Helen Elks-Smith's garden design in Hampshire

Garden designer Helen Elks-Smith’s five key elements

The would-be maths teacher uses geometric garden designs around a modernist house in Hampshire

Helen Elks-Smith‘s commission was to create a garden that seamlessly flows around a modernist house, with an old walled garden designed with grasses and water in Hampshire. At 2,400 square metres, it has free-draining, moisture-retentive loam, tilled by generations of estate gardeners. The climate is mild southern English, with a USDA 9 hardiness zone. Here are five things to learn from her designs. Words by Kendra Wilson

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1) Highs and lows

Helen Elks-Smith's garden design in Hampshire
In her choices for plants, Helen 
is detail-focussed, accentuating horizontals with verticals. Helen’s detailing is evident in her approach to hard landscaping and plants. Here, making a connection between the verticals and horizontals of both. Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Album’ has an upright habit with lateral foliage, while multi-stemmed Prunus serrula, with its prominent bark rings, draws attention to the parallel lines of the contemporary holding wall and the old brick wall behind.
© Jason Ingram

2) Muted tones

Helen Elks-Smith's garden design in Hampshire
© Jason Ingram

The muted reds of Hylotelephium ‘Matrona’ and Anemanthele lessoniana, and blue foliage of Santolina chamaecyparissus echo the weathered brick, which along with the wider countryside sets the tone for the garden’s colour palette. Greens are used in broad brush strokes, while seedheads add warm tones and further texture to a pleasantly low-maintenance scene.

3) Changing levels

Helen Elks-Smith's garden design in Hampshire
© Jason Ingram

Although the ground slopes from the swimming pool towards the bedrooms, Helen has avoided using traditional stairs or terracing. Decking connects both spaces, stacked in blocks as low seating, or used as chunky steps.

4) Private areas

Helen Elks-Smith's garden design in Hampshire
© Jason Ingram
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Private areas are mapped out with individual gardens outside each windowed room, or with water, or both. This canal-like pond outside the study is the width of the window, with narrow, upright planting between water and wall. Although there are no barriers from the rest of the garden, it is defined as a private space.

5) Green routes

Helen Elks-Smith's garden design in Hampshire
Green planting helps to lead visitors around. Lining the steps toward the front door, clipped Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Tom Thumb’ gives the only touch 
of formality to this garden, along with a low hedge of Prunus laurocerasus 
around the space for parking. These formally denote the public areas.
© Jason Ingram

More images from the Hampshire garden

Read the full article in this month’s Gardens Illustrated