The Social Garden
We created this garden design in Richmond for a couple who host lots of parties. The brief was to transform their disused 40 square metre courtyard into a welcoming modern garden to match their contemporary home.
Maintenance: Very Low
Type of design: Contemporary
Seating area: Yes – capacity 15
Features: App-controlled lighting
Notes: The client said: “We want lots of comfortable, versatile, attractive space to share with our friends – ideally uncluttered – and a garden that takes care of itself.”
As you can see, the challenge of this garden was to include plenty of seating without crowding the limited space. Our solution was to push the seating to the sides and have the retaining wall double as a wraparound bench. Multipurpose features like this are among the best ways to maximise small gardens.
Our paving choice of a light grey Indian sandstone introduced some much needed brightness to the previously dingy space. This was all the more important given our wraparound seating for up to 15 people, which could otherwise feel cramped and oppressive. The radiant white of that retaining wall helps too, while contributing to the contemporary style. For contrast, we chose a dark basalt for the coping stones.
With a square, uniform layout like this, it is essential to have a stronger than normal focal point — in this case the polished basalt box (another multipurpose feature). However, its thoughtful placement here keeps it from clear view until you’re standing in the square of the garden. We wanted the space to unveil itself gradually in this way, unfolding as we venture within. The effect of this is to complete the garden once you’re actually in it, adding to its intimate, closed-to-the-outside feel.
We imprinted our signature fusion of rustic urban and minimalist modern garden design by keeping the Victorian boundary walls visible. We’re known for creating a seamless flow between otherwise juxtaposed themes. Here, for example, to avoid a clash of styles between the period wall and contemporary features, we used minimal modern planting as a buffer. This allows history to gradually emerge as the gaze ventures into the foliage.
To carry this effect through to the evening, we illuminated both the plants and the wall with 35-watt LED lighting. Because it’s app-controlled, the colour of the lighting can easily be changed to suit the mood of the party.
The fusion of rustic and modern in this garden design in Richmond extends to our planting choice too, combining Japanese maples with minimalist bamboos and grasses. Our client was only interested in planting ideas for low maintenance gardens to complement their busy lifestyle. So they appreciated our use of bold herbaceous perennials. It’s surprising how dense and varied low maintenance planting can be — as in the vibrant, almost primary colour scheme on display here.
We also employed bark mulch to protect the soil and keep it from drying out. This is good low maintenance planting advice for small gardens in general. There’s also a geo-textile membrane to help suppress weed growth.
As with all gardens, a layering or stepping effect was important. We planted the smaller shrubs toward the front and the taller, heavier plants toward the back. This helps to promote a harmonised balance between natural textures and hard landscaping features (the wall, seating, etc.). It also eases the gaze toward the prominent Acer ‘Bloodgood’ as a natural as opposed to manmade primary focus.
Before and After Courtyard Design
We can put the transformation of this small urban garden design in Richmond into perspective by comparing to how it looked before. Not only is our design brighter and more visually interesting; it is also more functional and inviting. Victorian walled gardens are naturally cosy and intimate, providing the ideal atmosphere in which to socialise and relax. We were careful not to lose that appeal while opening the space to make it more enticing.