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Garden Tour: A London Courtyard Blooms With Year-round Colour

Before and after photos show a once shady and dull space transformed into one packed with planting that brings colour and scent every season

Houzz UK Contributor. I have been an interiors journalist since 1995, writing several… More

A tall cedar tree and an overgrown old fig were the defining features of this courtyard garden when Stefano Marinaz was asked to redesign it. The garden he created, completed in September 2015, preserved both trees and was arranged around them to create an asymmetrical design.

The space now features ample seating, beautiful lighting and very clever planting. From bulbs to evergreens, this small garden is packed with specimens that provide an ever-changing display of shape and colour. To chronicle its seasonally evolving look, Marinaz has photographed the garden throughout 2016, from February when winter bulbs thrive, right round to its abundant summer glory in mid-July.

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Garden at a Glance
Who lives here A family of five
Location South Kensington, London
Garden size Approx 6m x 7m; part of a Grade II listed, end-of-terrace house
Designer Stefano Marinaz of Stefano Marinaz Landscape Architecture

Access to the garden from the house is on the right-hand side, down a short run of steps. An old fig tree, which Marinaz decided to keep, was growing in the right-hand corner, too.

“We let its asymmetrical position on site determine the asymmetry of the final garden design,” he says. “I prefer an asymmetrical layout anyway, particularly in a small garden like this. If things are too symmetrical, it makes the space feel even smaller and looks very predictable. This is more interesting.”

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At the rear of the garden, Marinaz created an interesting trellis in iroko wood, which screens the boundary wall and provides bold, vertical lines. This contrasts with the softer feel of the two walls to either side, which are covered in jasmine and other lush planting.

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The trellis is made up of 80mm x 80mm poles, each measuring 2m high. “These poles are quite thick and staggered in two lines,” says Marinaz. “You can also swivel them, so the design doesn’t feel static, repeated and boring. You can actually change the appearance of this rear wall whenever you like.” The iroko will eventually take on a more silvery tone as it weathers.

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The planting is predominantly white. “The owners like white and green and we added a few accents of purple,” says Marinaz. The garden is quite shady, so most of the plants are also shade-tolerant specimens. Seen here in mid-July, the Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ is in full bloom.

Before Photo

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When Marinaz was asked to design the garden, it had little planting, but did have a tall cedar tree, measuring about 14m high, in the left-hand corner. It can be seen clearly from the street outside.

Before Photo

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The garden also featured invasive bamboo and a fig tree that had not be pruned for many years. “The space was very shady and the owners weren’t really using it much,” says the designer.

Before Photo

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Marinaz decided to preserve the fig tree, as it provided shade for one corner of the house in summer and also screened the view over neighbouring properties. “I wouldn’t have planted it myself, but its size and history made it worth keeping,” he says. “It wasn’t damaging the boundary wall at all, so we were happy to preserve it.”

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Marinaz cut the fig back hard and it’s now trimmed and retrained every year, to keep it looking its best. “It now looks designed and maintained rather than overgrown,” he says.

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A row of five tall planters, handmade from clay, line the left-hand side. “They act like punctuation points along the jasmine wall,” says Marinaz. He also chose them for their height. “They are 1.2m tall,” he says. “The idea was to break up the height of the wall a bit.” So rather than go from the top of the wall to the ground with nothing to look at, there are stepped focal points, from the planters, to the sofa and then to the planting at ground level. “It’s more pleasing to the eye,” he says.

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The tall planters feature strong, horizontal lines. “The timber posts of the trellis are vertical, while these have horizontal lines, so it’s a nice contrast,” says Marinaz. “I like to play with geometry.”

Planters, made by Belgian company Atelier Vierkant.

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The garden furniture can remain outdoors all year, and has special covers to protect it from harsh winter weather. The frame is made from iroko wood, tying in beautifully with the trellis.

Sofas by Roda, Minotti.

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Two poufs upholstered with rope cord provide additional informal seating and can easily be moved around.

Otto poufs, Paola Lenti.

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The original York stone paving was reused in the newly designed garden. “We lifted it all up and cut the stones to make bands of different widths that run in regular lines,” says Marinaz. “Before, it had been laid in a random pattern. This looks less chaotic.” Marinaz sourced a few additional reclaimed paving stones to fill gaps and complete the design.

Side tables (in corner) by Roda, Minotti.

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Garden lighting helps the space to function after dark. Six lights sit at the bottom of the trellis and there are four lights between the five tall planters. On the right-hand wall, there are a further three uplighters.

“Lighting creates visual interest,” says Marinaz. “Even when you’re not outside using the garden, you can enjoy seeing it from indoors.” All the lights are remotely controlled from anywhere in the house.

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Two multi-tasking tables, both with iroko wood tops, sit on the terrace. The larger one contains storage, while the smaller one has three cylinders of eco-fuel inside, which can easily be lit to create a small fire pit.

Storage table; fire-pit table, both Atelier Vierkant.

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Marinaz planted the garden with a diverse selection of evergreens, perennials and bulbs to provide great variety and create new combinations of colour and scent in every season. This shot was taken in early February 2016 and shows pretty Cyclamen coum bringing colour to the tall planters.

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The garden in February features soft flashes of colour from the planting, which includes Cyclamen coum, Cyrtomium falcatum, Trachelospermum jasminoides, and Viburnum opulus ‘Sterile’.

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In early March, the beds are bursting with Cyclamen coum, Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’, and Narcissus ‘Thalia’.

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This planter, also photographed in early March, is brimming with soft colour. Cyclamen coum and the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, grow alongside the taller Helleborus orientalis.

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By May, Narcissus ‘Thalia’ bloom in the tall planters, nodding their heads above the elegant outdoor sofa.

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Flowers with purple tones, including this orchid, Cypripedium formosanum, break up the predominantly white scheme in May.

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This beautiful hydrangea is a key component of the garden and delivers a changing colour palette throughout the seasons. “It comes into flower in May and is lime green, then it turns to white in full summer, then in late August and September the flowers become more lime-toned again,” says Marinaz. “It’s a big plant, which creates impact, but because it changes colour, you get a lot from it.”

This variety is Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’, photographed in mid-July 2016.

Before Photo

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Marinaz also worked on the outside space at the front of the property. “Bamboo was invading it, which can damage the foundations of the wall,” he says. “There were two yews in pots, but nothing else. The space by the railings was empty and prone to gathering litter.”

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Bespoke planters were positioned on either side of the main door and Marinaz added a further three yew trees. “This links up with the existing trees and makes it feel like one property in terms of planting,” he says. The trees had previously been in 80cm x 80cm pots, but now sit in 4m-long planters, so their roots have a chance to expand.

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Marinaz chose the same style of planting at the front as at the back to unify the look. “It’s about 40% evergreen and 60% perennials and bulbs that change through the seasons,” he says. “The bulbs flower then disappear and something else pops up.”

Photographed in mid-July, this bed features Agapanthus ‘Arctic Star’, Allium sphaerocephalon, Verbena bonariensis and Thalictrum delavayi.

What do you like about this garden? Share your impressions in the Comments below.
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