What Long, narrow city garden. Where South London. Size 6m x 42m. Soil London loam on a clay base. Aspect Southeast-facing. Special features Innovative layout incorporating several seating areas, a vegetable garden and three prairie-planted mini meadows. Designed by Jack Wallington (jackwallington.com).
When designer Jack Wallington first saw this garden in Clapham, south London, there was not a single flower in bloom, even though it was high summer. The plot was attractive but it was dominated by evergreen shrubs and presented as one long, single view. “It was more of a picture postcard than a fun, family garden,” says Jack.
The clients, a couple with three young boys, very much wanted the latter. “They wanted colour and lightness and a space they could all use,” says Jack. A new architect- designed garden room also had to be accommodated, and the owners were eager to keep their vegetable beds to the rear.
Taking the house and the modern, angular garden room at the opposite end as his starting points, Jack divided the space into a series of zones based around irregular geometric shapes. An existing sunken terrace was retained, with Jack matching the stone for the new barbecue area he created beyond.
A lush lawn – and another outside the garden room – provides plenty of space for ball games, but it is in the central planted area, designed as a triptych of ‘mini meadows’, each slightly different, where the garden really comes alive. “I obsessed about the shape of those beds,” laughs Jack. “I grew up in the country and remember how much my siblings and I loved running through the fields, so I wanted to give the boys something to chase around. As the main planted area in the garden, I treated it as a work of art too.”
In his planting – a vibrant mix of Echinacea pallida, Sanguisorba ‘Red Busby’ and Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Diane’, supplemented by spring bulbs – Jack was inspired by the work of Dutch plantsperson Piet Oudolf, particularly his work at Scampston Hall in Yorkshire. The plants have been chosen for their summer colour and their autumn and winter skeletons (to ensure a long season of interest) and many are intentionally very tall as well. “I wanted that sensation of having to physically brush past them and, then, when one gets to the end and sits down, of being completely immersed in them,” says Jack.
The narrower side beds, where Jack has managed to incorporate two more seating areas, one for morning sun and one for the evening light, were more challenging but Jack has come up with a selection of ‘bullet- proof ’ plants he knows will be happy under trees, closer to fences or in other tricky spots. These include geraniums, hellebores, Calamagrostis brachytricha and persicaria, which, he says, “seems to work anywhere.
If in doubt, persicaria is normally a good answer.” While Jack was working on this garden he was also writing his book Wild About Weeds and so it became something of a trial ground for his ideas about allowing wildflowers and weeds to intermingle with garden plants. “I love the white umbels of the wild carrot (Daucus carota) with Hylotelephium telephium ‘Purple Emperor’ and self-seeded opium poppy (Papaver somniferum),” he says “and we leave things such as geraniums and buttercups, too.”
Though the self-seeders do need to be kept in check, the garden is relatively low-maintenance, with a gardener, and sometimes Jack, visiting just once every six weeks or so throughout the summer. “I was weeding there one day and the boys and their friends were charging around the beds and playing games, just as I’d hoped they would,” says Jack. “I want to create spaces that allow people to make memories – I couldn’t have asked for more.”
In the zone
Top tips for maximising space in a small garden from designer Jack Wallington
- In very small gardens it can sometimes be better to concentrate on a single view in order to have maximum impact from the house but in many cases, dividing a space into zones can help it seem larger, and helps ensure the space is used to its fullest, too.
- Zoning can be achieved by dividing areas with trellis, flowerbeds, hedges or a small shrub, or by different surface treatments, for example lawn, gravel, hard landscaping, and so on. In urban gardens, I prefer to use the same landscaping materials throughout for consistency – I find it’s better to let the plants do the talking.
- Try to place your different areas – for seating, dining or for raised beds or pots, for example – in different corners of the garden and don’t forget about the edges.
- A bench tucked away in a side bed and perhaps backed by a mass of Clematis ‘Apple Blossom’ or Trachelospermum jasminoides makes a lovely place to sit and invites people to stop and linger.
- Introducing angles or curves to your garden design often means that you can’t see the whole space in one go, which I think makes the experience better and more fulfilling. Diagonal lines can be useful as they make the view feel longer.
- Zones can be vertical as well as horizontal. In this garden, the wooden screen behind the sofa in the barbecue area acts like a frame or an anchor, effectively delineating the space. It also meant we could easily incorporate lighting and a log store, too.