Ground plane detailing


Successful landscaping can be seen to incorporate both architectural design and exterior decoration.

Whilst the proportions of the structural elements of outdoor space need to be correct in terms of both client use and spatial cohesion the detailing of hardscaping needs to be considered carefully.

Sometimes hard surfaces can be left plain and unadorned but sometimes they require additional detailing either to soften the extent of the hardscaping or to bridge the gap between hard materials and nearby softer planting. 

Here we show large pebbles laid simply in concrete, on the perimetre they are organised in a row whereas they are set haphazard elsewhere. The different treatments offer interest and energy in what might otherwise have become a dull space. 

Wisteria draped pergolas


We use wisteria in many of our gardens, purple, pink and white forms. Grown across fences, as shrubs in pots or low along parapet walls its speedy growth and two flowerings help bring life to new gardens. 

The classic uses of wisterias grown over the facades of houses or over the open frames of pergolas cannot be beaten for clothing otherwise hard built structures. 

This pergola with materials in a restrained palette built in a classical manner matched with straight forward Wisteria sinensis creates a strong space in which to sit and take in the adjacent garden.

Bespoke greenhouse design


We work with the leading greenhouse manufacturers when including new glasshouses in our projects. 

Each greenhouse presents new opportunities to create a new outdoor room and require careful landscaping around the new building to ensure it is settled into its wider surroundings. 

The inside of each greenhouse offers the opportunity to make what might otherwise be a straight forward greenhouse bespoke and in keeping with the connected home.

Supporting walls can be detailed, floors can flow through from paving outside and each can be furnished with appropriate plants, pots, furniture and lighting. 

We were particularly taken with the trellis work added around the entrance doors to this glasshouse just outside New York which makes the space quite feminine and detailed. 

Pretty pink bignonias


Found across the Americas, Africa and Oceania Bignonias are a large family of typically woody plants. 

Here we see a species happy in a temperate coastal location, similar to Bignonia Podranea ricasoliana Comptesse Sarah. 

Its arching form and dainty yet generous flowers provide prolonged flowering ideal for Mediterranean locations. 

Intimacy and grandeur

The grandest of buildings, here a Robert Adam greenhouse, can be married with planting that is both witty and informal. 

The use of asymmetric island borders positioned directly in front of the greenhouse without any direct route to or focus on the building makes the composition much more intimate. 

The use of Verbascum olympicum in the planting scheme adds a modern twist to the overall scheme and suggests that we shouldn't take things too seriously. 


Traditional long borders


There is something truly timeless about traditional long borders facing one another across a long sward of lawn. Here at Castle Kennedy near Stanraer the gardeners have made this exercise in gardening look easy but they have enlisted support. 

Beneath the planting around 50cm off the ground is a web of wide netting through which the perennial and annual plants have been grown affording great support as the plants grow taller and flower. 

Installed in mid-May and removed mid-October outside these months the borders can be mulched and have Spring flowering bulbs free of the netting structure. This support system is essential to prevent traditional border planting from collapsing mid-Summer.

Stylish nursery beds


It was something of a surprise to find Australian tree ferns, Dicksonia antarctica, planted into a lawn at Logan Botanic Garden in Scotland.

The fiburous rooted trunk-like rhizomes with frond rosettes from Tasmania are full and semi-shade loving plants yet here they are planted out in full sun in the sunniest corner of Scotland. 

The youth of the plants allows them to be brought on for a while drinking in the sun and their grouping in what is effectively a nursery section of the garden is highly stylish.   

Shaded darker leaves


Studying plant development over time is fascinating and highly educational. In the studio yard, fully shaded and surrounded by walls on all sides, the evergreens, Junipers, Camellias, Sarcococca confusa, Pachysandra terminalis, even Pinus pinea, all are noticeably shinier leaved than they might be were they enjoying more direct sunlight. The deciduous planting of Hostas and Athyrium filix-femina provides more vibrant greens from May onwards, yet all are dark leaved. 

Here we see a shaded  border within a walled garden in South West Scotland where dark leaved plants revel in the Scottish rain and shade. Euphorbia stygiana and Dicksonia antarctica scramble over low box hedging, their larger thinner leaves made darker green by the greater levels of chlorophyll necessary for plants in shade that struggle with photosynthesis due to lower light levels. 

Strength from simplicity


Gardens need not be complicated and the simpler the structure often the more impressive the outcome. 

Russell Page is a garden design hero and here at La Mortella on Ischia he devised numerous yet simple water features around which a plantsman's garden was made by the English composer Sir William Walton and his Argentinian wife Susana. 

Arriving at the garden you follow a fast flowing rill of water through densely planted sub-tropical spaces up toward fountains and ponds at the base of the house on the cliff above. 

The effect of this simple rill is great as it provides a focus as a strip of light passing through an otherwise dark space reflecting the light from the sky above leading the way up to the garden beyond.  

Humourous garden backdrop


Many gardens lack a view, vista or focal point. It is possible to create a central internal focus but if larger spaces are left relatively uncluttered and open you invariably continue to look toward the boundaries of the garden space. 

Here we see a garden made by Penelope Hobhouse for the Queen Mother at Walmer Castle. The view is taken from a rendered and roofed pergola across a long pond often occupied by ducks. We look toward what is now evidently a crenellated castle shaped over a long period from yew. 

Situated atop a mound presumably made with spoil from the pond and other garden excavations it is only after time that the garden now has the backdrop it was previously missing. This backdrop is provided with great witticism as it faces back toward the similarly crenellated Tudor fortress.  

