Juliet Sargeant A lovely view can come with a downside: exposure and wind. Wind is your garden’s enemy – it evaporates moisture from leaves, batters branches, and can uproot plants. And it makes sitting out deeply unenjoyable.
If your plot is wide open on all sides, first decide which view you want to focus on and where the prevailing wind is coming from. Then work on framing that view and blocking the wind. In the case of one client, we built a wall to run the length of one side: don’t build a solid wall surrounding a garden, it may cause strong eddies in certain spots. It’s better to construct a partial wall with gaps, or use slatted fencing. If you can’t build a barrier, it’s surprising how much more sheltered your garden will be by just digging down a foot (try sitting on the ground to see for yourself). Trees can also provide a natural barrier; try Tilia cordata, Crataegus monogyna, Alnus cordata, or Sorbus aria.
When planting on a windy site, think of your plants as providing different lines of defence. The first, most exposed ones need to take anything the elements can throw at them: try Griselinia littoralis, Elaeagnus x ebbingei, Tamarix tetrandra, Euonymus japonicus, Olearia macrodontaor Hippophae rhamnoides. Plants farther in don’t need to be quite as resilient: consider Pittosporum tenuifolium, Laurus nobilis ‘Angustifolia’, Nassella tenuissima, miscanthus grasses, mophead hydrangeas, larger, fleshy-leaved hebes, Rosa rugosa and figs. In the more sheltered heart of the garden, you could plant canna lilies, oleanders, Solanum crispum, scented pelargoniums, ornamental bananas, crinums, Agapanthus africanus, Trachelospermum jasminoides, giant echiums and Campsis x tagliabuana.
Plants suited to coastal, Mediterranean, drought-resistant climates work well in exposed sites: for example, senecio, santolina, rosemary, lavenders, olives, phlomis, helianthemum, Trachycarpus fortunei and Euphorbia wulfenii.
In any exposed site, make your plants as resilient as possible: stake them for up to four years, encourage them to be as healthy as possible by cutting back in autumn, and feed and water to build up their strength. Put down lots of manure, mulch with shingle to lock in moisture, and plant densely.
Juliet Sargeant won gold and people’s choice at Chelsea in 2016 for theModern Slavery garden;julietsargeant.com.
Nic Howard I love challenging plots. In fact, an awkward-shaped garden is often easier than a rectangle – with the latter you usually end up dividing up the space and putting in angles to make it more interesting.
I recently designed a small triangle-shaped courtyard garden (pictured above) which was previously a gloomy, shady plot with overhanging ivy. I created several triangle-shaped beds, all abutting a paved floor and following the same line. It’s useful to think of a small space as a room: by doing this, I divided the garden into three zones – for dining, seating, and for plants. A right-angled fitted wooden bench forms an enclosed seating area, positioned at the same angle as the triangular beds.
For small spaces, I usually opt for a paved surface over a lawn. A lawn is like a barrier, similar to a rug in a living room: people tend to edge round it rather than walk on it. I mentally divided the garden in two to lend it structure, and planted roughly half the site with green plants and shrubs, and the opposite side with colourful flowers. At the centre of this invisible divide is a large wall-mounted mirror that provides a focal point and reflects a different part of the garden when you look at it. It is mounted on an ugly wall that was built in the 1980s. Any messy wall or fence will look better painted black, and provides a stunning backdrop to white flowers. If you’re lucky enough to have a gorgeous old wall, make a feature of it.
With a small plot, you have to embrace what space you have and plant accordingly. Keep your palette limited. I had only six or seven different plants on each side of the garden. Similarly, don’t introduce too much colour with garden furniture and accessories: choose an accent colour and use sparingly.
Nic Howarddesigned sculptorDavid Harber’s garden at Chelsea in 2017, which won five stars as well as the RHS director general’s tradestand award;we-love-plants.co.uk.
Manoj Malde Done well, a roof garden can be a wonderful extension of indoor space. Before you start, make sure the roof is structurally sound. It must be able to hold several people, furniture and soil-filled planters – remember, the latter are heavier when wet (to keep the weight down, fill the bottom of pots with broken polystyrene pieces). If you’re not sure whether your roof is load-bearing, do this simple test: does it have sides or balustrades and a door leading to it (as opposed to a window)? If so, the architects probably designed it for human use. If not, track down the architect’s drawings to see how it was constructed (an estate agent should be able to help) or get a structural engineer or surveyor to advise if extra support is needed.
A roof garden also needs a slight slope so water can run off – it’s rare for a flat roof to have no gradient (they are usually imperceptible) and drainpipe; if yours doesn’t, a landscape contractor can compensate this in the build of the flooring or decking. Alternatively incorporate self-watering tanks into the containers – the plants use the water as and when they need it.
Once you’re ready to start designing, work out which direction the prevailing wind is blowing; roof gardens can be exposed, and even if they’re surrounded by buildings, the wind will hurtle through gaps. Try to block these with larger planters or fencing. For one of my clients, there was no barrier around the edge of the garden, so I used the planters to form a “wall”. However small your roof garden, try to zone it: a sheltered area for relaxing, a space for cooking, a spot with a table. Aim for plants that thrive in exposed conditions – anything with small, waxy or hairy leaves, or silvery/grey stems help prevent evaporation. Go for olive trees and large cushions of Pittosporum tobira ‘Nanum’ for structure, lavender and rosemary for robust scent, Perovskia for scent and silvery stems, Panicum and Pennisetum grasses for lightness and movement, Verbena bonariensis for height (they also have strong stems).
