Transforming a small London garden into an autumnal woodland
With a careful choice of just a few key plants and clever landscaping, this tiny garden transforms into a woodland with a fiery autumn peak. Words Kate Jacobs, photographs Clive Nichols
Urban gardens are becoming ever more squeezed, thanks in part to the rising popularity of rear extensions and garden studios. This means that garden owners and designers have to do more with less, as well as creating a sense of cohesion between extensions, studios and the outdoor space in between. That was just part of the challenge presented to landscape designer Alasdair Cameron by Tom and James, the owners of an attractive Victorian end-of-terrace in west London.
Tom and James had recently extended their home, to add on a new kitchen-dining room at the back. Their architects had made the popular move of choosing a floor material – large format grey porcelain tiles – that has been continued outside across the new terrace. When the extension was done, the couple asked garden room specialists Shackadelic to start work on a cedar-clad gym before turning their attention to the garden. Since both the extension and the gym overlook the garden, Tom and James’s brief was to create a stunning year-round vista from both viewpoints, as well as making the garden a calm and meditative space in which to spend time. Alasdair’s response was “to inject that wonderful element of nature, a feeling of a woodland dell, into this small, square space.”
What Small, residential city garden with woodland-style planting. Where London. Size 74 square metres. Soil London clay soil, improved with organic compost and peat-free soil improver. Climate Temperate. North-facing and shaded by surrounding buildings and trees. Hardiness zone USDA 9.
To link the house to the gym at the rear of this small city garden, Alasdair has created a sinuous path that winds like a river through shade-loving plants that include Asarum europaeum, Eurybia schreberi, and ferns Blechnum spicant and Polystichum setiferum. The gravel, with its pools of Soleirolia soleirolii and relatively small Purbeck pitchers, add to the woodland feel of this small garden and create a contrast to the clean lines of the terrace.
A multi-stemmed Parrotia persica underplanted with Origanum majorana creates an enclosed and sheltered space for a pair of Adirondack chairs and a firepit, allowing owners Tom and James to continue to use the garden well into autumn. The vigorous climber Stauntonia coriacea will soon cover the fence behind to envelope the area in green.
Grey porcelain tiles create a sense of unity between the kitchen extension and a wide terrace, bordered to one side by a timber, tall cold frame. Beyond, three multi-stemmed Parrotia trees screen the cedar-clad gym and bring definition to the garden creating visual links with mature trees in the surrounding gardens. In the foreground, a mix of woodland planting, including the Japanese forest grass Hakonechloa macra and ferns, such as Polystichum setiferum and Dryopteris erythrosora, create a fresh natural feel punctuated by domes of yew, Taxus baccata, for year-round structure.
USEFUL INFORMATION For more information on Alasdair’s work visit camerongardens.co.uk
Key plants from the garden
The graceful fronds of this shade-tolerant native fern emerge upright before falling open as they unfurl, providing textural foliage to contrast with the surrounding grasses in this green-focussed planting scheme. 1.2m x 50cm. AGM. RHS H7, USDA 6a-8b.
Here are a few more ferns we love.
A slow-growing tree, chosen for its interesting forms and autumn colour. In this garden the three trees are topped once a year to keep them at the optimal height. 8m x 8m. RHS H6, USDA 4a-8b.
Yew provides year-round interest with its dark green tone, and helps to anchor the perennial planting. Alasdair has used a trio of loose, shaggy yew domes, which work in tandem with the three Parrotia persica trees to create rhythm in this small garden. 20m x 10m. AGM. RHS H7, USDA 6a-7b.
The tactile, shaggy hummocks of this arching grass bring a sense of movement to the planted areas. This Japanese forest-dwelling grass is used both as a ground cover and as a focal point in this tall Atlantis pot. 35cm x 40cm. AGM. RHS H7, USDA 5a-9b.
Writer and editor, lifestyle, interiors and gardens. Working across editorial, commercial, digital and social. Always on the lookout for interesting homes to write about...
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