Plants with presence


Composing garden spaces often requires the introduction of new structure. This can be provided by hardscaping such as walls, pergolas, paths and terraces but the proportion of planting, the softscaping, really should be greater than that of hardscaping. 

Here a dozen huge holm oak columns rise either side of a simple brick path providing an imposing dominant presence. Their volume and solidity cannot be questioned, and yet this strength is only being regained as they receive their annual Autumnal clipping. 

The more mass and structure is introduced to a garden the greater the scope for looser and wilder planting within its confines. Here lavender, veronicastrum and roses ramble around the bases of the columns adding lighter shades to an otherwise dark and somber backdrop.  

Planting softening architecture


Buildings often settle better into their surroundings when accompanied by suitable companion planting. Much as planted borders can sit better within a garden framework with a skirting of planting, catmint, box or rosemary being favourites, architecture itself can be better read when domesticized with planting. 

Here we see the service wing of Lutyen's additions at Great Dixter in Sussex where Cotoneaster horizontalis and large ferns have been planted right against the north facing walls of the house. This planting serves to exaggerate the steep roof slope extending its range down to the Yorkstone footpath passing by whilst bringing softness and texture to the otherwise solid scene.    

Gardens in ruins

Many are romantics at heart. Gardens are often seen as places of escape and for romantics escaping to a remote forgotten place can be a vivid dream. 

Great gardens have been built around or alongside ruins such as Ninfa in Italy, Chanticleer in Pennsylvania and Nymans in Sussex. 

Such gardens allow old ruined buildings to give structure to the space but moreover bring imagined stories to the place, the people who have been here before and how their presence has passed, or has it remained? 

In the accompanying image we see a ruined greenhouse replete with heating pipes in a quiet corner of South West Scotland. Set within a walled garden the structure has been planted with ferns and hardy fuschias and arrests you when stumbled upon.

You can imagine gardeners past standing between the staging working on seedlings as the year gains momentum.   


Asymmetry with symmetry

Many spaces benefit from symmetry to provide clear structure, sight lines and a sense of balance and proportion. Symmetry is relatively easy to establish provided lines are taken from architecture and other design principles of desire lines, volume and texture are considered.

What makes a space truly stand out and deliver the greatest sense of well being and interest is the inclusion of asymmetry within an otherwise symmetrical layout. Here a large Malus John Downie (crab apple) tree slopes to the left and massed pots planted with pine trees and tulips sit to one side of a symmetrical view to a greenhouse. 

This juxtaposition can be seen to strengthen rather than undermine the symmetry beyond.

Using questionnable materials

Concrete is a material of the moment. Many clients are eager to see concrete used for paving, furniture, even planters. It comes in a  range of colours and can either be brought to site pre-fabricated or poured in situ, often a sensible decision given the heavy weight of concrete products. 

Another material often mentioned but one which we try to avoid unless it is strictly stipulated by clients is artificial grass or Astroturf. Astroturf provides a good year round surface for children to play on and is favoured by some over paving and rubber mulch. 

Here a clever architectural practice based in South London has wittily juxtaposed Astroturf set within patterned concrete paving to create a playful entrance pathway which also functionally acts as a door mat cleaning your shoes as you approach their studio. 

Dramatic plant naturalisation

Remarkable natural habitats create themselves when land is difficult to reach or is simply left unmanaged over time. Here tall flowering Agave americana and bulbous Opuntia (prickly pear) have densely colonised a granite slope between a small Citadel and the sea.

Agave die back after flowering so the landscape here will continue evolving as Opunita fill gaps left and other Agave appear and flower elsewhere.  

Canopies casting shadows

The powerful impact of shadows should not be underestimated in gardens. The shapes and patterns that are generated by trees and tall structures can enliven ground planes in a richly rewarding manner. 

Here the wiring of a pergola has been set in different directions and the shadows of the espalier apples can be seen to crawl across the gravel in opposite directions. The impact of the ground plane shadows is arguably as great as that of the espalier pergola above.  

Wild plant inspiration

Climbing to the top of a high mountain in the Mediterranean it was interesting to see naturalised lilies emerging through a low canopy of ferns. We have planted lilies in a similar manner previously in England with white lilies emerging through lemon verbena (which is a real thug of a self-seeding plant and should be planted with care).

One current project for a client who holds a annual party in early July is a large woodland garden in London. A range of ferns were already to be planted as part of the planting scheme for full and partial shade under the crowns of mature trees. The sight of these lilies in the Mediterranean suggested a perfect mid-Summer flower surprise for the annual party.   

Comfort from shade

It is easy to forget how important shade can be in the garden when the weather improves and sun shines. Some time spent directly under the sun is great, but toward the middle of the day, over lunch or tea, the need for shade becomes very apparent.

Umbrellas set in or to the side of dining tables are the most commonly used sources of shade, but why not develop this idea and install wall mounted retractable awnings or sails on frames that can be left with some flexibility to billow slightly in the wind.

We can also think beyond the Summer sun and consider more permanent structures such as elegant loggias or wooden pavilions that can provide shelter throughout the year and even act as outdoor rooms. 

Bold colour backdrops

Coloured walls can provide exciting backdrops for appropriate planting.

Luis Barragan made an art form out of constructing large plain walls painted in vibrant colours, pink, orange and yellow being much loved favourites.

For many Barragan settings succulents and cacti were set apart and took on sculptural qualities, often near a body of water or waterfall.

Here we see massed dry planting in front of a cor-ten steel wall, intriguingly matched with a yellow wooden door and plain concete.   

Ficus caria, Cistus, Rosemarinus officianalis, Lavendula, Pennisetum and Alcea rosea sway gently and delicately in the breeze playing off the solidity of the steel.