Family garden design
We approached this family garden design in Kingston with low-key multifunction in mind. The client knew exactly what she wanted: a sophisticated modern garden with space for the children to play.
She asked that we take our cues from the style of her glass extension, a contemporary structure with clean, geometric lines. She also wanted privacy from her second-floor neighbours to the rear, whose window was overlooking.
As for colour, she preferred a neutral palette of greys, blues, and white. However, the planting should take care of itself. Because of her and her partner’s demanding careers, it had to be very low maintenance.
Maintenance: Very low maintenance
Type of design: Minimalist modern
Seating area: Yes – capacity 06
Hard landscaping materials: Granite, timber, green slate, astroturf
Soft landscaping: Taller shrubs and architectural herbaceous
Lawn: Artificial grass
Features: Patio, pathway, and planting
Notes: The client said: “I want a stylish and contemporary child friendly garden design that matches my new extension but doesn’t feel too cold. I want it to feel welcoming for the whole family.”
At the heart of this kid friendly garden design, the two lawns encapsulate the brief — providing plenty of versatile play space without looking too much like a playground. Also, being astroturf, they can take a good pounding without getting muddy in the rain.
Making use of artificial grass in family gardens has other benefits too: it’s low-maintenance, hypoallergenic, and technically better for ball games. But there’s a lot more to laying it than real turf. Beneath each lawn we built a frame of rough-sawn 4×1-inch timber battens, treated for resistance to rot. These we filled with a 40-millimetre base layer of crush and run and a 25-millimetre top layer of sharp sand, both compacted and levelled with a wacker plate. The crush and run provides a sturdy porous base, while the builder’s sand makes the surface more comfortable.
The spacious patio overlooking the lawns is built to accommodate family time. But, more importantly, it’s designed to encourage it. Bridging the sleek extension and softer lawns with its jaunty concentric paving, it feels like it’s self-enclosed. And there’s both casual, comfy seating and a dining table with chairs to choose from.
Child friendly garden designs aren’t all about function, though; the style must be appropriate. We wanted to avoid too cold a contemporary theme here, especially with the colours requested. So there’s plenty of natural material.
Picking up on the patio’s paving, the two lawns are edged with granite — which although blue-grey with a calibrated finish, feels organic next to the green. The square stepping stones laid across the far lawn playfully reprise this motif. And there’s more granite paving to the rear; set amid planted borders and green slate chippings is a tiny patio with a small wooden bench. This makes for an implicitly alluring, functional focal point for adults and children alike. Finally, the slate chipping pathway to the side of the near lawn is edged with light timber retainers.
The lively borders of this child friendly small garden design also help to soften the style. Their layout is asymmetrical and the plants are contrasting, with variable habits and heights. But recurring shrubs — like the neat and no-maintenance Hebe topiaria, the evergreen Buxus sempervirens, and the pretty pink Sedum spectabile (ideal for attracting bees and butterflies) — tie all these borders together.
Although they might look sparsely planted from the photos, these borders are designed to grow dense. Each year, from spring to autumn, they’ll be thriving with colourful flowers. Yet the planting keeps to a uniform palette to complement the blues and greys. That means plenty of whites, pinks, and purples, along with occasional reds.
The combined visual interest of the borders also compensates for their modest size and position. Maximising space in this way is always fundamental to finding the best layout for small gardens like this.
As a natural focus from anywhere in the garden, the near lawn’s large border sets the tone. Here we’ve mingled evergreen shrubs with vibrant hues and flamboyant textures: the striking red leaves of the Phormium, the violet spikes of Veronica, and the exotic green fronds of the lace fern Polystichum polyblepharum.
Toward the rear, we planted an Acer maple with weeping purple-red foliage. This standout natural focus holds our interest as we look to the end of the garden. And when we get there, the privacy that our client requested is provided by a cluster of trees.
Behind the design
Before we got started, this yard was an empty lot. This is a blessing for creative modern garden designers but it also brings landscaping challenges. The neglected top soil here, for example, had to be enriched and dug over. This is where our working knowledge of horticultural practices comes in handy. We also raked it to get a fine tilth for planting.
This family garden design in Kingston also required in-depth hard landscaping to give it the structure it lacked. The patio, like all stepped gardens starting from scratch, involved some heavy construction.
The result is a complete transformation that meets the brief not just as a whole but in the fine details too: the seating, the planting, the artificial grass, and so on. The client and her family will spend a lot of time in this garden.