What Private family garden. Where Whitstable, Kent. Size 20m x 7.5m. Soil Whitstable clay, improved to a depth of 40cm. Aspect Southeast-facing. Special features Garden studio, outdoor shower. Designed by Farlam & Chandler.
It’s not unusual for a garden to be redesigned after a house has been extended, but it is very unusual for both interior and exterior work to be carried out by the homeowners themselves. “This was quite a special project, because our clients were every bit as committed to getting the details right as we were,” says Harriet Farlam of the small town garden that she and partner Ben Chandler have transformed with a design of great poise and polish.
Tucked behind a tiny, listed cottage in Whitstable, on the north Kent coast, the garden runs out from a contemporary extension that has clearly been created for a family that relishes the outdoor life on offer in this magical location. Sliding panels of plate glass mean the whole back of the house can be opened up whenever the weather allows, and polished concrete floors run seamlessly from inside out on to a terrace.
“Our brief was to create a really usable garden, with lots of space for entertaining, as well as a lawn for play and a private terrace next to the garden studio at the rear,” says Harriet. “Like their interiors, which are really smart but unfussy, the clients wanted stylish but low-maintenance planting, and an outdoor shower to wash away the sand after a day on the beach.”
It was an awful lot to fit into a garden measuring just 20m x 7.5m and in lesser hands could easily have felt uncomfortably cramped, but Harriet and Ben have managed to wrangle that long wish list into a serene and practical design. “We did have to squeeze the space to death, but it has ended up feeling really calm,” agrees Harriet. Behind this successful sleight of hand lies the creative deployment of a series of tried-and-tested techniques.
First, the main elements, including the lawn and terrace, are all relatively large. “It’s a common mistake to think that small features will look better in a small garden, when in fact the opposite is usually true,” says Harriet.
Second, the palette has been restricted to a predominantly green planting scheme combined with warm hard-landscaping materials. The fences have been painted rich black to echo the frame of the new house extension, and will in any case soon disappear under a mass of glossy green star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides). The glass- fronted studio at the bottom of the garden is partially veiled by a spectacular multi- stemmed hornbeam (Carpinus betulus), and the lawn is enclosed by a simple cloud hedge of naturally low-growing Pittosporum tobira studded with dwarf pine (Pinus mugo).
Finally, the design creates a suggestion of interlinking ‘garden rooms’ by cutting across the width of this narrow space with a series of strong, horizontal elements. These include strips of crushed shell studded with thyme and saxifrage that have been set into the terrace, two timber-framed raised beds filled with an ornamental mix of Mediterranean plants and a pair of rusted Corten steel screens that zig-zag towards the heart of the garden. “Actually those steel fins are not just decorative,” says Harriet. “The one closest to the house hides a really awkward change in ground level, and the one at the end encloses the outdoor shower.”
It is this clever combination of form and function that sets Farlam & Chandler’s design apart, but it is the immaculate realisation of that design by their talented clients that elevates this garden from the home-made into something very special indeed.
Using vernacular materials is a tried-and-tested way to help a garden to settle into its surroundings.
“Although this garden is quite modern in design, we did want to honour its seaside setting, so all the materials we have used in its construction can be found in the local area,” says Harriet.
Poured concrete and rusted Corten steel are genuinely maritime features and are voguish in contemporary garden design, but the crushed seashells that run in strips across the terrace are a novel alternative to pebbles or pea shingle.
The unusual element of this design, however, is the oak setts that have been used in the dining area and around the garden. “We came across these in Whitstable Castle,” says Harriet. “In the late 18th century they were used for paving near gunpowder stores, where the spark of a horse’s hoof striking cobbles could have been disastrous. They are tricky to lay, as the wooden cubes are all slightly different sizes, but bedded into sharp sand they make a wonderfully warm and durable paving alternative.”