Martin and Nicola Henderson's urban garden

An urban garden redesigned by Cassandra Crouch

When the Henderson family lost a third of their garden to a new open-plan extension, they saw it as an opportunity to transform the space and bring order, light and colour. Words Jodie Jones. Photographs Rachel Warne

In 2016, after seven years living in a converted Victorian pub, Martin and his wife Nicola commissioned a contemporary extension to accommodate their growing family and in the process lost a third of their garden to building work. It had high walls, conifers and banked borders sloping away from a shady central lawn.

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Adolfo Harrison's London small garden
© Richard Bloom

Today the overall impression is of order, light and colour – the work of award-winning designer Cassandra Crouch. The strong rectilinear design of the garden has been perfectly aligned with key architectural details on the extension, including two intersecting rills drawing the eye out to flower beds filled with bold swathes of perennials, clipped box and ornamental grasses.

The awkward level changes became a driver for the design. The steps leading down from the house are now broad and shallow, giving them a sculptural impact that is enhanced by a steel water chute, slicing the space in two. The boundaries have been faced with horizontally slatted trellis and are largely hidden by a hornbeam stilt hedge in raised beds filled with flowering perennials.

Cassandra designed the raised beds, the steps, rill and water chute as an interconnecting series of steel boxes, which were manufactured in a workshop and literally slotted together on site. “We call it the Meccano garden, and it has worked tremendously well,” she says. Read more about the garden below.
Martin and Nicola Henderson's urban garden
© Rachel Warne

With its pared down palette of green, lavender and white planting, and pale hard landscaping materials, this family garden has a restrained feel that complements the minimal, interior style of the Victorian home.

Martin and Nicola Henderson's urban garden
© Rachel Warne

Boundary walls are hidden by a pleached hornbeam stilt hedge and feathered Carpinus betulus ‘Frans Fontaine’, in raised planters filled with pale spires of foxglove Digitalis lutea, the pompom flowers of Hydrangea arborescens and soft lavender-tinted Campanula lactiflora ‘Mid Blue’. A ruff of catmint, Nepeta x faassenii ‘Kit Cat’,and Geranium phaeum soften the edges, tumbling down to a low hedge of Pittosporum tobira ‘Nanum’.

Martin and Nicola Henderson's urban garden
© Rachel Warne

Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’, with its vibrant purple foliage, makes a glowing backdrop to the slatted day bed where all the Hendersons love to lounge. “We have a huge cushion for it,” says Martin.

Martin and Nicola Henderson's urban garden
© Rachel Warne

An acid-etched steel chute cuts through a raised bed of Iris ‘Jane Phillips’ and Alchemilla mollis, pouring water into a shallow pool that feeds the two rills criss-crossing the garden.

Martin and Nicola Henderson's urban garden
© Rachel Warne

There is a perfect balance between mass and void in this well-judged design. The wide dining terrace, with its built-in barbecue kitchen, is softened by a sea of ornamental grass Deschampsia cespitosa beneath a Koelreuteria paniculata tree and backed by a swathe of rich purple catmint.

Martin and Nicola Henderson's urban garden
© Rachel Warne

Raised beds are a practical way to minimise the impact of the boundary walls while retaining a useful depth of new topsoil. Western red cedar slats double as seating.

Key design principles of this urban garden

  1. Balance mass and void by softening a strong rectilinear design with plenty of plants. This design uses 40 per cent open space with 60 per cent planting.
  2. Limit the palette of materials to create a unified feel. Here, textural crushed limestone in the same colour as the exterior tiles is the only addition to the steel cladding and Western red cedar selected by the architect.
  3. Perennials used en masse give a contemporary, structured feel. You don’t necessarily have to use different plants, just plant them in a different way.
  4. Detail is important in any design. Use specialist external contractors and fabricators who have experience of exterior landscaping.
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Head to our garden design page for more design tips

Find out more about Cassandra’s work at contemporarygardendesign.co.uk