphus tucked in by the shed. “The cotoneaster tree was never planted, but arrived via birds who had eaten the berries then left droppings,” says Fenton. “We pruned it and allowed it to stay put. It brings height to the garden.”
The owners wanted the garden to include plenty of contrast, which Fenton created both with a mix of plant forms and growing habits, and also leaf shapes and sizes. “There’s a general theme of contrast between upright and spiky forms, such as the iris, phormium (the spiky plant on the right) and euphorbia, and rounded or horizontal forms. These include the rosemary spilling over the patio and the flowers of the sedum.
Two conical trees, Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Silver Queen’, were added to the garden. One failed and has been replaced with a smaller plant (just out of shot). It’s already catching up with the one seen here on the right. “Given time, they’ll both form tall, vertical accents,” says Fenton.
In June, the phlomis russeliana has yellow flowers, while penstemon ‘Garnet’ is a blaze of jewel red. Mixed in is the spiky Acanthus hungaricus, as well as Iris ‘Jane Phillips’.
In September, the phlomis russeliana is covered in pompom seedheads, which look attractive throughout the winter. “The pink sedums produce really good seedheads, too,” says Fenton, “which I wait to cut back until spring, when you get fresh new growth.”
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