Designers are regularly asked for wildlife gardens, and for spaces that complement the house. What was different here is that the house is an architect-designed, mid-century building, constructed from engineering bricks, concrete and copper, and that the clients loved California and wanted a West Coast vibe. The task of marshalling these demands into a cohesive whole fell to designer Barbara Samitier, who had been recommended to owners Lizzie O’Grady and John Cunningham. Barbara’s plan was to allow the materials and proportions of the house to dictate the feel of the areas closest to it, with a gradual loosening of control further away.
Clay pavers – the same as those used on the floors inside – form the terrace immediately outside the sliding doors, as well as the pond terrace, which runs at a right angle to it. To one side is a small hidden garden, surrounded by yew and totally invisible from neighbouring houses, while to the other is a slick seating area of board-formed concrete around a firepit. Concrete steps, lit with LED lights, lead up past a floating timber deck into the wilder area beyond, where a Breedon gravel path prescribes a circular route around the gently undulating site.
Contrast and harmony
Part of the success in this garden lies in the contrast between the geometric hard landscaping and the soft, tactile planting. Here, a floating timber deck, constructed to avoid the expense of having to level the uneven ground below, is surrounded by billowing stands of Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ and Calamagrostis brachytricha. The grasses both hide the edge of the decking and their height creates a pleasing sense of privacy while still allowing for glimpses of the garden beyond.
The pond is planted with pygmy water lilies and Equisetum hyemale, and surrounded by the same clay pavers that are used inside the house. Beyond it is a large existing holly, which Barbara shaped, lifting the canopy to make it less of a thicket. It is underplanted with a circle of lime-green Hakonechloa macra of the same circumference as the canopy.
The red stems and succulent-like Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’. Evergreen and with acid-yellow flowers in spring, it is a good foil to the concrete wall behind. Tall-growing Salvia ‘Amistad’ adds interest in late summer and autumn, while clever lighting (under the seating area and below feature trees as well as under the steps) encourages use of the garden in the evenings too.
The area that leads to the ‘hidden garden’ has a Mediterranean feel with plants that work well on clay including Hylotelephium telephium ‘Karfunkelstein’, Ajuga reptans, Nepeta x faassenii, Salvia yangii ‘Blue Spire’ and Euphorbia mellifera. Across the pond, the seating area is backed with pleached Portuguese laurels (Prunus lusitanica) for privacy.
A pathway of Breedon gravel leads through the wilder area of the garden, where many grasses have been used to keep maintenance to a minimum. Along the path are smaller, more delicate plants, such as Tiarella ‘Spring Symphony’, hellebores and sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum), to catch interest and slow pace.
The master bedroom looks out onto the hidden garden, which will become even more secluded over time as the yew hedges grow. A palm tree – a nod to California – can just be seen on the left, while grasses including Stipa tenuissima and fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) create a soft, hazy effect.
What Californian-inspired wildlife garden, surrounding a modern house
Size 580 square metres
Climate Temperate, south- west facing garden
Hardiness zone USDA 9
Find out more about Barbara’s work at barbarasamitiergardens.co.uk