Finally, consider the logistics of getting large plants and trees on to your roof: think about door openings and ceiling heights.
Manoj Maldewon a silver gilt at Chelsea in 2017 for his garden, Beneath A Mexican Sky; manojmaldegardendesign.co.uk.
Tom Stuart-Smith When it comes to gardens in deep shade, the trick is to embrace it, rather than fight it. In the summer of 2013, I won a competition to design a tiny garden in a dark and dingy courtyard at the Royal Academy in London. Most of it gets no direct sunlight and is surrounded by tall sooted brick walls.
Our solution was to embrace its drawbacks, and introduce a simple palette of plants to give it a really strong character. We used more dark brick to make the space even darker, and filled it with tree ferns. They are extraordinary, almost primeval. Ferns don’t need much light or soil, so we planted them through the paving. They irradiate even the darkest corners with an almost fluorescent light, so make a dark space feel brighter.
We chose the tall tree fern Dicksonia antarctica, from south-east Australia. The first challenge with tree ferns is believing that the log you are delivered will actually grow; the next is getting it to stand up. We resorted to shoving a 12-inch steel pin up the trunk. As well as the ferns, the garden has the shade-tolerant evergreen Pittosporum tobira ‘Nanum’, the lushHakonechloa macra grass, and Virginia creepers growing up the walls. Sedges and grasses add a soothing feel.
Bamboo is another good plant for deep shade, particularly if you’re looking to divide up the space by creating “screens”. Similarly, spotted laurels and fatsias can survive with little natural light, but take up a lot of room.
Tom Stuart-Smithhas won eight gold medals and three best in show awards at Chelsea;tomstuartsmith.co.uk.
Gavin McWilliam We are getting more and more requests to design bin storage into our gardens. If storage has to be on display, then try to make sure it’s a good-quality finish. If you can hide it, then do – either by placing it behind a hedge, or planting in front of it. Any storage is better than having ugly plastic bins on show – just remember to leave enough room for access. We often design bespoke bin storage for clients, as part of a bigger garden design, but more affordable off-the-peg options are really good now – try wayfair.co.uk or, more top end, gardentrellis.co.uk. With wooden slatted bin storage, which is the most common, look for more open slats so they don’t smell too much. Look for top, lift-up lids, which are easier to access. If the finish is a little rough, stain it black. It’s a misconception that garden furniture and storage has to be green or brown – these colours actually stand out. Black recedes, and highlights anything planted in front of it.
For one client, we designed a log screen – a steel frame that is filled with chopped logs, used for the fire. It’s used to hide all the gardening paraphernalia, from bins to tools.
For another client’s Georgian terrace front garden, pictured above, we designed both bin and bike storage. The bins are stored in a simple bespoke western red cedar slatted store, designed to match the fence behind it. The bike storage is on the lower-ground level, accessed via a set of steps. We wanted to make a feature of it at ground-floor level, so built a bespoke planter above from Cor-ten, a steel that, over time, gains a lovely weathered, rust-coloured patina. We filled it with soil and planted it with Crataegus prunifolia ‘Broad-Leaved Cockspur Thorn’ tree, underplanted with Molinia caeruleasubsp. caerulea ‘Heidebraut’ and Aquilegia vulgarisvar.stellata‘Black Barlow’.
Gardening paraphernalia (hoses, tools, electrics) can be ugly. For the same client, we designed a wall-to-wall screen in black charred larch, that sits half a metre back from the rear wall of the garden. Behind it are pipes, drains, an irrigation system, hoses and gardening tools. The pleached trees provide privacy from neighbouring houses.
McWilliam Studiowon gold at Chelsea in 2017 for itsBreaking Ground garden;mcwilliamstudio.com.
Kate Gould For city dwellers, a garden is often an extension of their home, and people want to use it all year round. One client, who had a garden about the size of a living room – 11m x 5m – accessible only through the house, wanted me to design an attractive space, as she and her partner entertain a lot. She wanted their young sons to enjoy it, too. It also had to incorporate some clever bin storage.
We couldn’t lay a real lawn, as it’s concrete underneath with no drainage, so we went for artificial grass – a realistic, thatchy soft grass (easigrass.com) with a rubberised bottom, so the boys wouldn’t hurt themselves when they fell over. Alternatively, you could paint a concrete floor and put down outdoor rugs (Ikea has cheerful, affordable options). To provide an element of privacy from neighbouring houses, we kept wooden trellising, which surrounds the garden at shoulder height but doesn’t take away too much light.
In a small plot, it’s better to have a few well-filled larger pots rather than a lot of smaller ones – it’s more dramatic and welcoming, and less bitty. So we positioned large steel planters around the perimeter, along with a bespoke steel and wood barbecue unit, and then rolled out the grass.
We filled the planters with white hydrangeas, ferns, hellebores, and tiarella. We planted a green wall at the rear of the plot, with more ferns and herbs, incorporating an irrigation system. We trained a scented Chinese jasmine, Trachelospermum, up the walls and trellis: it flowers only sporadically in shaded spots but likes the warmth of an urban garden. At the house end, where there is more light, are foxgloves and penstemons.
A wooden bench seat with cushions (from zarahome.com) doubles as recycling storage. Alongside it is a vertical wooden planter filled with herbs – perfect for when space is tight. We painted a black downpipe white, to blend with the walls. Good lighting prolongs use into the evenings. So we filled the garden with festoon lights strung on hooks, up-lights and fairy lights on a bay tree.
Kate Gouldwon gold and best in category at Chelsea in 2017 for herCity Living garden;kategouldgardens.com.
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