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The Urban Retreat – BALI Award Multiple Winner

My clients are both creative people – one a writer, the other an artist.  In their small urban garden, they wished to create a unique, calming and restful place to be quiet and reflective in. They hoped that the completed garden, though newly built and planted, might nevertheless evoke a place of wonder, whispers, and old stories, and provide a nurturing space to refresh the imagination. It was important to them to reuse and recycle as much as possible, in order to reduce the carbon footprint of the build.  Practically, the garden should include a few seating areas, a small outdoor eating area for two people, beautiful planting – all delivered in a creative and original way.  I was appointed to design the garden in total, help appoint a landscaper, oversee the project and ensure the scheme was finished to my design. 

An end of terrace semi-detached Victorian house with beautiful original features and great charm, my clients have the ground floor flat which has recently been beautifully refurbished.  The garden tapers somewhat to the far end, forming a slightly awkward triangular shape, and is overlooked in places by the neighbouring house.  Although SW facing, it is for the most part shady with a few sunny areas nearer the house, and has the expected north London clay for soil.

A strong layout and ground pattern anchors the design back to the house, yet this is balanced by looseness from the curving pathway for a more relaxed feel.  I drew a relationship between the voids (hard landscaping or open areas) by using dimensions from the architecture of the house and then applying this approach across the entire plot, where possible, to unite the area, an aim furthered by limiting the landscaping materials to three: slate, wood and gravel.

By pushing the main patio out into the garden, I could enclose it with planting on both sides and bring some softness to the hardness of the building and wall.  We kept the bricks from the original retaining wall and reused them for the new retaining wall and step riser.  Reclaimed slate gives the patio a lived in feel, and is embellished with a keel seat made from reclaimed wood, shelves on the adjacent wall from reclaimed decking, and vintage table and chair from market.

The adjoining decked seating area is made from reclaimed decking, with a second hand Victorian wooden bench and ornamentation from market, all sitting under the existing Wisteria.  Using a relaxing organic curve, almost like a backbone, the pathway stepping stones (made from slate offcuts) meander to the arbour which provides a beautiful focal point.  Made from UK sourced Douglas Fir and reclaimed slate roof (a nod back to the patio) the arbour features a stained glass panel bought on eBay, which lights up in the morning sun.

Ornamentation sourced from markets and reclaim yards are dotted through the garden for additional interest – the client and I collaborating closely together on each and every purchase.

A restful blue, soft pink, purple, white and green planting palette is used throughout. Three graceful Betulas instantly transform the garden with their magical qualities. Combined with structure from Acers, Daphne, Pittosporum and Hydrangeas, the pivot for the rest of the softer planting scheme was created – the scent from the Daphne hanging in the air much of the year.  During winter, this planting sits strongly silent.

The year starts with Hellebores leading the way, shortly followed by Galanthus and a hoard of spring flowering bulbs mixed with Dicentra, by which time the bulk of the perennials are showing.  Blue Geranium and Brunnera flowers along the path edges lead into drifts of Aquilegia, Gillenia, Amsonia and Lunaria with foliage from differing ferns and Millium leading into the shadier areas.  Autumn will see the colourful displays from Betulas and Acers, with perennials following into smouldering descent.

Much of the packaging from the plant supply was recycled, along with recycling the green waste from clearance.

This apparently simple, natural-looking scheme was achieved through a design that was actually quite complex.  My clients are so blown away with the result, which is far more than they had hoped for.  During the lockdown period, both have taken great solace, comfort and inspiration from the garden, its growth encouraging a sense of continuity and optimism for the future.

Jilayne has given us a garden that is truly and uniquely ours, reflecting not only our aesthetic tastes and practical needs, but the more indefinable aspects of feeling, spirit and character that we haltingly expressed, and she captured to an extent we did not dream possible given the inherent challenges of the space. Through our involvement in each stage of the process, we witnessed the combination of artistry, technical skill, and practical coordination this project entailed. We are overjoyed with the result, and deeply grateful for the ways that our unique, serene, and beautiful garden retreat has enhanced our lives.

Quote from client

4 BALI Awards

I was bowled over when this gem of a garden was awarded four National BALI Awards – high recognition indeed !

Jilayne Rickards

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